Campaigners win right to save libraries

Campaigners are celebrating a new dawn for libraries after Camden Council gave the go-ahead for three community takeovers.

The council rubber stamped its recommendations to hand over the running of Heath Library to the Phoenix Project, Belsize Library to children’s charity The Winchester and Chalk Farm Library to the Primrose Hill Community Association (PCHA) and Friends partnership on Tuesday (December 20).

Library groups now have until the end of January to hammer out the details of their business plans with council officials and prove their financial viability.

Tony Hillier, who is heading up the Phoenix Project, said the next chapter for Heath Library in Keats Grove would be transforming it from a traditional library into a literary centre more befitting Hampstead.

It is set to be renamed Keats Community Library and will draw on its heritage to become a specialised learning centre on Keats and the Romantic poets.

Mr Hillier said: “We want to bring together the literary and the financial resources of Hampstead and make sure that we have a literary programme which is worthy of Hampstead and a literacy programme which will extend to the full range of the population.

“One has to recognise the traditional way of running libraries is in declining demand. So it’s up to us to identify how to transform a service which makes literature and reference available to the community and make it relevant.”

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The library will rely heavily on the “generosity of the local community” but also hopes to win outside funding.

Chalk Farm Library campaigners have raised close to �350,000 towards their �1.2million target, with pledges from Alan Bennett and library patron Joan Bakewell.

Maureen Betts, chairwoman of the PHCA management committee, said: “We’re very pleased, but we still have a long way to go. We have a big push now over Christmas and January.

“Hopefully people will be more willing to pledge money now that we have the library.”

The Winchester, which beat off other interested parties to run Belsize Library, is looking at a number of social enterprises for the Antrim Road building.

Charity director Paul Perkins said: “It’s a case of first obstacle overcome and the next is to draw up those plans and get a clear sense of what has to be done.”

The council will withdraw funding in April in a bid to make �1.6million of savings.

All three libraries will receive a share of �192,000 transitional funding and a further �15,000 grant each, should their business plans hold up under scrutiny.

Cabinet member for culture Cllr Tulip Siddiq said: “We were determined to minimise disruption to the library service and make the best of a bad situation. The impressive bids we’ve received have shown how Camden residents are willing to step up and help run their well-loved libraries.”