Community lifeline hope for libraries

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Twenty-seven organisations and individuals have stepped forward in response to the appeal to help save Sheffield libraries.

Community groups are among those who have expressed an interest in playing a part in keeping open up to 16 branches threatened with closure.

They include Broomhill Forum, Sharrow Community Forum, Banner Cross Neighbourhood Group, Carter Knowle and Millhouses Community Group, Darnall Forum, Park Community Action, Southey Development Forum, Fox Hill Forum and Tinsley Forum.

But the list also ranges from companies eyeing a takeover of all public libraries to Forum Cafe Bars, which is looking at the idea of combining a library with a wine bar or restaurant. The council is starting negotiations to assess the potential models of operation and their viability.

Cabinet member Coun Mazher Iqbal said it was an “impressive” response and he was “optimistic” that some community libraries would be retained. “But I don’t think there is a quick fix.”

Eleven libraries will definitely stay open in addition to the Central Library - Chapeltown, Crystal Peaks, Darnall, Ecclesall, Firth Park, Highfield, Hillsborough, Manor, Parson Cross, Stocksbridge and Woodseats.

But after an assessment of use, 16 are facing closure, with the potential loss of 75 full time equivalent jobs, to save £1.668m over two years. These are Broomhill, Burngreave, Ecclesfield, Frecheville, Gleadless, Greenhill, Jordanthorpe, Newfield Green, Park, Southey, Stannington, Tinsley, Totley, Upperthorpe, Walkley and Woodhouse.

There is funding for up to five libraries to be kept open in a partnership that would see the council maintain the building and some associated costs, but they would have to be staffed by volunteers, albeit with council training and support.

Other libraries, and the mobile library service, would remain in business only if groups came forward to run them independently, with no financial support from a cash-strapped authority.

Consultations will be held over the next 12 weeks before final decisions are taken. No libraries will be shut before next April.

At least 64% of library users will see no changes as a result of the 12 ‘hub’ libraries being kept open, says the council. The shake-up will also bring an equalisation of library hours across the city and reflect a shift to e-books and use of Wi-fi.

But the threat of closure is one of the most dramatic and high profile consequence of the cuts to Sheffield services, which is bound to stir opposition.

It is hoped that community and other groups can fill as many of the gaps as possible.

Their interest ranges from helping with management to offering volunteers. Broomhill Forum, for example, wants to see its local library in a multi-purpose building, with volunteers helping professional staff. It has been pressing for years for a replacement for the old branch in Taptonville Road.

Sharrow Community Forum envisages the possibility of being the managing body for Highfield, Totley and Woodseats, “supporting growth, innovation and service delivery”.

Burton Street Foundation has suggested ‘hosting’ Woodhouse library alongside a cafe. Ecclesfield Parish Council has offered to co-ordinate the interest of community groups.

Three organisations have expressed an interest in taking over the service - the Sheffield Cubed consortium, Wigan Leisure and Culture Trust and public sector operator John Laing.

Forum Cafe Bars, which runs The Forum cafe bar and Old House, York Hotel and Broadfield pubs, is looking at Hillsborough, Walkley, Woodseats and Ecclesall with a view to “a wine/bar restaurant incorporating space for a library”.