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 www.wandsworth.gov.uk/libraries.
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.