Labour’s shame as it tries to close libraries in questionable deal with gyms company.

occupation Carnegie libraryLambeth refuses to consider alternative financially viable plan by libraries’ chief.

Carnegie Library occupied!


Big march on Saturday April 9. Gather outside Carnegie Library, 118 Herne Hill Rd., SE24 at 11:30AM. The march will go to Brixton via the threatened Minet Library. 

The Friends are a non-political body. We criticised the Conservatives in no uncertain terms over their odd deal to put a giant commercial building on Crystal Palace Park and now it’s Labour’s turn to feel our wrath.

Lambeth Council has revealed its financial incompetence and true Machiavellian colours with its plans to close several libraries and convert library space to gyms run by  Greenwich Leisure Ltd.  GLL has revealed no business plan and has not had to submit itself to competitive tender. In order to push the plans through at Carnegie Library (Herne Hill Road, SE24 Lambeth set up a community trust that the community can’t actually join and which has been packed with former Labour cllrs.  Our local Labour MPS have damaged their reputations by refusing to back the campaign to safeguard all of Lambeth’s Libraries. Labour’s Mayoral candidate Sadiq Khan has not had the courage to risk his stage-managed campaign by confronting an issue which would have brought to light Lambeth’s scandal.

We asked documentary maker Charlotte Knowles if she would produce a video highlighting the anger and defiance of local people:

Carnegie Library  – Barbarians at the gates.

Statement from Dr. Martin Heath A.K.C..

They just haven’t got it. Maybe, they can’t get it. They insist on being the proverbial swine before whom one is warned not to cast ones pearls.

Like many people engaged in actions which are clearly wrong and destructive by most people’s standards, Lambeth councillors protect their consciences by weaving around themselves a coccoon of their own spin, a kind of virtual reality helmet, which shuts out the world and what it is saying.

On our side of the fence, I see good, gentle and sensitive people with a profound sense of civic responsibility, some of whom are being driven to illness with the worry of this ludicrous situation.

From their side of the fence, a Lambeth councillor, bored with the debate and wanting to mock despairing members of the public, sends out an image of a yawning cat, followed by an image of a cat on gym equipment.

Councillors have denounced those trying to defend their libraries as “toxic” and “troublemakers.” As one of those who helped plan the occupation and who stayed for its early stages, I’ll tell you what I actually saw.

Right up to the final moment when the Library was officially shut, I saw a group of young women clustered around a table, revising hard for their A levels. Presumably, if they had somewhere else to go that was better and more convenient, they would have been there. I noticed pages of biochemistry. A decade from now, these women may well be doctors treating the community, perhaps at the hospital a short walk down the road, or researchers engaged in the fight to defeat crippling or killer diseases.

I saw toddlers playing and being read to in the safe space of the children’s library, where they come into contact with books and could begin a life-long journey of discovery. Overnight, I spoke with a researcher in neurosciences, about stem cells and about Parkinson’s Disease. She had found public libraries indispensable during her education. I spoke also to a youthful geophysicist, with a particular interest in the Earth’s core and our planet’s magnetic field. A young woman was pursuing a masters in evolutionary biology. Another told me of her concerns about defining “Fine Art.” 

“Toxic?” “Troublemakers?” All of them involved in  conspiracy to mislead the public?

How many movers and shakers and technologists and ecologists first set down their roots in the public library – a place as essential to education and to keeping our civilization running as schools and universities?

 I met with those who have traveled widely and who were keen to extend peaceful relationships between very different cultures and we were addressed and inspired by a man, looking years younger than his age, who had survived the WWII siege of Stalingrad. I spoke also to many, many people who were not career academics, but a cross-section of locals, who were no less intelligent or well-read and who loved books dearly.

The Library has hosted an endless succession of community events, including – this is the one I would have enjoyed most as a child – talks about bats and other wildlife, where children have been encouraged to read books and then to attend a twilight bat watch in the nearby park, where the public gather around the pond with bat detectors.

The occupation reminded me of a film I once saw, in which academics were besieged in the great Library of Alexandria, defending it (unsuccessfully, as it turned out) against a mob of religious extremists.

The barbarians are at the gates. What do they want? They want to cram the books into a back room where a self-service, no-librarians regime will be unsuitable for children. They want to hand over space to a gym and so they tell us, opening hours will be extended. When we see this arrangement, we are told in all seriousness, we will be so impressed that will all flock to vote Labour. That at least is the view from inside the virtual reality helmet of Lambeth spin.

We have seen a community trust, with no membership from the general public , but apparently open to former Labour councillors, claim to talk for local people and being exposed for what it is at packed meetings of the Friends of Carnegie Library. We have seen a petulant refusal of Lambeth to get to grips with alternative, and financially feasible schemes, such as that put forward by a libraries chief.

I call for an investigation into the financial competence of Lambeth Council and into the peculiar intimacy of its relationship with Greenwich Leisure Ltd, would-be managers of the gym.

M. J. Heath c/o 020 8670 8924.


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