Mark Conrad 06 December 2010

Lewisham asks community groups to run libraries

Lewisham London Borough Council has become one of the first major councils to experiment with Big Society-style cultural services provision by asking community groups to come forward to run local libraries threatened with closure.

Mayor of Lewisham Steve Bullock has deferred a decision on the proposed closure of five of the council’s 12 libraries and instead called on local residents to join forces to manage local sites – on a voluntary basis - so that they can remain open.

Cllr Chris Best, Lewisham’s cabinet member for community services, said: ‘We would like to explore ways in which community library services could continue to be provided from these or other buildings.

‘The council would continue to provide books as well as providing visiting library services, such as storytelling, homework sessions and reading groups. We are looking for vibrant organisations to take over the management of the buildings and ensure that they continue to stand at the heart of the community.’

Prime minister David Cameron has called for a culture of volunteerism and the establishment of residents-led co-operatives to take over local public services under threat as a result of spending cuts. The plan forms a key part of his Big Society initiative, but has been attacked as simply government withdrawal from the provision of vital services.

Lewisham’s library proposed closures were identified after the council discovered it must reduce its budget by around £78m over the next four years.

Several large councils have initiated Big Society-style plans for key local services, and at least two other London boroughs are due to announce similar library plans shortly.

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