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St James prepares to defend its library

A public meeting about the future of St James Library has been called for Saturday morning at St James Commmunity Centre. The SJRA has released the following statement:

St James Residents Association Chair, Graham Croucher recently wrote to NCC leader Heather Smith (see below) outlining the concerns of residents and library users that St James Library has in recent weeks been closed at short notice and seeking assurances that short notice closures would cease and St James Library would not close permanently.

Those assurances were not received; we then learnt subsequently of the mess NCC finds itself in and its proposal to close up to 21 libraries including St James. The response to our letter, from Cllr Smith was simply “your comments are noted”, and goes someway in our view, of the contempt NCC hold for citizens of Northamptonshire that not even a simple explanation could be given.

It is with these closure proposals in mind that, with our colleagues, Friends of St James Library, local County Councillors, Eales and Chauhan, and borough councillor Ashraf, we have arranged to hold a public meeting on Saturday 4th November 2017, 10.30am at St James Community Centre, NN5 5LQ.

public meeting stjlib 4thnov17_2

This meeting is open to all, and not just people from St James. We will be informing them of the process, what they can do to fight the proposal and how they can join the campaign. We have guest speakers, speaking in support of the library, which will be author Sue Bentley, and others to be announced. We have confirmed attendance from Cllr Sylvia Hughes, NCC cabinet member of Public Health and Wellbeing. Cllr Heather Smith has also been invited but has declined, and MP Andrew Lewer has also been invited to attend.

St James Residents Association led a campaign in 2011 to save St James library from closure and was successful. Along with saving all Northamptonshire libraries.

Vulnerable people and other people who depend on the library are now being left out on a limb with nowhere to turn to because of the dire financial situation of NCC, and this has real consequences for a community that is already suffering from high crime levels , deprivation and closure of local shops and banks. We cannot afford to lose our much loved library.

Graham Croucher, Chair of St James Residents’ Association said; “Enough is enough, in 2011 this community in St James rose to the challenge of supporting its library, and met the council half way in delivering a service for the community, and a library that has been recognised nationally. It has always been a challenge as the service has never been funded properly.

“With the range of service provided now, more people are dependent on our library more than ever, NCC are putting lives at risk. We call on NCC to withdraw these brutal proposals immediately.  We also call on local County Councillors, Gareth Eales, and Pinder Chauhan to raise the issue and support the community, in addition we call on the MP Andrew Lewer to intervene. People should also take part in the consultation by asking for an option four, instead of the three suggested by NCC, which will ultimately result in their libraries closing.”

Ellen Tero, Chair of Friends of St James Library said; “I have personally witnessed many success stories eminate from this library as a result of the community using the library. Many people are dependent on us. It is a safe haven. Any closure, however temporary has far reaching effects. This community needs its library open more than ever, but the community cannot assume responsibility for the library, that is simply not sustainable without any support or funding from the local authority.”

option 4 slogan st james

Graham Croucher’s letter to Councillor Heather Smith, Leader of Northamptonshire County Council

Councillor H Smith

Leader, Northamptonshire County Council

Dear Councillor Smith,

You may or not be aware that ST James Library last night one yet another Gold award at the Northampton in Bloom awards, this is the third Gold that the library has won in successive years. Not only that but they also won the Champion of Champions award, the highest award. I am sure you will agree with me that this is a fantastic achievement for a small library, and is testament to the community spirit that resides within the library and the strength of feeling within that community, for their library. Many hours of dedicated work, love and care go into the library garden with all ages taking part in making look fantastic.

You may also be aware that St James Library was also recognised and commended by the Government’s own Libraries Task Force for its sense of community and engagement. This is no small feat for a small library that was threatened with closure in 2011. The success of the library is down to the library manager and an active Friends group that care passionately about this place. Indeed when the library service was restructured a key part of the library service future was more engagement with the community, well St James has delivered their side of the arrangement in spades.

It is with great concern then, that I write to you because I fear that this arrangement may well be under threat. The community has delivered over and above its commitment to it’s library, indeed it has no choice as the restructuring was foisted upon it. We have in recent weeks seen several closures of St James library due to staff shortages because, as I understand it,  that the service has no money to employ staff to cover sickness and annual leave. I am also acutely aware of how hard the dedicated library staff are working, for little reward, and are under huge strain to deliver what has become a front line service. A front line service that many vulnerable people have come to rely on. A service that now includes referrals for people with mental health issues, debt problems and addictions, as well as the ability to renew bus passes, and advice on healthy lifestyles, and many adult learning and children services.  The library staff are delivering way above what their roles were originally intended for, and the cracks are now showing in this vicious circle.

It is worth remembering at this juncture that in order to save the library service, we were told, they would have to metamorphosise into this one stop shop style of operation. It seems to me that this whole operation is now under threat because of lack of funding. We have vulnerable people, families and children being denied access to services locally. A locality that ranks high on the national indices of multiple deprivation, that has high numbers of drug users and homeless people and has a school that ranks high, and well above the national average, for pupils registered for free school meals, which studies suggest correlate with lower life opportunities and more learning difficulties than pupils who can afford to pay. Our community is facing its biggest challenges at the moment with shops and banks closing, which lead to further deprivation within the community, it is only the community groups holding it together but we face an uphill struggle because of a lack of funding, our community is dying, so the last thing we need is library closures!

It is ironic that First Wellbeing was set up to tackle these issues, yet now it is failing communities, and in particular St James by closing libraries at short notice.

I have read, and listened with interest your public comments about the lack of funding from central government, and it is a concern I share with you because this authority is failing the public and vulnerable people. This cannot continue.

We fought in 2011 to keep our libraries open, against a judgement that told us it was a necessary measure to save money, we were successful and accepted the suggestion to become more involved. We met the County Council half way, and have fought tooth and nail for improvements at St James, things that should be a statutory provision. We raise funds to help our library and all along we are being let down and failed by the County Council, and I fear that in the near future more announcements will come about closures. I sincerely hope that can be avoided because despite the pressures we have had many success stories at St James, and many stories of heartbreak from vulnerable individuals. I am terribly proud, as a friend of the library and former Chair of the FoSJL group of all the people and achievements at St James.

We fought to keep the library open, and we will do so again because it is an anchor in community of need, a key component that is underfunded. It is also a wonderful place to be, managed fantastically by a caring manager.

So, I seek your assurance and guarantee that St James Library will not face closure. Can and will you put our minds at rest by giving that clear and unequivocal assurance?

I also seek and request your assurance that the temporary closures will cease with immediate effect and money is found to provide this essential front line service. Will you also provide us with that assurance?

I also speak on behalf of the Chair of FoSJL, Ellen Tero whom has given me permission to write on their behalf because they are as concerned too.

I look forward to hearing from you,

Yours sincerely,

Graham Croucher

Chair, St James Residents’ Association

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