A new campaign group has been launched this week in a bid to save Highbridge Library from possible closure.
Over 20 library staff, users and supporters attended a protest meeting at Highbridge Social Club last night (Thursday) where the new group was formally started.
Local Lib Dems and members of the North West Somerset Branch of the Labour Party and Bridgwater and District Trades Union Council led the meeting but they emphasized that “politics would be set aside” to jointly oppose Somerset County Council plans threatening Highbridge Library.
As first reported by Burnham-On-Sea.com, Somerset County Council says Highbridge Library could close under its cost-cutting proposals unless local volunteers are found to keep it open. The council says the cutbacks are expected to deliver between £300,000 and £520,000 of annual savings across Somerset.
Highbridge Library user Jo Osmond received loud applause at Thursday’s meeting when she spoke out passionately against the plans.
“We can’t lose our library – this really is so important. We must stick together on this,” she said.
Another Highbridge Library user, Debbie Richardson, added: “I am one of the 288 regular users of the library and I make a deliberate point in using it – it’s a wonderful facility.” She went on to suggest that more should be done to encourage children into libraries, particularly during holiday periods.
Alistair Gordon from Watchfield, on the outskirts of Highbridge, added: “It’s important to remember that the library serves the surrounding ‘fringe’ parishes too.”
Cllr Phil Harvey told the meeting: “The savings to County in closing Highbridge Library would be minimal – the staff costs are £8,000, the premises costs are £8,000 and the overall net figure is about £8,300. It could be in the realms of qualifying for grant funding.”
John Fones added: “Libraries are places where people can find sanctuary, access to resources like the internet, information and books. While library usage is low in Somerset, the opening hours restrict access and we need to be piling resources into Highbridge.”
Those present voted unanimously to set up a campaign group, called Save Higbridge Library, and to engage with all civic persons, including MPs, councillors, Somerset County Council at meetings. The group will meet weekly in the town and will proceed with a high-profile publicity campaign aimed at saving the library from closure.
Dave Chapple, Secretary of Bridgwater Trades Union Council, who chaired the meeting, said: “The local campaign group will maximise the pressure on Somerset County Council to ensure Highbridge Library remains open as a professional and directly staffed facility.”
He adds: “It is vital that this campaign is as broadly-based as possible. We want everyone in Highbridge who cares about their library service, regardless of political affiliation, to take part.”
Highbridge resident Helen Groves added during Thursday’s meeting: “Highbridge is a special case. 64% of households in Highbridge have no permanent internet access which is available at the library. 85% of Highbridge’s population are either children, working age, or semi-retired so cannot access library during limited opening hours.”
“Somerset County Council under-invests in Highbridge, several schools have been
in ‘Special Measures’ and early reading has a huge impact on life chances. Highbridge is the third most deprived ward in Somerset and the 20th in the whole UK, so having a library is vital. Furthermore, many Highbridge residents are on low incomes, and the cost of buying books (about £7-9 per book) is often prohibitive.”
Somerset County Council says that Highbridge Library has a catchment population of 6,786 people, but it has just 288 active borrowers, and an annual footfall of 3,786 people.
But Tony Curzons queried during the meeting whether the restrictive opening hours at Highbridge Library could be widened to help it. “If the hours were changed to suit when the population could use it, such as evenings and Saturdays, would that improve the usage?”
The County Council’s proposals and questionnaire are available online during the consultation until April 22nd at www.somerset.gov.uk/librariesconsultation. Burnham-On-Sea.com