Country ‘should follow’ Hampstead’s lead as community take over library

Hampstead has set a shining example for the rest of the country as it reopens its library as a community-run reading room, according to a retired Law Lord.

Keats Community Library opened up to its first new members on Tuesday, beginning a fresh chapter in its chequered history.

The landmark occasion saw residents take over the running of the library, in Keats Grove, after losing a 20-year battle with Camden Council to keep it publicly-funded.

But campaigners were upbeat about the prospect of stamping their ownership and personality on the library – at the heart of the community since 1931.

Lord Hoffman has lived across the road from the library for 32 years and often pops across to borrow a reference book.

He said: “If it cannot work in Hampstead, it really isn’t going to work anywhere. It should be an example for community action.”

Seven-year-old Tess Walker, who has been coming to the library for four years, became the first user to get a library card.

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Tess said: “I’m really happy it has stayed open because you can take out new books and take them home with you.”

Campaigners have already bought 150 new books to bring the council’s ageing stock up to date and they expect to bolster its collection further with hundreds of books donated by its supporters, including the Ham & High.

Steven Bobasch, who leads the community group, said he hoped to improve the crime section and specialise in foreign films, but users will have the greatest say.

Actor and member of the Friends of Keats Community Library, Lee Montague, has been fighting to keep the library open for 20 years.

“Next year will be the most important for us when transitional funding runs out,” he said.

“But when the community needed to come together it rallied around. After all what could be more important than the word.”

David Sweetnam, from Carlingford Road, has used the library ever since he arrived in Hampstead in 1987.

“I remember coming here in the late 1980s to get out some Rolling Stones tapes and books – even back then it was being threatened with closure,” said Mr Sweetnam, 50.

“I just think libraries are really, really important,” he added.