Rev. Keith Hebden – ‘We need to continue to speak truth to power’

This guest post is written by Rev. Keith Hebden of Matson, Gloucester, who was one of the organisers of protests by Matson residents against the imminent closure of their public library:

Holy Week is a good time to reflect on how the campaign has been running to save Matson Library. This is because the image of a crucified library has become a powerful symbol of the way government – big and small – scapegoats and sacrifices public services while ignoring the wider political problems we all face.

On the evening 4 March 2011 nearly 70 Matson residents gathered outside Matson Library for a candlelit vigil. Books had been attached to a six-foot wooden cross and we sang together, “Were you there when they crucified our library?”.

Some gave testimony to its role in their life and in the community; former Matson librarians came forward to tell their story too. Another pointed out that powerful people have always executed the innocent – Jesus wasn’t the first and Matson library will not be the last. Young families, retired library users, and all ages and demographics between were present and able to speak truth to power – some were moved to tears.

Market forces ebb and flow and, like all violent gods they demand the occasional sacrifice. All the major political parties – priests to the market gods – say these sacrifices must be made.

But that evening was only the culmination of a series of public meetings, community-led consultations, and targeted campaigning. Meanwhile our MP, Richard Graham, had been rushing around trying to get a third sector group to agree to take on a public library. When ‘Together In Matson’ (TIM) expressed an interest in offering some replacement services for youth he publicly said that they had agreed to take on a public library: a statement, which he no doubt now regrets and that has been to the embarrassment of Conservative councillors.

Even Gloucestershire County Council (GCC) have given up pretending to the idea of a community-run library in Matson: realising that they have no successful models on which to base such aspirations. They are now suggesting Information Services for young people and maybe – maybe – some shelving and a drop-off point for books, also for young people, could be included at some point in the future.

TIM is presently consulting the local community on this. Whether TIM takes this up in the future or even looks to offer the service to the whole community is yet to be seen – certainly it would be a huge challenge and it does not detract for the need for a proper library in Matson.

All sorts of issues were not taken into account when GCC decided to axe Matson library – they claimed it was ill-used but forget that the accumulation of fines in Matson is going to have a far bigger impact on library usage then in the wealthier areas; they claim that we are 20 minutes drive from another library but forget that some neighbours can’t afford the bus let alone a car; they claim footfall is low but when the opening hours were randomly arranged to suit the needs of the council over the needs of Matson folk, knowing when it’s open takes some serious planning on the part of users. In other words – or rather in the words of Antonia Noble, they took, “no account of economic deprivation” and have long since abandoned listening to the real needs of library users.

Much of our hopes now lay with legal challenges being made but our greater hope is in the people of Matson who, whatever the outcome, have shown that they can organise, educate, and agitate for change and against the plotting of local and national government.

We need to continue to speak truth to power; it isn’t Easter Day yet.

Keith Hebden is a priest and curate at St Katharine’s Church Matson and, as a member of the Matson Forum, is involved in the campaign to save Matson library. Keith is an initial signatory of the Commonwealth document; a challenge from the churches to the Big Society agenda.

This entry was posted in Gloucestershire Libraries News, Library Interest Groups, Service Cuts, Support for Friends of Gloucestershire Libraries. Bookmark the permalink.

24 Responses to Rev. Keith Hebden – ‘We need to continue to speak truth to power’

  1. HonestquestionsHonestanswers says:

    Is the Rev Keith’s idea of the truth slightly economical? He claims ‘nearly 70 Matson residents ‘ gathered for his absurd crucifix of books. One resident counted 40 adults and the photo in The Citizen showed rejected Labour candidate in Quedgeley Barry Kirby and various other usual Labour councillors and failed candidates. Is Keith more interested in the Labour Party, whose posters sit every year in his boss Canon Jennie Parsons’ garden, or helping the Matson community? Perhaps he could confirm that the Redwell Centre is preparing a business case for a Community Library in Matson, that the county council has confirmed that there will be £10,000 a year from the council to run this and that the future is a Community Library or nothing. If Keith Hebden is against a Community Library he should explain why Matson will be better off without a library. Or if he thinks TiM should be against a Community Library perhaps he should let another charity more interested in the community take over the lease from the county council for the Redwell Centre, so that he can focus on crucifying books and similar community enhancing activities. In fact why doesn’t he just do the decent thing, resign from TiM, let other people get on with helping the community so that he can focus on slagging off those he sees as his political opponents.

    Meanwhile whatever happened to ‘Love thy Neighbour’, Keith?

    • Thanks for your comments. It is interesting to hear other perspectives. I think this rather confirms my concerns about what I have seen happen in many of the communities who are being asked to pay for and run their own services where people feel differently about how public services should be run. The councils plans, which we believe to be illegal, have caused division and upset and actually have an effect that runs counter to the “big society” ideology. I cannot speak for Keith but I personally think that it is not for church groups, charities or indeed any other groups, cut off from council services, to run what should be public libraries, effectively asking communities to pay twice for a service others are getting provided through council taxes. I also think it is fundamentally wrong to take statutory services away from the most deprived areas and ask the community to fund them. There are many issues around this which are addressed elsewhere on this site. A library needs more than an arbitrary figure of 10,000 thrown at it to run. There are many other issues to be addressed that have yet to be answered by the county council. I take your points but I think people are within their rights to expect more from the County Council and say this is not good enough rather then bow to ultimatums. Communities are facing tough decisions that are not easy to make and I feel sorry that Matson is in this situation in the first place. When we went to talk to the Department of Culture Media and Sport we expressed our serious concerns about the lack of logic in the councils plans – particularly in relation to the locations where they chose to withdraw services, such as places that feature in the 10% of deprivation in the county – and the division this is causing.
      Your author name strikes a cord. If only the council would provide honest answers to honest questions. I would also be interested to hear the answers to your questions. Are there other charities interested in taking over the library with the resources and expertise to do so? Is it this or nothing? what HAS the county council offered? …

    • Keith Hebden says:

      I’ve only just noticed the separation in the above comment between people and ‘adults’. Children are people and they are certainly people whose views count when it comes to library services. When I counted on the evening in question I didn’t make any such distinction; I just counted people. However, I’d be surprised if it the child to adult ratio was as your friend described.

  2. Keith Hebden says:

    I’m more than happy to clarify those points. I’d be happier if you’d given your real name; the honesty might come across a little clearer if you were honest about who you are.

    The photo in the paper did not include everyone, there were at least sixty people and at lunch time twenty others turned up for a smaller scale version because they couldn’t make it in the evening.

    TIM is preparing a business plan. They have been told by Mark Hawthorne that they are being offered money primarily for computers for young people and the money need not be spent on books. If the money is spent on books it need not be for the whole community but for young people in particular (this is a youth centre). It may be that in many years time this broadens into something for more of the community if it happens at all. The board of TIM have agreed to allow the case for this to be looked at and nothing more. This is a long way from what one might call a community library because it might not have books and it isn’t aimed at the whole community. What we have at the present is a library for the whole community and it’s being taken from us.

    I’m on the board of TIM so if you hear anything else from someone who isn’t take it with a pinch of salt.

    I have never voted for the Labour Party. I have never canvassed for the Labour Party. The vigil included card carrying members of the conservative party, some of whom are extremely active in the party but were shocked by Richard Graham’s behaviour.

    If you want to talk with me about how what this means in terms of Christian discipleship I would be happy to consider meeting you to discuss this. My name and contact details are publicly available.

    There are many different views and stories on both the library issues and the gospel and it’s good that there are people around with ‘honest questions’ that are certainly worth asking.

    • Thanks Keith, I am a bit confused. Why is Cllr Hawthorne saying this when they are trying to push a “community” library? So it is not really to be a “community” library at all? When did this change. Apologies if you have explained this to us but it is a bit difficult to keep up when GCC wont speak with us.

      • Keith Hebden says:

        It is confusing Johanna,

        It’s possible that Cllr Hawthorne is still calling it a community-run library while making few proscriptions on how the money is spent. It is in his interests to do so.

        Because all these things are in constant flux of discussion, consultation, and proposal it’s not going to be clear for a long time yet exactly what is on offer and what, if anything, is being taken up. So if it looks like nothing’s clear that’s because nothing is.

        TIM have never said they will or will not take on a ‘community-run library’; all they’ve agreed is to look at what’s possible with the resources available with whoever will discuss it with them.

        The confusion largely comes from Rebecca Byczok and Richard Graham both of whom have claimed to have saved Matson Library. These claims are baseless.

        I hope that helps?

  3. Keith Hebden says:

    Sorry, I should add that the business plan is now between TIM, Matson and Robinswood Residents Group, and GL Communities.

    To find out more please do speak to any member of staff at the Redwell Centre. They are currently going through a consultation – as referred to in the original article – and would welcome all views.

    They are also collecting views on the broader issues of whether the council is acting appropriately in relation to current services and intend to make these views heard again at Council level.

  4. HonestquestionsHonestanswers says:

    Ok you’re are admiting they were not 70 people there and not all of them were from Matson; that TiM is looking at the business case for a community library and that the GCC has made a serious financial offer. Can you also confirm that that offer includes £10,000 a year to run the library and that no one has said anything about the library not being open to ALL the community?

    Why is this proposal in a community building run by a voluntary organisation not a community library? Do you agree the future in Matson is a community library or nothing? What exactly are the baseless claims by Richard Graham and Rebecca Byzcok? Isn’t it time for you to pull together with those who DO want a solution and stop throwing insults around?

  5. Keith Hebden says:

    I’ll confine my response to questions not already covered above.

    The amount suggested by the council (and nothing is offered) is £20,000 a year for four years. This is considerably more than originally suggested and there would be other expenses met in the process. The reason given is that Matson is a ward rather than a parish and would meet extra challenges in raising funds because of this.

    Mark Hawthorne has specifically said that he expects to be targeted at young people and children, rather than the whole community. This is a matter of human resources. It is also unlikely that there will be any books at all for at least a year if ever – the aim is provide internet access for young people. However, since this is still in consultation process nothing I write here can be considered more than what’s being discussed rather than what’s being decided.

    I do not agree that our options are a community library or nothing. Our options are the existing library or something as yet undefined and with no long term financial security. I have backed efforts to explore the latter while I continue to campaign for the former.

    Will you please give your name if you wish to discuss this further?

  6. HonestquestionsHonestanswers says:

    I’m Nick Hyett and am living nearby. I cannot understand why you write these very aggressive blogs and earlier press releases attacking people who are trying to make a Community Library happen. Your recent answers focus more on the real issues, which is what people want to hear about. They also show that your earlier comments about the GCC bid having no cash attached to it was simply not true. Why don’t you say that publicly so that everyone knows what the real situation is?

    • I wonder if you can clarify who you are directing this too? If it is at FoGL in general I just want to point out to you that the County Council originally expected the communities to fund the libraries themselves so this is not an untruth. Following a lot of public pressure though they found £500,000 to reinvest and offer the libraries – this was widely reported and we commented on this here Since this time we have not been allowed access to the councils discussions of these plans so are only hearing rumours of arbitrary amounts of extra money being thrown at communities in an effort to persuade them to take on the responsibility. If we had access to the facts we would report them so people did know the situation. Alas, the council insist on secret whispers. We certainly have not attacked people in press releases for trying to take on libraries but have merely provided the questions we think local people should be asking the council before they take the decision as we do not think the council are being open about what this entails.
      If your comment is directed a Keith in particular, my apologies for butting in.

    • Keith Hebden says:

      Thank you Nick. If you see me around Matson do stop and chat.

      I’m scratching my head as to where I’ve said the GCC have offered ‘no money’ and while I am critically I have never threatened or insulted anyone (in relation to this issue anyway).

      Since I am on the board of TIM I am in fact one of the people who gave the green light to the business plan looking into providing some of the services that would have been provided by the present library. That’s not at odds with campaigning to keep the library open.

      However, a premature assumption that a community library is a go-er undermines any campaign for the present library to keep open. So I’m going to be critical of an MP who not only makes such a claim but takes credit for it to boot.

  7. trollhunterx says:

    I think it’s reasonably clear who Nick Hyett’s response was directed to with his last comment. If anything, it’s Keith Hebden’s that seem to be aimed at different people at the same time.

    The one thing missing from this conversation, and forgive me if I’ve brought it up before elsewhere, but some things are too important to ‘let lie’, is the Gloucestershire Gateway Trust’s place in all this, given the curate’s claims that the ‘ecological’ motorway service area they want to build near Matson will bring in a great amount of funding which can benefit a ‘deprived’ area. Sure, the council may have an obligation to provide free library facilities, but we can be sure they are going to be wriggling out of a great many such obligations in the coming years. That being so, just when does the GGT funding start to kick in, and where? If not a community library, what else do they have in mind?

    And while there might have been Labour councillors and candidates showing up for the protest, where are their actual comments online. The only local councillor’s blog I can find is Kate Haigh’s, and she has nothing to say about the library closures: Lots of stuff about cuts and waste and the ‘Big Society’, but she never quite gets onto the subject of library closures. What do the party who’s PPC lives in Matson think of the situation?

    • Thank you for your contribution. If it was clear to me who his response was directed to I would not have spent time commenting. I realise your comment IS directed at Keith but I just want to point out that the council do not provide a library service for free it is paid for in taxes.

  8. trollhunterx says:

    ‘Thank you for your contribution. If it was clear to me who his response was directed to I would not have spent time commenting.’

    Well, maybe you had to be there…

    Similarly, it’s pretty clear that when we talk about the council providing a ‘free’ service, we mean that it isn’t charging residents at the ‘point of sale’, as with parking meters (or hired CDs/DVDS). Of course it isn’t free free…

    • demelzajade says:

      Thanks – point taken. Although some conversations I’ve had when out and about campaigning have shown that some people don’t get the difference between free and free at the point of service, so it is worth clarifying the point.

  9. trollhunterx says:

    I suppose so. What the Conservatives (and Eddie Eldridge, who doesn’t support the Conservatives, apart from agreeing with all their policies and reading the Daily Mail) are always emphasising is that maintaining libraries at their current level will mean heavier taxes. More taxation used to be a very socialist concept, until Tony Blair cottoned on to the idea that you could tell people that they wouldn’t have to be taxed more for services while finding other ways of grabbing their hard-earned, and they would keep voting for you. Now the words ‘higher taxes’ are the kiss of death for anyone with a shot at winning an election, but after the election, something has to get cut, and we’ve really run out of the [ever so slightly] less controversial stuff.

    We have our own community groups in Barton & Tredworth, though we don’t have a TiM, or a Matson & Robinswood Residents Group which has attracted a load of flak for its chairman’s unfounded claim that the group had voted to support the MSA. While the main library in Brunswick Road is ten minutes walk away for most people, no-one has complained about the loss of the mobile library, which really is a blow for anyone with limited mobility. Im not even sure it has been scrapped, it just suddenly occurred to me that I haven’t seen it around for a while. Thanks, councillors, for highlighting that issue 🙄

    I may sound like a stuck record on this point, as with the incinerator debate, but I’ll say it again; our local politicians speak up when it’s in their political interests. Arguably worse than the politicians, though, are the ‘community leaders’ who are far less accountable. How is Mark Gale, sometimes described as the chairman of GGT, supposed to be accountable when the Charity Commission won’t tell Kay Powell if he’s the same Mark Gale who is a trustee of Play Gloucestershire and Fair Shares, despite the profiles for both these ‘individuals’ saying they aren’t trustees for any other charity? And when the Play Gloucestershire and Fair Shares mini-vans are both parked at Gloucester Works on Alfred Street, where GGT is also based? The Cathedral incident demonstrated that Keith Hebden has cojones, but does he have the testicular fortitude to comment on that, the fact that Mark Gale is rolling in funding and manpower (“Fair Shares sounds to me like the cavalry arriving in the nick of time” – Jonathon Poritt) to help Matson, but keeping shtum?

    • demelzajade says:

      Yes- the five mobile libraries (including the homelink service for residential care homes) are being scrapped. GCC kept very quiet about this when they announced their plans, and the loss of the mobiles wasn’t mentioned at all in the libraray consultation information until 2 months into the 3 month consultation process, and only then following lobbying from library users. I think a lot of people still don’t know about it. As you say, this will have a huge impact on those with limited mobility and those in our county’s more isolated rural areas where public transport links are sometimes terrible. Just yesterday some children in Blockley staged a protest against the loss of their local mobile service.

      A lack of transparency and communication with local residents has been a major shortcoming of the whole ‘community transfer’ enterprise. Negotiations on the future of these libraries are going on behind closed doors between GCC and community groups/parish councils, and, as detailed elsewhere on this site, many of thsoe who hold inconvenient views have been barred from the process. Library staff have told our supporters that they are getting no end of library users coming in (to the libraries earmarked for community transfer or ‘Link’ partnership) asking what on earth is going on and they have no information to give them as they aren’t being told anything either.

  10. trollhunterx says:

    By the way, little plug…

    You might be aware that the BBC closed the Radio 4 and Radio 7/4 Extra messageboards at the beginning of the month. An alternative board was heavily promoted and attracted many ‘refugees’. The board’s creator, though, then introduced a lot of changes, taking the focus off radio, even re-naming the forum, creating a lot of ill-feeling. The Science board I requested and got to mod on, after the Beeb dumped theirs a year ago, got assimilated into ‘Questions, Questions’, and I lost my mod powers for being too blunt about the changes. Now, things seem to be genuinely turning around, after the owner invited someone to be co-admin. It’s called the Radio 4 Forums again, depite what the url says. I’m even moderating ‘QQ’, I find. I’m too cynical to think we’re entirely out of the woods, but confident enough to advertise the site, and suggest that the library campaign would make a good topic…

  11. Keith Hebden says:

    Dear Joe,

    Qudos for QQ, sounds a positive outcome.

    I’m rarely keen to put my cojones on the line, especially on something I don’t know much about, and I don’t know much about Fair Shares except they have a very posh minibus.

    Demelzajade thank you for that clarification on the mobile library services. I understand their is some obfuscation on what constitutes a libary (ie if it has wheels is it a library). But that’s politics as usual for you.

    • Joe K says:

      I was right to remain sceptical (somehow I usually am ;)). The site became ‘Hyperstar Forums’ for a few hours, but it’s back to ‘Radio 4 Forums’ now. It has real potential if the owner can control his fidgety impulses.

      You don’t need to know much about Fair Shares, Keith, it’s the Gateway Trust angle I’m interested in, and I’m given to understand that Mark Gale has attended a few meetings in Matson but failed to be very forthcoming with details. I’m not going to push on that, however. Coincidentally, though, the MSA has come up again on TiG: Motorway services’ expansion sparks debate on new facility for Gloucestershire

      The issue of mobile libraries is just one concern that has failed to raise a bleep on the radar in our ward. We really are going to have to try harder. There wouldn’t be any point in raising it at the partnership AGM on the 9th of May, because we never have time to discuss anything after the officers’ voting, but for the next meeting, presuming I am still secretary, I’ll make a point of looking for clarification from councillor Noble.

  12. Joe K says:

    I’ll tell you one thing, although it’s a little off topic. This new self service computerised system has cost me more in charges in five or six months than the previous couple of decades. Those faded little receipts the machine spits out just disappear, and twice I’ve gone online to check the return date to find it was ‘yesterday’.

    I hope the money goes to the library…

  13. Keith Hebden says:

    It’s not at all off-topic; it’s pertinent to the prejudice places like Matson have faced from the GCC. We are partly being closed because of decreasing footfall. But fines are an important reason for people to get out of the habit of borrowing books and more so in places like Matson where many folk have less expendable income. The fines are part of the income of a library so a Community Library would be expected to either extract fines (difficult if you’re not ‘the authorities’) or be a little more human about things in which case a income-stream disappears. Antonia Noble admitted to me that she took no account of economic deprivation when deciding which libraries to axe and when I pushed her on the practicalities of this it was clear she had no idea what extra challenges people in Matson face: it’s simply to far removed from her world. This is the problem of having the privileged in power – they don’t even know the right questions to ask let alone what the answers might be.

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