Last week we wrote a blog post about Gloucestershire County Council’s surprising claim that Tuffley was comparable to affluent areas of Buckinghamshire and that the people of Tuffley were ready to take on the running of their library. There was a meeting about the future of Tuffley Library on Friday 25th March. This is a report we received from an attendee.
Reflections on a public meeting. Tuffley Community Centre, Tuffley, Gloucester. 25th March 2011.
I have just returned from a depressing public meeting. The Gloucester based Three Bridges Community Partnership (TBCP) called the meeting, to discuss the closure of Tuffley library and to try to form a management group to take advantage of an offer from Gloucestershire County Council (GCC) to run a community library. Enthusiastically led by Steve O’Connor, Chairman of TBCP, accompanied by a local Gloucester City ward councillor, the meeting had disappointingly no representative from GCC or the Library Service.
GCC had taken the view that this was a meeting of local people called to discuss the retention of the library and then to go on to form a management committee to take over the running of the Tuffley library. GCC therefore deemed it necessary to keep a distance, agreeing to meet with the new management committee after its formation and then to work through the process of the take over and running of the Tuffley library in accordance with the GCC “Big Community Offer”.
The community is faced with having to organise and form a group by the end of June 2011. If no group comes forward and enters into negotiations with GCC by that date then the library will close. 500 local residents have signed and presented a petition to GCC to save the library.
Forty or so residents of the area, who attended this meeting on a Friday evening, were very clear as to exactly what they wanted. They wanted a library and they wanted a library that looked and acted as near as dammit to the one that already existed. The chair repeatedly made the point that the only way to retain the library was for a group to come forward to take on its running. The chair and local councillor had little to offer in the way of information on the process as mapped out by the GCC “Big Community Offer”. Serious questions raised about training, book stocks, health and safety issues and financing were to be the subject of future meetings and discussions with GCC. Repeatedly the chair returned to the point that the community needed to demonstrate that a group had been formed, that it had a business plan and a pool of volunteers available to carry out the tasks of running the library before any hand over could proceed. They had 12 weeks to prepare and plan.
Disturbingly when the question was asked, who from the meeting would be prepared to serve on a management committee only one hand was raised. People may be willing to give a little time to acting as volunteer library assistants in the day to day running of the library but to take on the responsibility of management was a step to far. It was not that within the group there was no expertise. There were qualified librarians, people with management experience and skills, teachers and library users. The project would be supported by the Three Bridges Community Partnership, which had gained vast experience in financing and running successful community projects in the last eight years. But when push came to shove the task that the group perceived to be ahead of them proved to be to daunting.
I must ask why GCC deemed it necessary not to attend and support this embryonic group at its very founding. The group needed to feel that the county council was with them. It is in the very early stages of collaborative projects that trust and confidence are built. Open dialogue and the provision of factual information are key. It is from a secure base that strong local organisations are successfully built. No wonder then that several of the contributors towards the end of the meeting were feeling let down by GCC and also felt that they were being set up to fail.
It is clear that GCC are winning a battle to divest the county of the public library service. When asked GCC Cabinet members and councillors say that they are not actively working to close libraries. GCC have made their Big Community Offer. But surely any such offer must be a two-way offer, something more than just resources. It should be an offer where residents feel supported enough to take on responsibility. Through meetings like those in Tuffley, GCC are thus able to demonstrate that people and communities care so little that they are not prepared to get involved in the running of community libraries. In 12 weeks Tuffley library is more than likely to close.
Attending the meeting in Tuffley I had hoped to be in at the birth of a new community initiative. On reflection though I feel that I attended a wake for the library service of yet another community in Gloucestershire.
25th March 2011.
So what now GCC and why the premature, supreme confidence less than a week ago? Meanwhile I still await an explanation from library portfolio holder Cllr Noble regarding her comparison of Tuffley to affluent Buckinghamshire.