Monthly Archives: February 2016

Why we are fighting for our library

Our library is far more than just a place to borrow a book. Here’s what just a few of us are saying.

Want to help us? Post a 7 second video on Vine completing the sentence “I love Hanham Library because…”, and add the hashtags #loveMyLibrary and #hanhamLibrary. Be sure to let us know via our Twitter account – @saveHanhamLib!

Hanham Library; 32 years to build

Thanks to the Hanham Local History Society we have been able to access original source documents about the construction of Hanham Library. The initial push for the set up of a library in Hanham happened soon after the Second World War, in 1948. However, it was not until 1976, after many setbacks, that Avon Council agreed to spend £280,000 (£2,122,400 in 2016 money; source) to build a library and youth centre – an outcome that was, at the time, called a “momentous achievement”. In doing so it replaced the old Samuel White’s Primary School buildings which were a dangerous, derelict eyesore.

One of the main drivers at the time was from elderly groups who complained of not having a freely available place to socialise; the Hanham Folk Centre (now Hanham Community Centre) had been around for many years but the structured, fee paying and limited nature of the activities precluded it as an option for the majority. It was not until 1980 that the library and youth centre complex opened.

Now in 2016, only 36 years later, we find ourselves facing a situation where a meeting place for the elderly, new mums, young children, teenagers and people with learning difficulties; a job searching resource for the unemployed; a place for reading and occasional work is facing the prospect of closing. If not prevented, it will likely meet the same fate as the youth centre next door – handed off to volunteers with council support, and then having that same support removed in the next round of budget contractions – its future uncertain. The worst case scenario is that we are left with the same situation as in 1976, a complex of empty buildings on the high street, acting not only as an eyesore but a deterrent to the development of the area; and the alienation of a large number of people who see it as more than merely a place to access a book, but a place where they can fully participate in the community.

This is why we must not let Hanham Library slowly get whittled away from us, in the interest of short-sighted savings. Once gone, it is highly unlikely that we will ever get it back.

Council consultation process

On Monday, South Gloucestershire Council opened their community consultation process around the reduction in funding of the local library services. The initial consultation period runs until 13 May 2016, when a dialogue with communities and groups on options will start. We encourage you to go through the initial Consultation Document, which at 8 pages is a fairly quick read.

As a group, we intend to work on multiple fronts around the libraries issue, of which this consultation is only one part – not just for the sake of Hanham Library, but for all affected services in South Gloucestershire. Library funding cannot be a zero-sum game, with funds gravitating towards the largest areas at the expense of rural districts. It is our intent to work out a strategy involving parish and county council, as well as our local MP, Mr Chris Skidmore, all of whom we intend to be in regular contact with.

South Gloucestershire Council; Libraries, Green Bins and Gruffalos

Last Wednesday, the 17th of February, our group headed off to the soon-to-be-closed Kingswood Civic Centre to voice our disapproval to the planned £640,000 in cuts to South Gloucestershire library services. Hanham Library is one of three major services in the area in line for “scaling back” – library services at Chipping Sodbury as well as the Mobile Library are planned to be closed altogether.

Cold people in good spirits.

Cold people in good spirits.

Spirits were as high as they could be outside on a wet, freezing evening when we would rather have been inside not worried about our library services, but as we were joined by a Gruffalo and a TV crew from Made In Bristol things were not all bad.

Who doesn't like a Gruffalo?

Who doesn’t like a Gruffalo?

The meeting was scheduled to discuss the budget for the next year, and although the library cuts were not on the agenda, we wanted to ensure that our concerns were heard prior to the start of the consultation process that has now started. Joe Unwin had an opportunity to speak before the council as did Robin Champion.

Later on in the meeting Staple Hill Councillor Ian Boulton presented a motion for a proposed discount of £6 per-household per-year (50p a month) to garden waste bins to be redirected towards protecting library services. The net cost of this measure to the Council budget is £230,000 and is funded from a Local Government Finance Settlement. The proposal was voted down by a group of Councillors including all three Hanham representatives – Heather Goddard, John Goddard, and June Bamford.

We are disappointed that on this occasion Councillors made the choice to act against the interests of the community they were elected to represent, and to close libraries so as to save each household with a green bin 50p per month.

We are especially disappointed at the token nature of this, in light of Council voting at the same meeting to increase rates for every household by 3.99% – an increase of £50 per year for a Band D property.

Members of our group got in touch with the Hanham Councillors individually, for a clarification of their decision to oppose a redirection of the proposed green bin discount towards library budgets. We received in response the same form letters (emphasis ours):

Thank you for your e mail about our budget, For the record we have not spent £1.8 million on taking £6 off the Green bin charge [our mistake].
The measure cost £230K and formed part of the Conservative manifesto last year. We were elected by a large number of our electorate who disagreed with the charge, and as such addressing the charge is part of our democratic mandate.

The bulk of the “extra money” given to us in the improved financial settlement has been put towards reducing our future deficit making our frontline services more sustainable for the future. Last night the other parties did not put forward any long term sustainable plan for safeguarding those services, they simply took the surplus in our budget for the next two years and frittered it, which I do not feel is the right move and is why I did not support them last evening.

However, Thank you for your views.

I understand that you wish to know how to access our consultation on Libraries which starts on Monday [22 February 2016]. Go to South Gloucestershire Council website and press “Tell us what you think” which will take you to a box entitled Consultations. The library consultation[link added] will not appear before Monday but will be open for 12 weeks, or if you prefer hard copies will be available in the Library. Please do take the time to express your views and comments.

We hope that Councillors appreciate the irony of directing us towards the library to access consultation documents about the partial closing of the same library.

While sticking by your pre-election promises is an attribute that is to be applauded in any democratic representative, far more valuable is flexiblity in the face of changing priorities within your electorate. Especially when they concern the protection of services that that same electorate considers indispensable.

Our library under threat

As part of South Gloucestershire’s Councils funding cuts,  Hanham Library and other libraries in the county have been earmarked for either closure or significant reductions in staffing and opening hours. We are a group of like-minded users and friends of Hanham Library who have gathered together in response to protect the services provided by our library. Over the last 6 years over 695 libraries have closed in the United Kingdom, from 4,612 in 2010 to 3,917 in 2015, and the sorts of actions proposed by the council are the precursor of an all-too-familiar pattern of behaviour – reduce variable costs by cutting full-time staff, introducing volunteers, reducing hours, and eventually complete closure to save fixed costs.

We are determined to prevent this from happening. Sign the South Gloucestershire petition to save our library, and join us on Facebook and Twitter, and together we will make a difference to protect this core part of our community.