GENE BRODIE, our libraries correspondent, reports on the delayed re-opening of the Uppper Norwood Library, as doubts remain on the 116-year-old community asset’s funding arrangements from Lambeth and Croydon councils
Upper Norwood Library – or the “Hub on the Hill” as the style-before-substance merchants at Brixton and Croydon Town Halls appear to want to re-style the century-old community institution – is due to re-open on Saturday, following a major refurbishment of the ground floor.
The re-opening is a fortnight later than was scheduled for the library, which closed its doors on March 21. During the closure, some of Upper Norwood Library’s regular community activities had to be staged in a church hall or nearby pub.
Extensive work has been done to the roof, floors and internal decoration, which the council spin merchants claim will “transform” the library “into a bright, contemporary space for local people and businesses to meet, learn, work and socialise”. The councils say they have spent £250,000 on these works.
In the bumpf pumped out from Lambeth and Croydon councils this week – the library has been a joint venture between the boroughs since 1901 – said: “The upgrade takes the 116-year-old library into an exciting new chapter, and the library hub is celebrating its re-launch with activities, a showcase of some great community services and refreshments.”
This week’s re-opening announcement from the two councils has made no mention of when the legal transfer to the Upper Norwood Library Trust, the community group which is to take over the management of the library, will take place.
And uncertainty remains over the library’s future funding.
The councils have guaranteed to provide £85,000 each towards its running costs, but only until 2018. Last year 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 real estate), 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”.
According to the press release issued this week, “The newly decorated lending library has a wide and up-to-date range of books and other media with an efficient ordering service for anything not in stock. There is free wi-fi access and computers to use, as well as copying and scanning facilities.”
Local activists from Upper Norwood, Gipsy Hill and Crystal Palace are likely to scrutinise the re-opened centre and the Trust’s offer with particular care: the re-opening comes just after the first year anniversary of the disappearance of Robert Gibson, the passionate and committed library campaigner and former member of the Upper Norwood Library Trust, who remained very suspicious of some of the local authorities’ agendas for the property and the direction it might take as a library.
Much of the refurbishment appears to have been done to provide a commercial income stream for the Trust.
The statement they issued says, “There are different size spaces available for hire, these are suitable for meetings, conferences, learning and educational events, community group activities, for local business use, parties and much more.
“There are also car park spaces for hire at reasonable rates.” The NCP will be worried.
The Trust is promising to renew the regular library reading group and parent and toddler sessions, as well as providing a coding club, a children’s Chatterbooks group, a teenagers’ debate group, a homework club, a reading for well-being group and the return of the weekly Saturday storytime.
“The library hub is also going to be operating community outreach programmes, regular activities for adults and children, and education and volunteering opportunities. There is also the coffee shop which provides healthy food options. More will be added in the future as the service develops,” they say.
“I’m absolutely delighted to see the Upper Norwood Library Hub re-open and it’s fantastic to see how plans for the range of services on offer are developing,” was the quote attributed to Timothy Godfrey, Croydon’s cabinet member responsible for culture and libraries.
“Libraries are vital parts of the community, and we are determined as a council to see them thrive,” Godfrey said.
Godfrey has long promised that there will be no library closures in Croydon under his Labour-run council. He is yet to reveal how the Upper Norwood Library, or Hub, is to be funded after the current arrangement ends next year.
No one from the self-appointed Croydon Libraries “Campaign” was available for comment.
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