From “shhhhh” to “shhhut” – Heathfield library at risk

Libraries are one of those services that everyone likes to think of as “a good thing” but which, when it comes to stark choices about money, not everyone wants to pay for. For Heathfield Library in TW2, closure is looking like more than just a risk, it’s looking like a certainty unless something happens pretty soon. A lot of locals are pretty hacked off with what’s gone on there.

In this opinion piece, local resident Mark Walker explains how we ended up in this sorry state:

Heathfield Library, Twickenham

“The mess that has resulted in Twickenham’s poorest ward being left without a Library came to a head on Saturday 5th February. A group of around 50 local residents were addressed by councillors John Coombs (Lib Dem) and Alan Butler (Conservative) who both represent Heathfield Ward on Richmond Council and MP Vince Cable. Butler, whose Conservative party are now running the Council, told the meeting that his council would keep looking for a solution, and Coombs expressed his disappointment that the area would be without a library.

That’s all fine – except for the fact that it’s the actions of the two parties that the councillors are members of that got us into this mess in the first place.

It was the Lib Dem council that sold the library building and the surrounding land in order to provide a healthcare polyclinic. I know that not everyone likes polyclinics but personally I think they represent the best way of providing good local health care (something that Heathfield ward is in great need of given the high demand for services of this kind). The sale made £750,000. Of this, £400,000 was allocated to a new library service, to be provided at Heathfield School, a five minute walk away.

In May 2010, the Conservatives took control of the Council and announced that they did not intend to spend the allocated money on providing a new library service in the area. From the 17th March there’ll be no library service in the area. The closest will be in Whitton, about a thirty minute walk away.

Does this matter? We all feel that we have yet again been forgotten by the council. Library services are one of the cornerstones of the services that councils are supposed to provide. They do more than just lend books – they are a visible sign that the council tax payer is not being forgotten by the council. It’s our hope that the decision can be revisited and that library services can be reprovided somewhere in the local area and that the profit from the sale of the building does not disappear elsewhere in the borough.

And I would hope that both parties can be more honest about how they explain these decisions to the electorate. We have seen leaflets from both parties that criticise the other for changes to library provision. The people of Heathfield deserve a more honest discussion about the future of local services.

Mark Walker

[Mark is one of many local residents concerned about the fate of Heathfield Library. As we bloody love a bit of transparency here at twickerati we will also point out that he is also Chair of the local Labour Party.]

Update here.

21 Comments

Filed under Council, Local Issues & News

21 responses to “From “shhhhh” to “shhhut” – Heathfield library at risk

  1. Well, time for an update on this story… the campaign run by Twickenham Labour Party to protect Library services has been generating interest among local residents in Heathfield and has also been covered in the Richmond & Twickenham Times: http://tinyurl.com/62e8brw
    They’ve also delivered over 2,000 leaflets in the area to date.

    There’s now a petition where you can sign up against the closure at http://www.ipetitions.com/petition/slsih and the Twickenham Labour Party site has got a campaign page about it.

    Now that’s covering a lot of bases!

  2. nemesis

    Sorry, I meant to say Amazon not Ebay. Even the most obscure books can be found there, while my local library refused to obtain some fairly mainstream books that I requested and they actually suggested I try Amazon.
    Most libraries were first introduced by philanthropists when books were relatively rare and expensive. Now good quality hardbacks can be found in the skip after the local fair, in charity shops, and I personally know of people having difficulty finding a home for large collections of books. I spoke to a builder last night who was once commissioned to update a library by replacing wonderful oak bookshelves with new plastic ones and instructed to dispose of old tomes in a skip, to then see the trashy paperbacks replace them. (all presumably to appear less elitist).
    Yes, libraries have diversified but I wonder what impact the loan of DVDs, CDs etc has on taking business away from commercial businesses, many of which are now struggling. A repositary for old documents and records though could be a positive,
    I am not against libraries per se, but as purely a source of reading material they are not good value for the tax-payer. We could perhaps retain the older libraries in the wonderful victorian buildings but reassess how they are run, managed and funded.

  3. nemesis

    nemesis
    If you divide the total cost of running all the libraries by each book that is loaned out it cost £3.00 per book loaned. You can buy second hand books on E-bay for as little as 1p.

    • Cllr Gareth Roberts

      Hello ‘Nemesis’

      What happens if the book you want can’t be found on eBay? Is it possible to request that eBay gets that book in stock so that you may purchase it?

      Also, what happens if the book that you wish to purchase costs more than 1p? What if, for example, it’s a specialist text book with a price tag of £50 even as a used copy?

      And would the following services be available on eBay? Viewing Planning Documents for your area, viewing council proposals for your area, attending lectures from the local history society, reading groups for adults, story time sessions for preschool children, free computer and internet usage, rental of audio books, dvds and music.

      One last question. What are the staff like at eBay? Are they trained librarians with a whole host of skills and talents which will help you to get the most out of your 1p book purchase?

  4. Eek-a-mouse 2

    Please go to Heathfield library as it is closing in March and it needs lots of people to go to it and take books out when it moves to the community centre. Plus we need to keep library visitor numbers up otherwise it gives the council a great excuse to scrap it altogether!!
    I hope you all go and read a book there, adults and children. Please take this issue into account and keeeeeep reading!

  5. Clarke Kent

    A thousand miles away from Egypt there is a major political change through people power. I think we are witnessing our own version of these events. Below this is how I think a TV reporter would cover it-

    Hugh Davies- “Now from events in Egypt we now concentrate to events at home. The threat of closure of the Heathfield library may now come to a solution. For the latest on this let us cross over to our on the spot reporter Clarke Kent. What is the situation there now Clarke.”

    Clarke- “Without doubt we are experiencing our own version of people power in the outskirts of Twickenham. It has now become apparent that the community centre has offered a room for the library and will be open 4 days a week for 3 hours each day! This may seem a small consolation to some, but it means that this small community has hung on to an amenity that still gives it an identity. In an age when local shops are under increasing pressures from the economy and major retailers; a small battle has been won here. The question is can other communities take the baton and win their battles. Over to you Hugh.”
    Hugh Davies- Thank you Clarke for that report.

  6. The Council does not have the power to ring fence the £400k in the way Mark Walker describes. It is meaningless to criticise it for not exercising powers it doesn’t have.

    Our Council only gets a small grant from government: 80 % [I think] of its revenue comes from council tax. So it has suffered relatively little from the cuts in grant and did not not need to make the service cuts it has made this year. The Conservatives are using the grant cuts as a smoke screen to obscure their true aim, which is to freeze or even cut council tax, at whatever cost to local services. So there is no hypocrisy in Vince Cable’s opposition to the cuts.

    As to our election prospects: let us wait and see who has the last laugh – the 2014 borough elections in this borough will be the most interesting, exciting, hard fought contest any democrat could wish for. Who knows, Labour might even get back on the Council!

  7. It would be interesting to hear from some locals who are affected by this and who are not involved in party politics.

    • gawain

      Maybe fewer people care than the author thinks…..

    • Perhaps, but a little context… The Heathfield Library issue was raised directly with me [da editor] by 2 regular users of the library. I have no idea what their political affiliations are, if any. They are very upset about what has happened. The fate of the library has been covered elsewhere but the recent “save our libraries” campaign boosted its profile again. Mark had covered the topic on Twitter and, as he’s a concerned local resident, I asked him to write some paragraphs on it. Voila! People wishing to write news items and opinion pieces for this site are welcome (subject to ever changing editorial guidelines invented by me). Comments on those articles are also welcome. And that’s how we got to here.

    • The Needs Assessment report on Heathfield Library is at http://www.richmond.gov.uk/heathfield_library_needs_assessment.pdf : it has 1,000 active members, who average 34 visits a year and 23 loans a year. 42 % are children/young people.

  8. Telemachus

    The Green Party are the third party of the borough. Labour are fourth. That’s how popular Labour are.

  9. gawain

    Oh, seriously, Mark: if you’re going to get into pathetic sloganeering then let’s ask whose Party bankrupted the country? Yup. And, as for the role of opposition on the Council, you can only dream – remind me how many Councillors you have? I was fascinated to get the Labour leaflet thougght my door recently – I’ve lived in the Borough 15 years and never once – not once – did I have anything from you defending the Labour Government’s record; now you’re in opposition nationally, boom! along comes the knocking-copy. Student politics at its worst.

  10. Mark Walker

    Chris: A plan to safeguard the relocation (by ring fencing the £400,000) could have been put in place whilst in power so the result of the election shouldn’t have mattered. Oh and Liberal Democrat MP Vince Cable was also there and he is a member of the government who are driving through the cuts to the council’s budget in the first place. I think ‘rank hypocrisy’ sums it up nicely.
    With my Labour hat on can I just add: that as you are currently bouncing along at roughly 10% in most opinion polls without taking into consideration this fiasco, I would be getting to used to the role of opposition on Richmond council for the foreseeable future.

  11. The Lib Dem council recognised Heathfield’s relative deprivation and gave it priority [along with Ham, north Barnes and part of Hampton, I think] for capital spending; hence the new children’s centre by the junior school and the site for the libray. The plan to build the new library was as advanced as it could be when they unexpectedly lost the election in May 2010.

    The leader of the Lib Dem council group, Cllr Stephen Knight, was at the demonstration on Saturday so there is no reason to doubt his personal commitment to building the new library. If the Lib Dems get a majority in 2014 it will include 6 councillors from Whitton/Heathfield [up from 4 now] who will keep him up to the mark. I fail to see how this amounts to ‘rank hypocrisy’.

  12. Cllr Gareth Roberts

    Hello Dean

    Just to clarify one point, the Lib Dems certainly DON’T say that it is acceptable to go to Whitton. We are campaigning for full permanent provision of a library in Heathfield Ward. It’s worth remembering that this library doesn’t just serve Heathfield, it’s also the main library for a large swathe of the West Twickenham ward as well.

    As for numbers of protestors, I did a quick head count and made it closer to 80/90 than 50

  13. gawain

    Not defending the closure. But pointing out that the author deliberately misrepresents how (not) far it is to Whitton. The young and old can bus for free; the rest of us all need more exercise.

  14. dean rogers

    nice try gwain. libdems say not our fault, we didnt do this but defend the closure by saying it’s ok to go to Whitton…is it instinctive to face both ways if you`re a libdem. Alan Butler was heard to blame Iraq for the closure but if it’s budget cuts does that have nothing to do with libdems either?

  15. gawain

    “From the 17th March there’ll be no library service in the area. The closest will be in Whitton, about ”

    (1) Nice try to involve the Lib Dems, but it is clearly the Tories’ decision not to spend the money on a new facility. (2) The author’s impassioned argment is diminished by his ‘creative’ use of transport times: Whitton library is not “a thirty minute walk” but, according to the TFL website (and they, in my experience, hardly assume one is a marathon runner), 17 minutes walk – or, indeed 4 minutes on an H22 bus which is free to all under 16s and all OAPs with a Freedom Pass. Why was this not mentioned, I wonder?

    • Mark Walker

      The rank hypocrisy of the Liberal Democrats to campaign against the closure when they were not only responsible for selling the site (when they could have made the NHS redevelop the site of the existing clinic) but also slashing the Library’s book budget whilst in power. This means they are as guilty as the Tories in this process.
      Though I accept that it is possible to walk to Whitton Library is a shorter amount of time than 30 minutes I think that is an average when you look at the people who use the Library. Also one of the biggest percentages of people who use the Library are from the Woodlawn Estate and beyond, therefore there is no direct transport links. Though I’m aware of the H22, it is of no real use to them for this journey.
      The other point regarding transport is that if people pass the Library they are more encouraged to “pop in.” As I stressed, Heathfield is the poorest ward in the borough (33% of Heathfield School Pupils are on free school meals, the highest in the borough) and we should be doing all we can to make sure that its residents, young people especially, are given the easiest possible access to any extra additional education support. Given its current location (between Heathfield School and Twickenham Academy) there is a much greater chance of people using the facilities than a journey, whatever the distance, out of their way.

  16. doreen ogden

    Hi Mark, I understood that it was illegal for a council to close a library! The government has to step in and stop it. Ha! Am I misinformed? Thought it was some law from 1964 ish. Cheers from anyleftiwonder. Good article .