Fate of Lewisham's libraries decided

In a report to the Mayor and Cabinet of Lewisham, Eco Computer Systems has been recommended as Lewisham Council's preferred partner to take over the running of three of its libraries: Grove Park, Sydenham and Crofton Park.

It's likely that ownership will be transferred to the social enterprise on a 25 year lease, enabling it to continue to offer library services while expanding the buildings' remit to include IT recycling and training for local people.

During the tender and consultation process, Eco Computer Systems emerged as by far the most credible candidate, with a strong business plan and a positive track record in Lewisham. The fate of New Cross Library still hangs in the balance, as a suitable partner has not yet been identified.

The report says:

Subject to agreement of the Mayor, officers will now work with Eco Computer Systems to agree final lease terms with them for Grove Park, Sydenham and Crofton Park libraries. Officers will also negotiate interim arrangements with Eco Computer Systems to allow them to begin to implement their plans for community library facilities at the three buildings from 29 May 2011 pending the leases being entered into. Work will also continue to secure a suitable long-term sustainable use for New Cross library working with local organisations.

This bid expressed an interest in all four libraries and sought to combine a community library service with IT recycling and training. The bid proposed using the four library buildings as mixed-use community hubs each including a professionally managed library service fully integrated with the borough’s library service. This activity would be supported through income generated by sales of recycled IT equipment as well as income generated from training, a community cafĂ© and other activities. Each library would be staffed by a mixture of paid staff and volunteers. Library opening hours would be increased under the proposal to 52 hours a week. The one-off transitional funding would be invested in self-issue technology as proposed in the application guidance. Each library would have its own steering committee comprised of local organisations and other active citizens on a voluntary basis.

Eco Computer Systems is a social enterprise that aims to use business solutions to achieve public good. It specialises in rebuilding, repairing and recycling computers and other IT equipment some of which is then sold commercially to support the donation of the remainder to community and charity projects. Eco Computer Systems propose work with a number of partners, including UK Online, Open Doors, Rushey Green Time Bank, EAGA, Volunteer Centre Lewisham, Voluntary Action Lewisham and local schools. The bid proposed establishing a new charity: Eco Libraries to deliver the concept.

For the reasons set out, it is recommended that Eco Computer Systems should be granted a maximum 25 year lease for Grove Park, Crofton Park and Sydenham libraries. There remain concerns about the significant growth that this implies for the company and the resultant danger to their business. Officers will therefore work closely with the company as they take responsibility for these buildings and develop the new community library facilities.

The proposals in this report will deliver the council’s planned savings of £755k in respect of the core libraries service, in line with the profile agreed in the council’s annual budget.

The report recommends that officers should continue to seek alternative users for New Cross library.

This is a good outcome for Lewisham. The Council are not the philistines they have sometimes been presented as during this process and they have succeeded in finding a partner that shares their vision for libraries run by the private sector in the public interest, maximising the community value of their buildings.

The three libraries being transferred should continue to serve the needs of their loyal users, while making much more efficient use of scarce community space. This is not simply a cost-saving exercise, it should also deliver better local libraries.

Meanwhile, Lewisham is building an outstanding library in Deptford - one with the scale and quality of facilities that should help attract new readers and serve a range of needs - creating a new community hub and a new generation of library users.

We've created a poll on the South East London forum, to see whether you agree with our rosy assessment.


Matt-Z said...

This is good news. At the early meetings held by the council the future looked pretty bleak. Were the efforts to find a workable plan helped/encouraged by the backlash against the planned closures? I hope so, it shows that Lewisham are prepared to listen. Good luck to Eco Computers, I really hope it works out and that the opportunities do arise for local people to get involved in decision-making and running.

Deptford dame said...

The library in Deptford is not a new facility - we already have one in the wavelengths centre, it will simply move to a new home and be combined with the access point services that were previously provided in the other building that was demolished to make way for the new Lounge. While we do hope that it will be outstanding, I've not yet seen any statistics or detailed information to explain exactly what the new building will contain, aside from library, access to council services, rooms for hire and a cafe.

oryx said...

I don't know Sydenham or Grove Park libraries so can only comment on my local one, Crofton Park, and (for now) just feel glad that it will remain as a library, rather than being turned into so-called 'luxury flats'.

darryl said...

Isn't the Wavelengths complex itself only 20 years old or so? (What did it replace?) I remember it being a big thing at the time, being a library and swimming pool - so big, when Greenwich Council wanted to shut West Greenwich Library in about 1993, it suggested its users head to Wavelengths instead...

Seems a bit odd to be building "outstanding new libraries" around the corner from the old one every other decade.

Is there any news on the Blackheath Village library?

Karen Jonason said...

As the initiator of the campaign to save Crofton Park Library, I'm very pleased that it's future is now secure. We are now seeking volunteers to help make the community library a success. If you are interested in getting involved, check out the recent message on the Save Crofton Park Library Facebook page.

Anonymous said...

Such tosh..take experienced, dedicated Librarians and staff out of our libraries, ditch half the book stock, replace with volunteers and suddenly we have 'better community libraries'. Please explain Brockley Nick..

Anonymous said...

Have any of you read the advice by officers to Mayor and Cabinet? "there are a number of risks assoaciated with these proposals. The key risk is the financial failure of Eco Computer Systems as a result of becoming over stretched.... Should either the financial or building related risks arise this could lead to a reputational risk to the Council."
"Officers acknowledge that these risks are real and that possible mitigation measures are limited." Obviously Lewisham's legal eagle has made sure that when things go wrong no blame will attach to her or the other officers involved. Mayor and Cabinet were warned! HOW SECURE IS THIS GOING TO BE?
Meanwhile a Blackheath Village charity gets a large chunk of money (£200,000), yours and mine, and those people in New Cross get nothing. But BV will have 1000 books to choose from until next Autumn. The closed library lent out 5000 per month!
You can't be serious!
Will Hart

Tamsin said...

"a reputational risk"! For having given something a go and been a bit flexible!! Surely the other way round. I can understand a council being cautious about a financial risk, and officers rightly advising them of such matters, but "reputation" is irrelevant. They are dammed whatever they do and what some people admire others will deplore.

Anonymous said...

The council have wanted to privatise the Libraries from way before the coalition took office - this is a fact - but of course they don't want to look like the bullies they are, so, after a 'consultation process' they hive the libraries off to private companies who have a slim chance of making a success of the venture. When the libraries that have been privatised eventually go wrong in one way or another the Council can hold up their hands and say 'well, we tried our hardest *for you* to keep them open . . .' but in fact they would have achieved their not very well hidden agenda.

Tim said...

Sad to hear that all the residents who were housed at Avalon House,corner of Manor avenue and Geoffrey road, have had to be rehoused due to a rent hike by landlords L&Q. Sneaky sods are trying to do some kind of bail hostel. feel rotten for the former tenants who had mental health disabilities and had lived there for decades. What are our councillors doing to Brockley!

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