August 2016 deadline for handover of Manor House Library

Library for front pageIf Lewisham Council votes to hand Manor House Library to a ‘community group’ or social enterprise, the handover will take place at the end of August 2016. That is not long to identify interested groups and vet them for suitability.

A meeting at Manor House Library on 16 November heard Community Services Executive Director Aileen Buckton attempt to clarify the process. However, by her own admission, she had few answers.

It is widely expected that the library will be ‘demoted’ to being “community-run” along with Torridon Road and Forest Hill libraries to save the council £1 million. Even Lee Green’s Councillor Jim Mallory stated he would not oppose the plans. While the library service would still be run by the council, the libraries would be operated on a day-to-day basis by volunteers.

The savings would be made by redundancies among librarians and staff who run the buildings. This raised alarm bells among those attending the latest meeting. While Aileen Buckton admitted Manor House is different from other libraries in the borough, ‘because it is much bigger’ she did not immediately acknowledge its historical and architectural importance.

Manor House is a Grade II* listed building lovingly restored at the end of the last century. What safeguards would the council put in place to ensure its continuing upkeep? Aileen Buckton said the council had a ‘duty of care’ to the building, but she admitted she did not know exactly what that entailed.

The restoration was funded in part by a loan of £122,000 and she said the council would continue to service that debt. Ms Buckton conceded that the council had never had the wherewithal to capitalise on the building; rooms are currently used by local groups but rental costs squeeze out some potential use, and the space is poorly marketed. However, she said, ‘That’s something a community group may do better.’

Eventually she acceded to demands that Manor House Library should be treated as a special case. Councillor Mallory suggested that interested local groups should be involved in drawing up specifications for applicants to run the building. Aileen Buckton agreed that was a good idea but she admitted ‘that is not in my gift’.

The consultation on plans for Manor House Library is now closed, and those at the meeting had a strong sense that whatever the views of those consulted, the plans will be voted through. If the battle to save the library is now lost, the battle to ensure the continuing health of Manor House itself must now be joined.

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