Unison condemns proposal to turn libraries into 'gyms'

Unison condemns proposal to turn libraries into 'gyms'

Lambeth Unison has condemned Lambeth Council plans to keep three libraries open by turning them into health centres.

In proposals revealed last Friday (2nd October) Lambeth council announced its intention to transform Brixton's Minet Library, Carniege Library and Tate South Library into multi-purpose community resources "where people will be able to access health and library services".

During a public consultation on the future of Lambeth’s cultural services called Culture 2020, Greenwich Leisure Limited - the social enterprise company that runs Lambeth’s leisure centres - proposed the creation of an independent, not-for-profit Lambeth Cultural Trust starting with these three trial sites. These plans have been developed to see "library buildings open for longer and offer wider benefits to the local community including health and fitness services as well as study space, IT access and book lending."

However, the plans have been met with condemnation by Lambeth Unison, the Brixton Blog has reported.

The union representing public sector workers whose workplaces and jobs are at risk, argues that the proposed changes will mean 25% of Lambeth library staff will be made redundant with no evidence that the changes are wanted or required by the public. A spokesperson said: “There is no evidence that anyone wanted their local library turned into a gym. Services used by children and elderly people will be swapped for weightlifting and cross-trainers – free services will be exchanged for a fee charging gym. How many children will learn to read at the gym, how many older people will find a friendly face and where will those who attend the dementia groups or elders film groups go?”

Unison also argues that this new proposal makes a “farce” of the six-month consultation, a process which has already been under attack as being "opaque and circuitous". A spokesperson for the union said: “The report's surprising outcome has led to a lot of internal questioning by Labour party members and councillors who find it quite contrary to the council’s stated desire to protect services for the most vulnerable.”

However, Councillor Jane Edbrooke, cabinet member for neighbourhoods said there was "no escaping the hard choices we have to make given the massive cuts to our budgets."

"Not everyone will welcome these proposals and there will be some job losses and changes to services," she said. "But by using much loved community buildings more imaginatively, Carnegie, Minet and Tate South Lambeth have a more secure future. It means overall, much longer opening hours and a wider range of facilities and activities, including books and study space.”

Laura Swaffield, Friends of Lambeth Libraries chair, told The Brixton Blog: “We’re appalled. This plan is even worse than the first one. And as it’s radically different, I don’t see how they can push it through cabinet without re-consulting everyone. It’s so badly thought out that we need lots more information before we can evaluate it.”

As well as the future of the Minet, Carnegie and Tate South libraries, plans for other Lambeth Libraries were also revealed. There will be no change to the town centre library services in Brixton, Streatham, Clapham and West Norwood which will remain staffed by the council. A new town centre library in West Norwood at the Nettlefold Hall has been also proposed, subject to planning permission.

The proposed changes will be discussed at a Lambeth Cabinet meeting on Monday (12th October) at 6.30pm at Dunraven School in Streatham.