Relief as South Chingford Community Library saved from closure

The team of volunteers behind a community-run library in Waltham Forest say they feel “confident” after avoiding potential closure.

South Chingford Community Library, in Chingford Mount Road, was originally set to close at the end of June after Waltham Forest Council pulled its funding last September.

But the trust has now been offered another year’s funding, with the council saying it has “arranged a short-term tenancy while we complete our review of how we deliver library services”.

The lease has not yet been signed, but is expected to be before the end of June.

Richard Ashen, trustee chairman, told the Local Democracy Reporting Service (LDRS) it was “a relief” to see light at the end of the tunnel.

He added: “We’re fairly confident we can raise the money. We’ve got a year to think about it and plan what’s next.

“Once we’ve got that lease signed, then we won’t need to save the library – because it’s been saved.”

Fellow volunteer Steve Marson, who handles the day-to-day management of the library, said he was “ecstatic”.

He added: “We were starting to run out of time. If we lent a book out on Monday [June 3], would we have said bring it back in July or just keep it, because we won’t be here?”

The trust is set to sign a two-year lease with the building owner. It is understood that the first year will be covered by Waltham Forest Council, and it will be on the trust to pool funds for the second.

There are around 30 volunteers involved with the library. They run knitting groups, crafts workshops, and sessions for parents.

The council stopping the rent payments last year, around 14 months after its 15-year lease on the building had ended, was branded a “stab in the back” by some volunteers.

Though the council has supplied the library with more than £500,000 over the past five years, those feelings had only compounded when Labour councillors appeared to cheer as they voted to close it at a meeting in February.

South Chingford Community Library has since joined the Community Libraries Network, an independent group that supports libraries across the UK.

Chairman Kamal Shah said he would work to help the library “develop a sustainable business plan and collaborative relationship for the future” over the next twelve months.

He added: “It is important that we sustain this vital resource for the community and ensure it continues to grow and flourish, adding value to the shopping parade and encouraging footfall to the area.

Iain Duncan Smith, the Conservative MP for Chingford and Woodford Green and honourary patron of the library, had been a vocal opponent of the council’s plans. He said: “I have seen first-hand the incredible asset this community library has become since the Labour council closed the original library in 2011.

“The library is run by volunteers for residents and often many community groups, young and old, use the library to meet for diverse activities. It is not just a library, but it is also a place where people of all ages can visit, and which is now the hub of the community.”

He added that it was a “model” library that the council should “learn from,” and he would “fight for its continued existence”.

A spokesperson for Waltham Forest Council said: “We have given the South Chingford Community Library over £500,000 in direct financial support in the past five years.

“Following positive discussions with the freeholder of the building and the library community group we have arranged a short-term tenancy while we complete our review of how we deliver library services.

“Our review will look at library provision across the borough to ensure we can meet our residents’ needs as well as our budget.”

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Sebastian Mann

Local democracy reporter