“Over My Dead Body” says Jonathan Simpson

North London residents concerned about the loss of community resources have received vociferous support from their local councillors.

There was a time when the areas around Hampstead, Camden and Clerkenwell seemed to have a library around every corner. Yet as needs have evolved and purse strings have tightened, there is a view among some residents that these resources are among the first to be done away with.

As Hampstead estate agents report a growing number of individuals and families looking to move into this ever-popular area, facilities like these take on an escalating level of importance. Both existing residents and those contemplating a move here will, therefore, welcome the news that the local councillors are100 percent behind stopping the rot.

Friends of West Hampstead Library

There are those who feel libraries belong to a bygone age and have no relevance in 2018. Anyone of that opinion would do well to visit a Friends of West Hampstead Library (FoWHL) meeting. The community group was set up in 1998 to objectively discuss this very point, and explore the role that libraries can and should play in modern society.

Today, FoWHL numbers 700 members, and at its recent AGM, it celebrated its 20th anniversary. The meeting was attended by local councillors for Fortune Green, Camden, and Hampstead & Kilburn.

While the councillors represented different points on the party political spectrum, they were united in their support for FoWHL and each vowed to ensure there would be no further library closures in the area.

Budget cuts

Liberal MP for Fortune Green Flick Rea is something of a local hero, and is known for her personable, no-nonsense approach and her abhorrence of party politics. She pointed out that although the threat of immediate closure has receded, there is a need for constant vigilance. She said: “Every so often, when the council needs to cut money, they come up with plans to close our libraries. When they get rejected, the plans go back on top of a dusty shelf, only to be dusted off again years later when the next lot of cuts are needed. We’re in a good place at the moment, but that could always change.”

Not on my watch

Another speaker was Jonathan Simpson, the Labour MP for Camden. He has seen plenty of libraries disappear from his constituency over the years, but said that any future closures will be “over his dead body.”

Use it or lose it

Kilburn and Hampstead MP Tulip Siddiq was also in attendance, and echoed the sentiments of her cross-party colleagues, but perhaps it was the words of local resident and FoWHL Chairman Simon Inglis that resonated the most.

He pointed out that while the vast majority of residents want their local library to survive, there are many who never set foot inside it. Ultimately, the councillors can only do so much, and it is up to those in the community to demonstrate their support and vote with their feet. He said: “People come in and say they’ve lived locally and have never been in. It’s a case of use it, or lose it.”