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.