AN iconic Coventry library is under renewed threat of closure after volunteers running it pulled out of formal takeover arrangements with the council amid funding concerns.
Earlsdon Library Friends’ (ELF’s) board informed members in writing last week of their collective action, claiming Coventry City Council had refused to meet the building’s maintenance costs for two or fhree years to help the community project become established.
They had stepped in with a community take-over last year to prevent the celebrated 106-year-old Carnegie library’s closure from council cuts.
Councillor Kevin Maton has now, in election week, responded to news of the resignations by claiming the council will do what it can to help the library survive.
It was one of three city libraries that last year passed from council-maintained to community running, despite a strong campaign by Save Coventry Libraries. It pointed to national data showing such community takeovers did not last, being starved off the support and investment they need, and over-reliance on volunteers.
In an email to members, seen by the Observer, the ELF board stated: “Our intention was to take over running of the library with a package of support from the council aligned with the business model whilst we grew community business and grant funded activities.
“Last December we heard from the council that they would offer financial support to our enterprise for less than one year and that we would also be expected to take over liability for repairs and maintenance of the building as well as the full cost of bills, business rates, insurance etc at this point.
“We have exchanged views with council staff, the cabinet member responsible and the chief executive about potential ways forward in the last few months.
“It has not been possible to progress to a point where we felt that a partnership between ourselves and the council could lead to a successful venture to sustain Earlsdon’s library provision.
“It is with a heavy heart that we have formally stepped down as a partner to the council.”
But the message also urged volunteers to continue while they awaited more news from the council.
A statement from Elf provided to us states: “Earlsdon Library Friends have recently told the council that we can’t enter a formal partnership with them to take over running of the library.
“After months of hard work we are extremely disappointed to have got to this point.
“However, our excellent group of volunteers has provided a great community library service since September and we have suggested to the council that they keep going with this approach.”
Coun Maton subsequently wrote to a volunteer to say: “The council has not decided to close Earlsdon Library in September.
“I met with the Friends Group on the 11th April, where we discussed all the issues of concern. We left with an agreement that they would put their reaction to our meeting in writing and on our part we would investigate how we could address those concerns that had been raised in the meeting with the possibility of additional short term financing.
“It felt like a positive meeting. The next thing I know is they have decided they cannot work with the Council and rumours are quickly flying.
“Obviously the Friends have put in considerable work; there is a business plan , an application for grant funding and the establishment of a strong volunteer group. Which makes it particularly disappointing that they cannot proceed further.
“As the Cabinet Member for Libraries I can say we are now working to look at alternative arrangements that will allow the Library to continue as an important community hub.
“I hope there will be positive news in the near future.”
The council’s Labour leaders had said as early as 2014 that all library services at 18 sites, and mobile libraries, would be reviewed with an eye on savings. It followed years of heavy government funding cuts to local authorities.
Community organisations and volunteers were invited to register an interest in taking over their libraries – amid council proposals for libraries to share with other buildings.