East Finchley schoolchildren take to Whitehall to protest against culture secretary’s cuts to Barnet library services

Protesters from Barnet Libraries outside the Dept of Culture, Media and Sport at 100 Parliament St S

Protesters from Barnet Libraries outside the Dept of Culture, Media and Sport at 100 Parliament St SW1 on 24.07.17. They had come to hand over letters and postcards written by children at Martin Primary School on why they want to keep the libraries open and why the libraries are important to them. - Credit: Archant

East Finchley schoolchildren descended on Whitehall to protest against their loss of access to libraries in Barnet borough.

Sixteen children aged 5-13 from several schools set up their demonstration outside the Department of Culture, Media and Sport on Parliament Street on Monday afternoon. They brought with them postcards addressed to the culture secretary, Karen Bradley, calling on her to reverse the cuts that have dramatically reduced the number of hours that Barnet libraries are staffed. Their placards attracted the keen interest of passing tourists, though not Ms Bradley, who was unavailable to meet the young protesters.

They were instead met by libraries policy staff member Colin Gibson, who came out to receive the postcards. Mr Gibson acknowledged the delay in responding to the concerns but was unable to state when a response from the secretary of state would be forthcoming.

“When the man from DCMS came down to see us, he seemed very nervous,” said protester Fergus Lyon, 10, from Martin Primary School in East Finchley.

“I hope they see where they’ve gone wrong. How can they shut kids out and lock the toilets?”

Organiser Emily Burnham, a mother of three boys at Martin primary and Archer Academy and a member of the Save Barnet Libraries campaign, said the culture secretary had a statutory duty to ensure access to libraries. “Libraries from now on will be staffed a maximum of 15 hours a week – that’s not enough,” she told the Ham&High.

Ms Burnham said a ‘lengthy and comprehensive’ letter detailing the campaign’s objections to planned library changes had been sent to the culture secretary in December 2016, with a copy also sent to Barnet Council.

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Martin pupil Zara Lobley, 11, said: “It’s like our views don’t matter. We will be blocked from using our library most of the time; some of us are starting secondary school in September and we really need independent access!”

Barnet councillor Reuben Thompstone, chairman of the education and libraries committee, said: “We have redesigned our library service to allow us to keep all 14 libraries in the borough open. During staffed hours, there is no change to the way children can access libraries and children can make use of the new extended opening hours when accompanied by an adult.”