Community libraries in Primrose Hill, Belsize Park and Hampstead hail success of first year

Belsize Library reopens. Picture: Nigel Sutton

Belsize Library reopens. Picture: Nigel Sutton - Credit: Nigel Sutton

Campaigners who saved their libraries from closure have hailed the support of their communities as they mark 12 months since Camden Council cut them off.

Three libraries were handed to voluntary groups one year ago this week after they were axed as council-run services as part of a bid to save £2million.

In their first year, all three have re-opened and managed to recruit large teams of volunteers and raise some of the cash that will keep them going once an initial tranche of transition funding, totalling £342,000, runs out.

But key figures behind both Keats Community Library and Primrose Hill Community Library warned there are still plenty of challenges ahead – and reiterated the belief that other libraries should not be expected to follow their example.

Philippa Jackson, a board member of Primrose Hill Community Library, said: “It was quite daunting when we started. We had no idea if we were going to be able to bring in the revenue needed.

“One year on, it has been just brilliant. We have proved quite a few doubters wrong and we have just had huge goodwill from the whole community.”

The former Chalk Farm Library, in Sharpleshall Street, Primrose Hill, has recruited more than 70 volunteers and raised nearly £600,000. It officially reopened in October, operating four days per week, and has 815 members.

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However, Ms Jackson said there are still questions over whether the project will be sustainable in the long-term.

“The council will start charging rent after six years,” she said. “If it starts charging us £25,000, as has been suggested, we would not be able to keep going.”

She said the group is still firmly committed to the belief that “all libraries should be publicly funded”.

She added: “This is not a model that can be replicated anywhere else and it’s not something for people to say others should follow.

“It’s quite unique to be able to raise so much from crowd funding, and it’s not something you could do in less affluent areas.”

Belsize Community Library in Antrim Road, Belsize Park, is run by the Friends of Belsize Library and youth charity The Winch. It opens twice a week but hopes to extend that to six days eventually.

Paul Perkins, chief executive of The Winch, said: “It’s been an excellent year and it’s been great to reopen the library. At the same time, there are still challenges around sustainability.”

The community libraries have been cut off from the centralised book lending service, which Mr Perkins said was a significant blow.

Keats Community Library, formerly Heath Library, in Keats Grove, Hampstead, is now open 42 hours per week.