Some volunteers working in a Lewisham library are there under the “workfare” scheme which will cancel their benefit payments unless they undertake the work.
Sydenham Library, which was taken out of local authority control and is now run by Eco Computer Systems, a charity and social enterprise which recycles computers for disadvantaged people, has benefited from several Mandatory Work Activity volunteers, assisting with administrative jobs and other tasks.
Boycott Workfare, which opposes the scheme and urges companies and charities not to make use of it, said: “The only community engagement [in Sydenham] now appears to be is forcing people to work for free.”
However Darren Taylor, c.e.o. of Eco, responded: “These placement are young people who have no or little experience, and this is not just work experience, it is also training... if they don’t want to be at Eco and gain experience and qualifications then we don’t force them to be with us.”
Eco took control of Sydenham along with two other libraries in May 2010, as Lewisham Council looked to save £88m from its overall budget. Opening hours at the libraries have increased.
The news comes in the same week that Arts Council England released its research into community libraries, estimating that 12% could have community involvement in the near future. Library campaigners have criticised the report for paving the way for a “two-tier library service”.