In 1945, hundreds of local residents stood outside the old Friern Barnet town hall to mark the end of the second world war. Last Saturday on the 4th February, a large group of local residents braved freezing temperatures outside the now defunct Town Hall and ended up at our nearly defunct, beloved library to celebrate National Libraries Day. We continue to call on cabinet to recognise the importance of our Library as the last remaining public space in Friern Barnet: the heart of our community.
The Save Friern Barnet Library Group (SFBL Group) proposal, which was to work with the Council to sustain a much-valued library service at Friern Barnet Library, was rejected by the Council last week. They rejected the possibility of working with us to investigate cross-budgetary funding of FBL and to incorporate public services such as health clinics and schools’ workshops alongside a wide range of volunteer-led services for the community. We had offered to raise revenue through imaginative use and promotion of the building and to offset council costs in return for a minimal public library service supported by volunteers.
Despite evidence of huge support from the local community for our proposal and despite the Council having invited groups to come forward with proposals for ‘community use for the building’ (Cllr Robert Rams), council officers responded by offering us only one option: to run a stand-alone, volunteer-run community library from Friary House in Friary Park. This package included no paid librarians or supporting infrastructure of Barnet’s library services: a daunting prospect.
'The SFBL group has always considered Friary House to be an unsuitable location for a library service due to the problems associated with children and vulnerable groups accessing the park after dark. The SFBL group has therefore rejected the Council's offer to pursue the idea of a stand alone, volunteer run library from Friary House.
The SFLB Group which represents over 3000 members of the Friern Barnet community, feel let down by Barnet Council. We believe that the library strategy - and the consultation - were flawed and send an impassioned plea to cabinet to respect the clear message from Friern Barnet residents: We want to keep our local library.
We do not understand cabinet’s determination to sell two local libraries in favour of establishing a library at artsdepot in North Finchley, a space deemed unsuitable for a library when Barnet Council paid consultants £100,000 to look into this option back in 2002. This move, still uncosted, is clearly an expensive one – Barnet has just sought additional funding of £1.4 million from the GLA to develop the surrounding areas of the artsdepot. To finance the move, the Council will also sell the family silver: FBL and North Finchley libraries. We question the wisdom of ploughing more public money into artsdepot, which is not a public building.
Barnet Council's decision to close Friern Barnet Library would leave its residents without a wide ranging library service for an indeterminate period, resulting in a failure in its legal duty to provide a comprehensive and efficient public library as required by The Public Libraries and Museums Act 1964 (Section 7). In addition, the current Culture, Media and Sports Select Committee’s ongoing inquiry into library closures, for which the SFBL group has submitted written evidence (submission number 85) further extends a moral obligation and duty of public service to suspend any closures until the outcome of the inquiry is complete.
We want to thank all of the local residents, schools, community groups and businesses who continue to support our campaign to save Friern Barnet Library. Our library is prized as a library amenity but also as a civic structure of which residents feel rightfully proud.
Labour Coppetts councillor Barry Rawlings said:
"From the Cabinet report the Conservative council is closing Friern Barnet Library despite a residents proposal that would save the council money. It is hard to believe Cabinet Members have acted in good faith - I feel local residents have been treated with contempt."
Local resident Catherine Laz from Colney Hatch Lane says:
"It was good to see people getting together for a cause on such a cold day. It's a good feeling to see that there are other people of all ages and backgrounds who think like you and try to save a service which benefits everybody."
Notes to the editor.
Private Eye issue number 1297 wrote about Barnet’s use of consultants costing £100,000 pounds where they recommended the current Artsdeport site was not suitable for a library.
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