Volunteer army bid to run Hampstead Garden Suburb library

Magistrates, school teachers and local councillors could all serve behind the counter as voluntary librarians in a bid to save the Suburb library from closure.

The Suburb’s 2,000-strong Residents Association lodged its plan to save the library from the scrapheap this week, proposing that volunteers could save Barnet Council �70,000 a year. The community group has mustered an army of 40 willing helpers to man the premises in Market Place, including two former librarians who will lend their expertise.

Jonathan Seres, co-chair of the RA’s library working group, said: “We could raise far more, we have about 20 more on top of that who could be tempted.

“Having 40 volunteers is a realistic number which allows us to be completely flexible to be able to draw on reserves should others drop out.”

He hopes that parents from local primary schools will also bolster the numbers to keep the library open.

But the bid also calls for a member of council staff to stay on at the library for a limited amount of time to train up the volunteers. The council has said it wants to keep costs down to a minimum.

Libraries boss Cllr Robert Rams said: “We expect the process of confirming any viable proposals to take about six weeks. Discussions would then continue with those groups with viable proposals.

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“The final decision will be made by Cabinet Resources Committee.”

The Suburb’s library costs run to �93,000 a year, but �10,500 is rent which the council is tied into paying for the next five years.

The RA is also asking the council to pay gas and electric bills for the building, totalling �556 a year.

Mr Seres said: “Barnet is legally obligate to meet the costs of the premises for the next five years and the gas and electric is small beer. It is our belief that the gas and electric fall into the low-cost category.

“We’re not proposing to lay down any money.”

The RA plans to form a not-for-profit company called HGS Library Support Ltd, but it will bear no financial responsibility should the company go under.

The council announced its plans to shut the Market Place library earlier this year, claiming it was the most expensive library on the borough per library user. It had been claimed that the council was in talks with the Institute over housing the library’s collection of books in the Arts Centre, before the Ham&High revealed that negotiations had collapsed.

The Institute has now put the Arts Centre up for sale to try and settle its debts.