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Memories of a campaign to stop a ‘wonderful community resource’ from closing

PUBLISHED: 08:24 19 July 2017 | UPDATED: 08:24 19 July 2017

Protesters outside Highgate Library in Shepherd's Hill in December 1987.

Protesters outside Highgate Library in Shepherd's Hill in December 1987.

Archant

A threat to close a well-loved library. Angry neighbours forming a campaign in protest. A cash-strapped council accused of trying to make money from the sale of a public building.

Supporters of Highgate Library in Shepherd's Hill meet to discuss a current relocation proposal. Picture: TAMARA CINCIKSupporters of Highgate Library in Shepherd's Hill meet to discuss a current relocation proposal. Picture: TAMARA CINCIK

It might sound familiar to those interested in current moves to stop Highgate Library losing its Shepherd’s Hill home, but this story is almost 30 years old.

In 1987, Highgate residents joined forces to see off a bid by Haringey Council to demolish the site and profit from its sale.

For mother-of-two, library regular and experienced campaigner opposed to the A1 extension and threats to Elizabeth Garrett Anderson Hospital, Ruth Hazeldine, the risks were all too clear.

“The library is not just about borrowing books. It’s about a space where people can feel safe and welcome. It’s peaceful, comfortable and warm. Low income and older people gain intellectual stimulation.Where were those people going to go? They couldn’t afford to buy books. If you deny people stimulation you deny people fulfilling lives,” Mrs Hazeldine said.

The 82-year-old recalled taking her sons to the library and later presenting her eldest, David, with his first library card at the age of four.

“I said to him, ‘In this envelope is everything in the whole world.’

“He took out the library card, looked at me and said, ‘Thank you, mum, I understand,’” the Jacksons Lane resident said.

“That was the way I made it clear to my children knowledge is the greatest power you can have, and you can find it in your local library,” she added.

Fearing its loss, Mrs Hazeldine joined about 40 friends and supporters to see off the threat including Hope Malik who, while dying from liver cancer, dragged herself up Archway Road to gather with protesters outside the library.

“By herself she got out of bed, and held on to buildings along the road to get there. That was how passionately she felt,” Ruth said.

She died three days later.

After seven months, the council backed down “because public feeling was so strong”.

“Councillors were worried about the next election,” the retired medical secretary said.

On the latest threat and 80s campaign she said: “I feel terribly disillusioned and sad. We were doing it for the future, for all the people who benefit from a wonderful, community resource”.

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