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Ealing’s Libraries saved
Community groups were celebrating on Tuesday night after they successfully convinced Ealing Council to keep the libraries at Hanwell, Northfields, Northolt and Perivale open.
All four libraries had been threatened with closure, but community groups in the areas had launched campaigns to save the libraries, culminating in the presentation of seven petitions containing close to 8000 signatures to the council.
In particular, the four petitions with over 1000 signatures, including one from Hanwell with over 2900 signatures, triggered a debate on the subject in council.
Before the debate, more than 150 people, including several children with home-made signs, gathered outside the town hall to protest against the library closures.
Replying to the petitions, cabinet member for libraries Councillor Ranjit Dheer announced that all of the libraries would be kept open, although the borough’s mobile library service would have to close.
“None of us came into politics to close libraries,” he said.
“I will be recommending to the cabinet that Hanwell Library, Northfields Library, Perivale Library, and Northolt Leisure Centre Library not close.”
Councillor Dheer stressed, however, that in order to ensure the long-term survival of the borough’s libraries some changes would have to be made, including a greater use of volunteers.
He said: “We have saved them today but to secure their future we have to explore all alternative methods of delivery.”
He thanked the petitioners for their interest in the libraries and urged them to talk to the council to become involved in the running of the libraries.
The decision came as a surprise to many in the council chamber, including those who presented the petitions, and it marks a remarkable u-turn in the council’s policy.
When the library consultation was announced, it was widely assumed, despite assurances from the council, that at least one if not more of the libraries listed in the document would have to close.
However, in the three months since, a number of community groups launched campaigns to save the library, organising petitions and events across the borough, and also bringing pressure to bear onto the council leadership at a number of meetings to discuss the future of the libraries.
Carolyn Brown, who led the campaign to save Hanwell Library, said she was delighted with the decision to keep it open.
“I cannot express how pleased I am that they have listened to us,” she said.
“There will be so many people who will be exhilarated.”
She also said that this would provide an opportunity to re-vitalise Hanwell Library, and her campaigning group, the Hanwell Community Forum Library Action Group, would be happy to work with the council.
Councillors from Elthorne Ward, where Hanwell Library is situated, praised Ms Brown’s role in saving the library.
Councillor Nigel Bakhai said: “I would like to thank Carolyn for all her efforts. It is because of the pressure you have put on this council that the library will stay open.”
Councillor Anita Kapoor, who also presented a petition to council, said: “Carolyn, I humbly salute you.”
Councillor Phil Taylor, who presented a petition to keep Northfields Library open, said it was a victory for community action.
“I am very pleased,” he said.
“This is a victory for people power. What we are talking about is six wards with 60,000 people and 8000 took the trouble to sign a petition.”
Councillor Justin Anderson, from Perivale, expressed his happiness at the decision, and praised the contribution of Peter Fry, a retired former librarian, in collecting signatures and driving the campaign.
He said: "I am delighted that the council have seen sense, listened to the community and saved this valuable local resource.
"I think they really underestimated the public anger. "I want to thank everyone who was involved in the campaign to save our library, but particularly Peter Fry, whose dedication to saving the library has been unparalleled."
Mr Fry, however, played down his role, while saying how important it was that Perivale library would remain open.
“I can’t really take credit for this. I think the credit has to go to all the wonderful people who came in and got involved. So many people supported the library,” he said.
“There is something going round the country. I think there is a groundswell of support for libraries.
“This is excellent news. It is extremely important that Perivale Library stays open.”