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East Swindon | August 17, 2017

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Proposal to save eight libraries takes shape

Proposal to save eight libraries takes shape
Dale Heenan
  • On July 4, 2017
  • https://www.eastswindon.com

A PLAN is emerging that could potentially see up to eight of Swindon’s at-risk community libraries saved.

Last year, Swindon Borough Council decided that the financial challenges facing local authorities were such that they could no longer continue to fund all fifteen of the town’s libraries.

In a bid to save £1.5m from the budget by 2020, the cabinet voted in December to withdraw funding from ten of the 15, leaving just Central, Highworth, Park, North Swindon and West Swindon in council hands.

The aspiration was that local groups, such as parish councils or residents associations, would bid for a share of a £500,000 fund to take control of the smaller libraries to prevent them from closing.

Expressions of interest had been received from groups considering ways to support one or two libraries but it did not appear that there was any co-ordinated plan to pool knowledge and resources.

But now a proposal has been put forward by the newly formed ‘Community Library Trust’ that hopes to bring eight libraries under the same umbrella in a bid to secure their future.

The trust was set up in recent months, initially to protect Covingham and then Liden library.

The expression of interest they have submitted to the council continues that work, outlining a five year plan for those two sites, but also looks to secure community and parish council support to include Stratton, Even Swindon, Moredon, Old Town, Penhill and Pinetrees from September.

Wroughton and Walcot libraries have identified their own local solutions.

With Swindon Borough Council exploring the option of a trust model for the core five council-funded libraries, the opportunity to assist in establishing a parallel trust for the non-funded community libraries is likely to be of interest.

However the trust is not the only organisation to have expressed an interest – individual parish councils and shadow parish councils have also submitted initial bids for individual sites.

Final business plans and formal bids are not due for a further two months which will give the various organisations an opportunity to explore the merits of a trust model further.

Coun Dale Heenan, who has been spearheading the work of the community trust, said: “Months of hard work mean that we are confident plans for Covingham Library and Liden Library are realistic and achievable with lower running costs and professional Library staff.

“Swindon Borough Council just needs to have the will to say yes and fully support our efforts.

“The library trust is independent, non-political, and willing to collaborate with anyone to ensure Swindon’s community libraries are saved from closure.

“On day one, the ideas the trust has can make savings of more than £17,000 for Liden Library and £5,000 at Covingham Library, but these same ideas can be applied to other libraries such as Upper Stratton at £12,000, or Penhill at £5,400.

“These are all easy savings which Swindon Borough Council and the parishes cannot implement by themselves.

“This approach will only be successful if parish councils, community groups and all of the political parties work together. If not, then libraries will close or we may easily find five different groups all trying to do the same thing.”

Ten days ago, Coun Heenan welcomed Libraries Minister Rob Wilson MP to Covingham library where he outlined the plans for the community trust model.

He is now encouraging groups, businesses or individuals that are interested in getting involved to contact him on dale.heenan@gmail.com