On Thursday 18th June, Enderby Parish Council played host to a meeting under the banner of “Befriend Enderby Library”
The meeting, which began at 6pm, drew together members of the community who had expressed an interest in taking on responsibility for maintaining a library service in Enderby, following the decision by Leicestershire County Council in November last year to close all but 37 branches of the county’s library service.
The closures, say the County Council, are necessary to to “protect” the County’s 16 bigger libraries and deliver a budget saving of £1.4 million a year.
The County Council have undertaken to maintain a supportive role to those groups who get the go-ahead to provide a community run library.
A number of groups from around the County have made proposals (expressions of interest) to run their local libraries and most of these have yet to be formerly approved by the County Council. At the present time, ten of those groups have yet to submit an ‘expression of interest’.
Progress in formulating proposals by groups has been slow due to the complex nature of the process and the different ‘business models’ being examined/proposed.
Despite its popularity, Enderby Library was not designated as ‘protected’ and therefore stood in danger of closing unless suitable alternative arrangements using ‘community volunteers’ could be implemented.
Enderby Library’s position was further complicated because it is housed in the Civic Centre – owned by the Parish Council – with the Library ‘space’ being rented by the County Council.
As the deadline for formerly expressing an interest was fast approaching and, with no Enderby group emerging, the Parish Council took the lead and a street survey was conducted to ascertain essentially
1) the level of interest in retaining a Library in Enderby, and
2) the number of people willing to volunteer their time and skills.
The result was extremely positive and the Parish Council decided to take the lead by proposing that they (the Parish Council) take on responsibility for organising and running the Library – which could only be done with the help of volunteers.
The meeting on Thursday 16th June was designed to bring together those who had offered to volunteer their time and various skill sets in order to explain the current position and decide on the next moves.
Parish Councillor Tracy Green was joined on the top table by representatives from Leicestershire Libraries, including Paul Love, the Project Manager overseeing the transition process and a representative from Volunteer Action Leicestershire.
Paul Love explained that groups wishing to register their interest should do so by Monday of next week, as the County Council “….had to draw the line somewhere”. On 10th July the County Council will examine the submitted registrations of interest and successful applicant groups will (on 4th September 2015) move on to the next stage, which involves working with the County Council in honing the proposed business plan for presentation to the County Council Cabinet’s October meeting, where a final decision on whether Enderby continues to have its own Library.
The meeting had been called by Enderby Parish Council for the purpose of firming up the details of those volunteering their time and to explain how the Parish Council intended to operate the Library at Enderby together with an explanation of the next steps.
The Parish Council had already completed the registration of interest document and taken steps to investigate the legal and other considerations necessary to continue to manage and run the Library in its current location. It also had aspirations to enhance and expand the offering of the Library in terms of space for club/group meetings and new ways of delivering core library products.
The aim was to encourage use of the Library and make visits to the Library a richer experience for young and old.
In outlining the Parish Council’s plans, Cllr. Tracy Green said it was lovely to see everyone who had turned up and that a support package from the County Council was available and besides assistance from Volunteer Action Leicestershire there was also in-house experience of managing volunteers on a day to day basis. The Parish Council were in the happy position of already owning the building housing the Library and, spurred on by the results of the survey, the Parish Council felt it had legitimacy to move forward with its plans ….which could only be realised with the co-operation of volunteers within the community.
When the meeting opened up to questions from the floor, there were enquiries regarding funding necessary expenses (utilities, insurances, etc.) and the impact on the Council tax.
A representative from Enderby’s Brockington College said the College were keen to involve year 9/10 students in volunteering.
Another questioner asked how the arrangement would work if a group (other than the Parish Council) wanted to run the Library in its current location. Paul Love answered that would involve a slightly complicated lease arrangement between the various parties. That question prompted Cllr. Green to say that she believed, like possibly some others in the room, that there was confusion as to where we were at.
Cllr. Green said that the Parish Council had considered one model where the Parish Council took over the management, co-ordination and running of the Library and another model where an independent community group ran the Library – and if there were people at the meeting who wanted to set up such a group that would be fine. “We’re not fighting for the gig” she quipped.
Cllr. Green said it was possible such a group might eventually form from the ranks of the initial volunteers and take over the running of the Library further down the line. She reiterated that the Parish Council were willing to take on that role as representatives of the community but it [the Council] would not be able to do it without volunteer support.
Another questioner asked about opening times and Cllr. Green answered saying the current intention was to open regularly each afternoon, based on a proven consultation. With suitable volunteer contribution, Library hours could be extended beyond the baseline envisaged by the Parish Council.
One attendee highlighted concern about the existing paid staff and the job insecurity and anxiety that occurred during the ‘transition’ process. Paul Love responded saying job security was an issue, but every effort would be made to re-deploy library workers displaced by the closures. The meeting expressed its appreciation of the current staff and praised their application to the work.
As the meeting drew to a close. a number of attendees called for a vote of confidence in the Parish Council’s efforts to date and give a mandate to carry forward the process to save Enderby Library. The vote in the room was unanimously in favour.