New chapter for Belsize Library as it is reopened by the community

Families, residents and avid readers converged on Belsize Library today (Wednesday, June 6) to witness the beginning of a new chapter in its history – as it became the latest library in Camden to be reopened by the community.

The Antrim Road facility is one of three community libraries springing back to life after Camden Council axed core funding in April.

Belsize Library has been taken over by youth charity The Winchester Project. It is now embarking on a six-week appeal to help raise desperately needed funds and find new ideas for using the space.

Antrim Grove resident Elaine Hallgarten, 77, of the Friends of Belsize Library group, said: “This is huge day for the community. “We have felt bereft while it has been closed.

“It was a big ask to save it and we need to say a big thank you to ‘The Winch’ who have come to the rescue of this valuable community resource.”

Regular library user Athol Hughes, 91, said: “It is a great day. It is a sort of home from home. I missed it terribly when it was closed. It has been an important part of my life and is loved by the whole community.”

The Winch’s chief executive Paul Perkins said: “Libraries are critical to communities – they are one of the few spaces where you have a genuine diversity.

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“There is a real challenge around Belsize Library because we know the most viable way forward for a self-sustaining library is to generate income but we also need to make sure that this is consistent with the ethos of the library.

“We don’t necessarily have the fundraising power of other libraries. So it comes down to finding the business model that safeguards the library in the future.”

The opening came in the same week as White Teeth author Zadie Smith urged communities to do all they could to save their libraries.

Campaigners’ success saving libraries in Camden is in stark contrast to Brent – the focus of the author’s gaze. Brent Council has closed six libraries and stripped one of its books and fittings in a 2am raid.

In the New York Review of Books, Ms Smith wrote: “Libraries are not failing ‘because they are libraries’. Neglected libraries get neglected, and this cycle, in time, provides the excuse to close them.

“Well-run libraries are filled with people because what a good library offers cannot be easily found elsewhere: an indoor public space in which you do not have to buy anything in order to stay.”

Belsize Library has initially reopened as a reading space. It will begin lending books again in around six weeks.

Keats Community Library in Keats Grove, Hampstead, and Primrose Hill Community Library in Sharpleshall Street, Primrose Hill, are the other two libraries now operating under community control in Camden.