Big Society plan to save library

Published: Monday 21st February 11

Councillors are expected to endorse a series of “Big Society” proposals to save Battersea’s York Gardens library from closure.

An innovative rescue package has been devised that will see the threatened library continue to provide a children's library service, alongside some adult provision, a homework club, public-access IT and internet facilities and a community space.

The key to the rescue plan is a Big Society solution involving local staff, the greater use of volunteers and utilising offers of help and support from a local private school foundation that wants to contribute more to its surrounding neighbourhoods.

The council is also close to striking a deal with a second local school willing to hire the upstairs space in the library and use it for additional classrooms. The income from this will help the council meet its savings targets, but also allow the space to be used at other times by residents and community groups - especially in the evenings, at weekends and throughout the school holidays.

The Big Society solution that's being explored involves the existing library staff forming a "staff mutual" and taking over the running of the library. The system would first undergo a trial stage with the staff forming a unit with its own business plan - this would be used to judge whether the proposal can be turned into a " Mutual ". The Government is encouraging front-line public sector staff to take over and run their services as mutual organisations. In November ministers announced the creation of a £10m fund to help start up fledgling staff mutuals.

The future of the library is also likely to be boosted by the prospect of its building becoming home to the borough's Learning Resources Service (LRS) which provides books, artefacts and other resources for teachers to use in classrooms.

There is also the possibility that some services from the neighbouring one o'clock club and children's centre could also expand into the building to provide enhanced services for local children and teenagers.

Culture spokesman Cllr Sarah McDermott said: "These innovative and far reaching proposals are what the Big Society is all about - and they promise a much brighter future for York Gardens Library.

"When we held our public consultation into the future of the library, we promised right from the outset that we would listen carefully to what people told us and explore all realistic suggestions and solutions and that is precisely what we have done.

"Staff members have come up with an exciting plan that could see them form their own mutual trust to run the library. And we also had concrete offers from 300 members of the public who said they were willing to volunteer to work in the library to keep it open.

"Coupled with that we have received an exciting and generous offer from the Thomas's School Foundation who have expressed a willingness to support the library and the people who use it. They want to help maintain its children's library and its homework club and have come up with a pool of volunteers, of both staff and their parents who understand and support the notion of a Big Society.

"We have also reached an outline agreement with the nearby Thames Christian College - which is a small independent secondary school based in Wye Street, who want to expand their provision and need extra classroom space. By hiring the first floor of the library building, they can make an important financial contribution and guarantee that at all other times this space will be available for local resident's groups to use.

"We also hope to extend other children's services into the building, including some Sure Start provision, which will further enhance and safeguard this community asset.

"These ideas are precisely what the Big Society is all about. They represent an innovative new approach to running public services and will I'm sure be watched with interest by other town halls and local communities across London and beyond.

"As well as the plan to save York Gardens, the feedback we've received through our consultation has helped us to adjust our proposals for library opening times to make them more in line with people's needs, whilst maintaining the level of savings that need to be made."

Councillors will discuss the proposals at a special meeting of the environment, culture and community safety scrutiny committee on February 28.

Members will also be asked to approve changes to opening hours at nine of the borough's 11 libraries. The changes will mean that the local library network will be open for a total of 436 hours each week - and all will stay open for longer at busy times like Saturday mornings.

Supporting the York Garden 's proposals, including their income generating measures, as well as altering opening hours at other libraries and adjusting staff levels will deliver savings to the council of £719,000 a year.

For more information about local library services visit

Last December the council launched the Wandsworth Challenge - an ambitious plan to change the way the council provides public services and works with residents and community groups. Officers have been challenged to find new and efficient ways of delivering services while at the same time empowering local people to help themselves.

The plan for York Gardens Library provides an excellent example of the creative, new ways of working the council wants to develop.

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Recent comments

It will be a very positive thing if York Gardens is saved, and innovative of Wandsworth to try and achieve a solution with a "Big Society" approach. Lets hope it can be made to work. Of course, we all still feel new to this concept of the Big Society, but in fact it represents a thread that has been present in communities always, even today. Mutuals, to answer a previous question, used to be everywhere - our building societies all used to be Mutual Societies. They are akin to Co-ops. We are very lucky in Wandsworth to have some of the best libraries in London, the new Wandsworth Town Library, Battersea Library and Tooting Library being good examples. York Gardens is no less important as a part of the educational fabric of the Borough.
Philip Beddows

24 February 2011

Give the people what the people want. Does the Big Society, whatever that is, already have its own ghastly jargon? What is a "Mutual" or a "staff mutual"? Could we try to speak plain English please.
Iain KS Gray

24 February 2011

if wdsert was onest it would reduce the highly paid senior officers and subseqwent fat pensions and pay offs and need no big society, stop paing staff who hav been institulonized fat salaries pushing a paperclip an hour and wondering what to do next. it gos on there and the only reason is its nepotism they look after emselvs and there kindred thats 4 sure. they then retire on big fat pensions and lump sums at sixty or b4- whats this big socity bout! ask those who hav taken the from wndswerts big fat pot in the past 2 volunteer 4 the big socity sure u will get plenty offrs
ivor gripe

23 February 2011

To put the "concrete offers from 300 members of the public" into perspective: Of the 300, only 128 listed York Gardens as their main library, and rather than being "concrete offers", that number includes people who are "fairly interested" in volunteering. As anyone who has tried to organise a volunteer-run event will testify, the number who *say* they will volunteer is normally significantly greater than the number who actually *do*. The Council reports that it's current pool of Library and Heritage Service volunteers put in an average of 29 hours per year each. If that level continues, then it would need over 100 volunteers per year to achieve the volunteer staffing levels the Council is proposing.
Neil Stead

22 February 2011

I would be happy to volunteer to help with this new scheme.
Angela Roden

22 February 2011

The local "consultation" meeting I attended was not to discuss the issues at all. The main speaker made this clear at the outset so I left early. Not a person under 55 attended yet there were young people in the library with their children at the same time. I am glad that it looks as if the paper consultation may have given council tax payers a more genuine opportunity to respond to issues of fairness, equality of opportunity and funding.
Celia Blair

21 February 2011

Sarah McDermott, while supposedly listening "carefully to what people told us" said in an email: "In this time of national austerity, I do not think it is too much to ask people to walk a little further to their local library...From our review of libraries we are finding that young adults are using traditional libraries less and turning more to the internet for research and study....All schools should be providing books for pupils to take home and read with their parents...." Let's be clear. She wanted to wanted to close the library and the massive local support has made that more difficult. Do local people get a chance to see what this will really mean for them before a decision is made? An alternative view here:
YGL user

21 February 2011

I am very happy that a new option was added and that York Gardens library might now escape his unjustified closure. I will gladly volunteer to keep it open. To the lady that only came once and got a dirty toilet, well what can I say...Unlucky..... Cause I go there twice a week and it is always clean...
Sandra Munoz

21 February 2011

I have only been to this library once and the kitchen and toilet facilities were disgusting. I hope something will be done about this before children use it

21 February 2011

Please don't use the term 'Big Society'. It is inaccurate and intellectually incoherent. I do not pay my taxes to have you repeat Conservative privatisation dogma.
Stuart Watkin

21 February 2011