Barnet Council backtracks on library closure after squatter and community led campaign

Supporter Will self signs a copy of his book at Friern Barnet Library

Supporter Will self signs a copy of his book at Friern Barnet Library

BARNET Council has backtracked on plans to demolish a much-loved community library and hand over its running to the community.

Friern Barnet Library was closed last April and earmarked for development as the council sought to cut costs on public services after an 18-month battle with campaigners, from the Save Friern Barnet Library Campaign, to keep it open.

In September the library was reopened by a group of squatters linked to the Occupy movement who promptly reopened it to the community who were quick to offer their support donating thousands of books, toys and their time in the process.

Despite a series of meetings with the council to keep it open eviction proceedings began in October.

However, in December a judge ruled that the council should try and negotiate some form of license to keep it open stating the rights of protesters should be proportional to the council’s.

A handing over ceremony of the library key by the squatters to the trustee group that will now manage the renamed Friern Barnet Community Library will take place tomorrow (Tuesday) at noon.

One of the trustees said: “This is a triumph for the local community. Our library was closed in April and we were told the library would be marketed. Now we have our library back, with council financial support. We achieved this through constant campaigning, lobbying and building a broad alliance including squatters, activists, supporters of the Occupy movement, local residents and library campaign groups.”

The council justified its backtracking over the library’s sell-off by saying its One Barnet savings programme had been more successful than expected.

Earlier in the month Cllr Robert Rams, Barnet Council’s cabinet member for customer access and partnerships, said: “I’d like to stress that because of the success of the One Barnet procurement process we have more contractual savings than we expected and the council is in a different financial position than when we started our library review.

“We have been able to support a very successful community run library in Hampstead Garden Suburb, in large part because local residents have a fully accountable and effectively organised body that we can provide with public assets. I’d very much like to see a similar body in Friern Barnet.”

The exact license to run the library, which is expected to last two years, is still to be agreed including any council funding and who will pay for utility bills, insurance and repairs, however, it is believed funding will not be enough to pay for a full-time librarian.

Since the building was reopened in September volunteers have run a manual lending system and held regular events with music, performance and talks including one by local author Will Self who’s latest book is set in the former mental asylum opposite.

Activist and squatter Pete Phoenix said: “This campaign definitely shows the success of direct action and squatting. The whole country will soon be facing 80 per cent of the rest of the cuts. They can take some inspiration from this direct action. Collectively we have helped to save this library from the bulldozer. We would like to see more arrangements between owners of the 1.4million empty buildings and squatter, homeless and community groups rather than the criminalisation [of squatters] being carried out by this government under the new [anti-squatter] law.”

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