Delay over Upper Norwood Library transfer raises worries

The future of a library which has served thousands of Croydon residents for more than a century has been thrown into renewed uncertainty, with doubts over the funding for Upper Norwood Library after next year, and with the proposed transfer of the management of the building to a trust having failed to be completed by the end of February.

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Upper Norwood Library is set to close, for three months for refurbishment, at least

All this comes as the ground floor – what remains of the building’s library area – is to be closed until late June for refurbishment.

Sources close to the process suggest that no legal transfer will take place until that already delayed refurbishment is completed.

The library, on Westow Hill, has been run jointly by Lambeth and Croydon councils for 117 years, but its funding from the local authorities has been much reduced recently. The councils guaranteed to provide £85,000 each towards its running costs until 2018. A year ago the Upper Norwood Library Trust announced that it would be operating a volunteer-run library, and sought £100 donations from locals who had previously had use of the public facility for free.

On March 21 last year, Lambeth Council announced controversial plans to close two other libraries (to flog off the property), and to turn others into “bookish gyms”, outsourced to a third party. Upper Norwood Library, Lambeth said, “will become self-service”, and the building will be run “as a community hub”.

The Upper Norwood Library Trust had been formed to manage the public facility, and the expectation was that the legal paperwork will have signed over the building to the group. But that has yet to happen.

Now reports from Lambeth Council confirm fears that there is no guarantee of any funding for library after 2018.

Inside Croydon reported in early 2012 how Labour-run Lambeth (where the council leader at that time was Steve Reed), and Croydon, then under Tory control, were colluding over the possibility of selling off the Upper Norwood Library building. Those secret plans turned to dust when made public, as the politicians scuttled for cover from the outcry in the Crystal Palace community and further afield.

According to a recent report by News from Crystal Palace, for the next three months there will be no library service available at the building, with some of Upper Norwood’s regular community activities being transferred to a church hall or nearby pub.

The ground floor of the library closes on March 21, with its books and archive put into storage. A Lambeth council spokesman told News From Crystal Palace: “We anticipate restarting the library service on June 27.

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“At the request of the Norwood Society local history group we have retained some of these in the basement of the library building so we can provide access if needed,” the Lambeth spokesman said.

“We are unable to provide a book borrowing or internet service during the refurbishment.”

The commercially minded Trust has been “re-configuring” the space for the library to make way for more money-making activities, with the upper floor of the building due to re-open after a refurbishment on March 29 – but without any books. There will be no working lift, either, so disabled access will be restricted.

Despite the two councils spending money on the refurbishment – £200,000 between them according to a Lambeth council report – doubts have grown, especially since it was suggested during Lambeth’s most recent council budget discussions that some of its Labour councillors are keen to end all funding to Upper Norwood Library.

Regular activities, such as children's book-reading sessions, are being moved to a church hall and local pub while Upper Norwood Library is closed, for at least three months

Activities are being moved to a church hall and local pub while Upper Norwood Library is closed, for at least three months

The agreement between Lambeth and Croydon sees the councils matching the amounts given to the library. When Lambeth cut its share of the library’s operating costs by 60 per cent, to £85,000 per year, Croydon did the same, precipitating staff redundancies and the volunteer-run service.

The fears for Upper Norwood’s future funding arose last month when Lambeth’s council budget meeting report stated that as part of its “regular review of service budgets, we have acknowledged that we must ensure that our libraries are appropriately funded. In light of this we will ensure that funding is made available next year for both Tate South Lambeth and Durning Libraries”.

There was no mention of any such guarantee for Upper Norwood Library.

Lambeth’s library cuts have provoked a strong backlash from the community in Herne Hill and Crystal Palace

Lambeth, which was already implementing £96million-worth of Tory government austerity cuts, is facing having to cut an additional £55million from its spending between now and 2020.

In April 2016, the Upper Norwood Library Trust issued a joint statement with Lambeth Council which announced the Trust’s taking charge of the building from July last year. At that time, Lambeth also agreed to provide 35 hours per week of the services of a professional librarian. That concession was up for review after a year.

“Lambeth Council and the Upper Norwood Library Trust are confident that the new arrangement will provide a great service hosted by, and run for, the local community in Upper Norwood – and at a more sustainable cost to the council, which is facing severe budget pressures,” that statement said.

But almost one year on, and the formal handover to the Trust has still not happened, leaving open the real possibility of the library being closed for longer than the three-month refurbishment period just announced.

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News, views and analysis about the people of Croydon, their lives and political times in the diverse and most-populated borough in London. Based in Croydon and edited by Steven Downes. To contact us, please email
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