Libraries are for “White Elite” (According to Lambeth Council)

The Friends have obtained four documents under the Freedom of Information legislation relating to the assessment of the business plans submitted to Lambeth by Carnegie Community Trust and the democratic Carnegie Library Association respectively in support of their competing bids to take over the building. Below are links to these and a copy of the assessment published by Lambeth.  We are still battling to obtain a copy of the Trust's full business plan.


The documents obtained confirm that the Trust's plan is essentially to exclude the library, though a "limited number of books" would be available and it is envisaged that there will still be two-hour visits from librarians.  Instead of a library the Trust propose to have a cafe or cafe bar run entirely by volunteers and serving hot and cold meals as "the real social centre."


The obvious question is what is wrong with a library?  The answer  seems to be that it is "seen as white elitist - catchment area is multi-cultural; building does not offer anything for some communities."  This bigoted nonsense appears to be part of a wider problem with senior people at the council.  The local branch of the Labour Party is demanding action to counter "a growing problem of institutional racism in Lambeth Council" and UNISON has published some disturbing figures on its website:


As they would not want a purpose-built library, the Trust would want to "reshape the building."  After detailed inspections architects and building surveyors have advised Lambeth that the building will need substantial long-term maintenance work in 10 to 20 years time.  The democratic Association are content to raise the necessary funds and do this work in due course.  There is a possibility of 100% Lottery funding, as was provided to the councils which applied in the last round of Lottery funding for libraries.  The Trust propose to do the work quickly combining it with the reshaping at a total cost of about £5 million.  They hope to get 50% from the Lottery and Cllr James Chatterton Dickson informs us that Lambeth will pay the other 50%.


Overall the officers preferred the Trust to the Association for the Council's preferred bidder, ostensibly because the Trust's plans are supposedly "more ambitious."  So far as appears from the documents this ambition comprises the reshaping of the building, of which no details have been disclosed, and the replacement of the library by a cafe or cafe bar.


The following table summarises the plans of the democratic Association and the Trust.

 Carnegie Library AssociationCarnegie Community Trust
Changes to the use of the ground floor and the first floor office from the uses prior to closure in 2016Additional community uses and income generation but all of this would be compatible with the primary use as a public library.Library use would be excluded (though there would be "a limited supply of books").


A cafe or cafe bar run entirely by volunteers and serving hot and cold meals would be "the real social centre."


Instead of the desk spaces being marketed specifically to artists and other creatives, for whom the well-lit spaces are especially suitable, space would be offered to anyone wanting it.

Income and expenditureDetailed plan to generate sufficient income to run the building and buy in library service from Lambeth.


Income from the basement assumed to be between £12,000 and £25,000 a year.


No grant income for running costs.


No paid staff. (Lambeth would employ the library staff)

Less detailed plan but broadly similar figures for income generation.  There would be less income from the desk spaces but the cafe bar would be expected to produce a profit.




Income from the basement assumed to be £87,000 a year.






Grants of £50,000 a year towards running costs assumed to be permanently available but not yet found.


Two paid staff, costing £80,000 a year.



Asset transfer published assessment
Asset transfer officer panel: CLA
Asset transfer report, CLA
Asset transfer officer panel: CCT
Asset transfer report, CCT

Carnegie Library Update

The Green Party recently put a written question to the Lambeth Cabinet Member responsible for Libraries, Sonia Winifred.  The Friends' experience of Sonia is that she does not lie.  She might tell us only part of the story but the part she tells is likely to be accurate.  The answer is therefore worth considering.

The answer informs us that there will be as much "community space" as before and that there will be a "library service" comprising library activities in the space from time-to-time. Previously Lambeth were using the term Neighbourhood Library to include token services which no reasonable person could call a library, such as the alcove containing 500 books in the Railway Tearoom in Streatham Vale.  It is good to see that Sonia appears to have ditched this grossly misleading term, with its connotations that there would be an adequate stock of books and some space set aside for a library.  For more than a year the Friends have been telling anyone who would listen that Lambeth have not committed themselves to providing a library only often to be told that we have got it wrong.  We can now hope that everyone who is interested will accept that they need to join in campaigning for a library.

A less welcome aspect of Sonia's answer is that it describes Waterloo Library as having "a full stock of books."  It has about 7,500.  A previous Head of Libraries advised that a local library needs a minimum of about 20,000 books to cater for all ages.  Experience at Carnegie Library seems to confirm this.  After years of much lower stock levels and lending, the stock at Carnegie Library was built up to 19,754 books shortly before Lambeth closed it in March 2016 and the rate at which books were lent was the fastest in the borough.

The Friends are most directly concerned with Carnegie Library but it would be foolish to think that its fate can be separated from the future of the borough's other libraries.  It may therefore at this point be worth emphasising that:

  • Lambeth needs all ten of its existing libraries.  It should really have more to provide an adequate service throughout  the borough.
  • Each library needs a good selection of books for all ages and a children's library in a separate room from the Adults' library.  The Adults' library needs to include a Teen zone and the teens will only use this if it is well away from the Children's library and situated so that the teens do not feel the staff or other grownups are looking at them.
  • The libraries need to be open sufficient hours, including some time in the evenings and at weekends.
  • Libraries also need to be fully staffed by professional librarians and trained library assistants.  An urban library is a particular kind of space and managing it to maintain a calm and welcoming character is a specialised skill.  Further skills are needed to assist learners, computer users and people seeking information.  Volunteers add greatly to the range of services on offer in Lambeth's libraries but they are only effective where there is a core of paid library staff.

The question and answer are available at

Carnegie Community Trust have also recently put some information on their website.  They inform us that they will be taking an asset transfer from Lambeth during 2019 and imply that they will be taking charge of the ground floor and the first floor office space over the coming months.

The posting calls for local people "to help to make the Carnegie Community Hub a truly community owned venture, a place the whole community can call their own."  This is almost as misleading as "Neighbourhood Library."  The Trust purports to be for the benefit of the community, hence its name.  However, there is no reason whatsoever to expect it ever to be run by the local community. There is a range of opinions among libraries campaigners about how close the Trust is to Lambeth's inner circle of senior councillors.  Some of us consider it to be just Lambeth by another name, the Council exercising power without responsibility.  Others take the view that the Trust has a degree of independence.  In any event it is clear that it is a thoroughly undemocratic organisation.  Its constitution permits only its trustees to be voting members.  The initial trustees were appointed by themselves at the behest of the Council and have the power to appoint additional or replacement trustees.

The Trust prepared a three-year Business Plan.  It published brief extracts from this in January and other bits of information at other times.  Reading its recent posting in the light of these it seems reasonably clear that its main activity would be hiring out rooms in competition with local church halls.  Additionally, it hopes to run a cafe even though the only kitchen in the building has been stripped out and is being converted into toilets.  Also, they plan to hire out desk spaces.

The Trust is trying to recruit volunteers to do almost all of the work needed but how the Trust could make its activities financially viable is a mystery even if it succeeded in recruiting sufficient people to put in the necessary hours for free, which seems unlikely.  The Trust has obtained a grant to enable it to pay one employee for eight months and the trustees seem to think that they could generate income to continue to pay someone and to fund the other costs of the building.  However, even if it is staffed entirely by volunteers a cafe is unlikely to generate substantial profits and room hires look equally unpromising.  The main intended source of income therefore appears to be the proposed desk spaces.  But there is a great deal of competition.  This will no doubt intensify now Lambeth has arranged for International House, the office block adjoining Brixton Recreation Centre, to be used for desk space hiring.  There is room for dozens of desk spaces on each of its eleven floors.

There have previously been suggestions that the cafe would be a cafe bar serving alcohol into the late evening but this would need the grant of a licence over strong objections from the neighbours and so its feasibility looks doubtful.  Lambeth appears to have promised a grant of £40,000 a year in lieu of the basement gym paying rent or making any financial contribution in respect of the building but this would only continue so long as the gym remained.  As the gym has no prospect of financial success this would probably be only a matter of months.  Thereafter the Trust would have the basement to rent out but the rent for a windowless basement in Herne Hill would no doubt be modest.  The Friends obtained a professional rental valuation of £1.50 a square foot if and when a tenant could be found.  It does not look as though the Trust's finances would work out.

As some of our readers will be aware, two of the Trust's trustees have apparently fallen out with senior councillors despite many years of being fellow stalwarts of the right wing of the Labour Party in Lambeth.  The pair insist that the Trust could only have a hope of paying its way if the subsidy were £80,000 instead of £40,000 and guaranteed to continue for at least five years.

The posting refers to an Asset Transfer to the Trust possibly taking place in 2019.  It is not entirely clear what is meant.  The original plan was that Lambeth would relieve itself of any responsibility for the building by letting the whole of it rent-free to an organisation which, at least nominally, is separate from the Council.  This is what would normally be understood by "Asset Transfer."  However Lambeth now propose to retain responsibility for the building, letting the basement gym to Greenwich Leisure Limited and bearing all the losses of the gym.  This would leave only the ground floor and the first floor office for letting to the Trust. This arrangement would enable the Council and Greenwich Leisure to terminate the basement tenancy at any time by mutual agreement.  The Trust might be expecting the gym lease to end during 2019 and that it would then be given a lease of the whole building.  Alternatively, "Asset Transfer" might just mean that the lease to the Trust would contain provisions included in Asset Transfer leases which enable the Council to forfeit the lease and take back the property when the tenant's finances appear to be failing.

Public Meeting, 2pm, Saturday 8th September

Friends of Carnegie Library will be holding a public meeting on Saturday September 8th from 2pm to 4pm with speakers and an open discussion on carrying the campaign forward.

We have deliberately chosen a venue slightly outside our usual area to bring out the need for the supporters of each library to work to make the campaign a success. It is in central Brixton:
St Matthews' Estate TRA Hall, 10 St Matthews Road, Brixton SW2 1NH

We need as many people as possible to come along and show that the public are still demanding a proper library service.

Batwalk – Saturday 8th September, Ruskin Park

Join Dr Iain Boulton and his bat detectors for a guided nighttime bat walk around Ruskin Park on Saturday 8th September:

7pm Meet at the steps of Carnegie Library for a fun pre-walk event, with food, activities and prizes for fancy dress

7.30pm Assemble at Ruskin Park (Ferndene Road entrance) to begin the walk


The bat walk is free and open to everybody. Jointly organised by the Friends of Carnegie Library and the Friends of Ruskin Park.

Donations welcome

Another £1 million to be spent on Gym development

The council has announced the 2nd phase of the Carnegie Library redevelopment works: the fit-out of the gym and removal of the library space to one front room. The cost is approximately £1 million, additional to the £1.8 million spent so far on the basement excavation and additional buildings on the library garden. A `roof terrace' or `roof garden' has also been proposed by the CCT, but this would require planning permission and an additional £100,000 which is not included in the budget. The works are expected to be complete by December.

The proposal also confirms that the current provision of 2 hours librarian staffing per day is only a temporary arrangement - funded by one-off Section 106 funds - and gives no assurance of any specific librarian staffing for the eventual re-opening of the library.

The opposition Green councillors submitted a call-in of the proposal, on the grounds of the lack of details of the financing of the work. This call-in was rejected but Greens leader Scott Ainslie is appealing this rejection.

The `community liaison' group meeting with the council over construction issues has been re-activated. Please contact the Friends if you would like to be added to this group.

Upcoming events

Three important upcoming events for library supporters:

  • People's Audit public meeting on the dubious and wasteful finances of Lambeth Council: Waterloo Action Centre, 14 Baylis Rd, SE1. From 11am-14pm Saturday 24th March.
  • Defend The 10 demo at the Carnegie Library, 4pm Tuesday 3rd April, to mark 2 years since the closure and occupation, and 1 month to the 2018 council elections.
  • Lambeth Democracy public meeting, 2pm, Saturday 7th April at Effra Space, Effra Parade. Speakers from Justice for Grenfell, Haringey housing activists, etc. The meeting will also be a campaign launch for a unified slate of pro-library candidates for the elections.

Lost and found memorials project

The Friends are working as community partner with Lambeth Archives on a project to restore the memorials formerly in Carnegie Library basement. Having discovered them there many years ago, we felt it was a shame to leave them on the floor gathering dust. Liaising with Herne Hill Society, we met with one of the Lambeth Archives managers in 2009 to list and photograph them, with the idea of cataloguing them and trying to learn their provenance. When the library was closed and preparations being made to excavate the basement and clear out the building, we expressed concern that the memorials needed to be carefully moved to a place of safety and their future ensured. They are in Brixton Library basement for now.

The 24 memorials range from brass plaques to alabaster marble and other stone monuments; two came from schools, others are from the Boer War, WW1, WW2 and also to individual vicars or parishioners, etc. A book on St Saviour's Herne Hill (then in the local history section of the library) confirmed that the alabaster WW1 memorial in two sections had been in that church (including a middle section with St George, now missing), as was one to a woman parishioner, Harriot Nicholson who died in 1918. Preliminary sessions have taken place in St Saviour's School (built on the site of the church), including Year 6 learning about Harriot and her family.

St Saviour’s Church was demolished in 1981, the same year the library and the parish hall were listed Grade 2. Its memorials were taken down and stored in the library undercroft alongside plaques from All Saints Church, South Lambeth and elsewhere. We are working with Lambeth Archives staff to secure funding to restore all the memorials. Conservation specialists Taylor Pearce have given advice and City & Guilds of London Art School are interested; the War Memorials Trust may be able to offer match funding.

The restoration project includes workshops about conservation, research, and community memory. At the end of the project it is hoped that the fully-restored memorials will go on display.