Playwright Alan Bennett criticises lack of government support as Primrose Hill Community Library opens

National treasure Alan Bennett heaped praise on campaigners for rescuing Primrose Hill Community Library from the scrapheap - but warned that generous communities should not be relied upon to save libraries across the country.

In what was a bitter sweet moment for Primrose Hill playwright Mr Bennett, he said he would not be content until councils and the government committed to keeping libraries open nationwide.

Speaking at the official opening of the library in Sharpleshall Street on Monday night (October 22), the 78-year-old History Boys playwright said: “It’s something that we can all be proud of and pleased about, but at the same time the real celebration will be the day that the local authority and the government realise and admit that libraries are not something that should depend on the efforts of people like us.

“They should be provided as a right in the way that education is provided and certainly that’s true round here and I look forward to that day when society, the policies and the difficulties of today which resulted in the closing of so many libraries have gone and libraries again flourish as once they did in the 19th century.

“That will be the day to really celebrate.”

More than 150 people packed into the library for its official opening and its youngest member Roman Haddon, six, was on hand to cut the red ribbon as oldest library member Daphne Slater, 82, looked on.

Roman, a science-mad pupil at Primrose Hill Primary School and nephew to novelist Mark Haddon, was the first user among more than 400 to be issued with a library card.

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Mr Bennett said the most important thing was that the library, which opened in 1961, had been saved as a quiet place where children could come and read.

“The thing that would have been lost is a generation of readers in the future,” said Mr Bennett, who used to go on family trips to his local library in Yorkshire.

“The awful thing is that these efforts are necessary. We should not live in a society where you have to do this. This is something that should be done by the community services and it should come from the local authority and local government.

“They should not be dependent on private efforts.”

Patron Dame Joan Bakewell thanked the “well-heeled” of Primrose Hill for pledging more than �580,000 to save the library.

“Libraries are the life blood of ideas and they must not die,” she said. “It is deplorable that the policies that have led to this mean that Camden (Council) have withdrawn their support.”

She added: “We still have a way to go and we need more money. It’s not the end of the road. It’s the start of something, but it’s a huge landmark to have made it.”

Belsize Community Library, Keats Community Library and Primrose Hill Community Library were handed over to volunteers after town hall bosses said they could no longer afford to manage them.