Culture, Media and Sport CommitteeWritten evidence submitted by the Friends of Kensal Rise Library

1. The Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee is requesting views on the impact that library closures are having on communities and the extent to which these are compatible with legislation and the Secretary of State’s powers of intervention.1

2. This response, submitted by the Friends of Kensal Rise Library, is based largely on a survey of local residents, previously unpublished, conducted between November and December 2011. It focuses on the Select Committee’s third question around the impact closures are having on the local community.

Summary of this Response

The Friends of Kensal Rise Library (FKRL) maintains that Brent Council’s decision to close Kensal Rise and neighbouring libraries is tantamount to a neglect of duty for residents in Brent, the Kensal Green ward in which it is situated and neighbouring wards of Queens Park and Brondesbury.

Our survey of local residents confirms that the impact is already being felt by many including families with children, elderly residents, and those seeking employment. 98% of the community believe access to a local library is essential for children, disabled and older people and 96% believe the closure will impact upon children and families in the area.

We are particularly concerned given that Kensal Green is characterised by a dense population and pockets of deprivation, lack of internet access for vulnerable groups, absence of local reading facilities and alternative provision for the under-5’s, above-average illiteracy rates for London and a shortage of accessible transport links for the disabled, the elderly and those with children to get to alternative library provision.

92% of local residents feel that Brent Council is acting against the interests of the local community and only 7% believe that the Council is open to alternative proposals to keeping the library open. We therefore believe that there is a strong case for the Secretary of State to intervene—in particular to encourage Brent Council to give genuine consideration of our robust proposal for a community-run library. We also believe that the Secretary of State should intervene to avoid the ludicrous situation in which Brent Council has ignored the option of using Kensal Green library during a two-year period when the neighbouring Willesden Library is closed for renovations.

We are delighted that the Committee has chosen to focus on library closures and would be keen to invite Select Committee members on a tour of Kensal Library’s pop-up library and other campaign efforts in the Brent area.

Part One—About Friends of Kensal Rise Library

This section highlights who we are and our story to date

3. The Friends of Kensal Rise Library is a charity, set up in April 2011, by campaigners fighting to save Kensal Rise Library from closure by Brent Council.2 The charitable object of the Friends is: To advance public education by running and/or assisting in the running of a library at Bathurst Gardens, Kensal Rise for the benefit of the residents of the London Borough of Brent.

4. The Friends of Kensal Rise Library (FKRL) is a well-organised, community-based charity committed to maintaining and improving the library service, as well as transforming the Kensal Rise Library building into a functional and attractive community space and neighbourhood hub.

5. Since the library has been threatened with closure, the residents of Kensal Rise have mobilised a groundswell of public response including a series of successful, high-profile events such as talks given by well known writers (Zadie Smith, Alan Bennett, Philip Pullman, Jacqueline Wilson) and comedians (including Phil Jupitus, Alexei Sayle, Robin Ince, Robyn Hitchcock and Helen Arney).

6. In a symbolic and defiant act to preserve library services for the community, local residents have installed a “pop-up library” outside the doors of Kensal Rise library, staffed by volunteers and providing book loans for the community.

7. We are proud members of Brent Save Our Six Libraries3—an umbrella group campaigning to save six libraries under threat in Brent, North-West London. However, this response is specifically from the Kensal Rise Library team and does not seek to represent the views of the Brent SOS campaign.

Our story so far

8. Kensal Rise Library has been at the heart of the Kensal Green ward in North West London for over 100 years since it was opened by Mark Twain in 1900. In the years since, it has survived two World Wars (including the bombing of the local area during WWII), the Great Depression and several recessions. It is a powerful symbol of the community’s collective history and social cohesion. The land of the library building was donated to our community by All Souls College subject to the condition that the property be used as a free public library.

9. In November 2010, Brent Council announced that it would be consulting with the community on its proposed Libraries Transformation Strategy, which would result in six of the Borough’s libraries closed, including Kensal Rise. The community immediately united in an effort to save Kensal Rise Library. The concern is that, should Kensal Rise Library permanently cease to operate as a library, not only will the library resource itself be lost, so will the building as a community space.

10. A business plan to run the library at a significantly lower (one third) annual cost was submitted to Brent LBC in February 2011. This plan was rejected in a report presented to the Executive Committee in April 2011, after having been assessed against criteria that had not previously been made public. An updated version of this plan was re-submitted on 19 December 2011.4 A case against Brent Council has been taken to the High Court in light of the fact that the consultation procedure was not followed correctly and that the Council is failing to represent the needs of its community including a specific effort to consult and take into account the needs of ethnically diverse sections of community.

11. In addition to closing 50% of libraries, Brent Council have subsequently announced plans to close the next nearest library for many users of Kensal Rise—Willesden Green Library—for a complete redevelopment which is projected to last two years. The temporary provision Brent intend to offer has not been determined, but the council members have apparently rejected the idea of locating a temporary service in the Kensal Rise building—which stands ready and equipped as a local space to use. The irony is that they have labelled it as “too far away” (according to lead member for libraries, James Powney) despite Willesden Green previously having being labelled as a local alternative to Kensal Rise Library. It is hard to see how, with the prospective reduced service, residents will have access to the “comprehensive and efficient” library service that Brent is obliged to provide under the 1964 Museums and Libraries Act.

Part Two—The Importance of the Local Library at Kensal Rise

This section demonstrates specific contextual and demographic factors that are compounding the loss of our local library at Kensal Rise

12. We would agree with a recent briefing paper on Libraries by the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals that articulates clearly the broad and important role of public libraries:5

13. The benefits of a public library were summarised in the DCMS’s own report Framework for the Future in 2003 as these:

Promotion of reading and informal learning.

Access to digital skills and services, including e-government.

Measures to tackle social exclusion, build community identity and develop citizenship.

14. We will now illustrate ways in which the particular demographics and context of Brent and Kensal Green make it difficult for the Borough to achieve these aims given the closures of Kensal Rise Library.

High levels of deprivation

15. Library services are important for the whole community, but especially important for low income families and their children and for people seeking jobs. While not the most deprived Ward in the Borough, Kensal Green is very far from being an affluent area. Brent is ranked 53rd out of 354 boroughs in the Index of Multiple Deprivation (IMD) 2007 (1 = Most Deprived, 354 = Least Deprived). This places Brent within the 15% most deprived boroughs in the country. Brent’s own figures demonstrate increasing levels of deprivation visible in 19 of the 21 wards in Brent including Kensal Green.

16. Many people are living on benefits and working in low paid and often unstable jobs. The Kensal Green ward has above-Borough average rates of single parents, divorced couples and separated parents which can compound deprivation and low incomes. The economic recession has reinvigorated use in library services, with people understandably utilising free access to books, newspapers, CDs and DVDs, professional, trained assistance and the Internet.

17. Many survey respondents reported that internet access, books about finding employment, informal learning activity and newspapers that were available at Kensal Rise Library helped contribute to their ability to search job vacancies. Finding and accessing local job information requires internet and research skills in order to navigate. A local librarian will support this though local knowledge and help guide older people and those for whom English is a second language to navigate the information available.

Dense population

18. Brent Council has chosen to close six out of 12 Borough libraries despite the fact that Brent is one of the most densely populated Outer London Boroughs. With an average density of 61 people per hectare (pph) in 2001, it is well above the London and Outer London averages of 46 and 35 pph respectively)

19. Libraries not only benefit their users individually. They also act as community hubs, bringing people together and connecting them to worlds beyond their communities. Often living in overcrowded accommodation where there is little or no quiet space, Kensal Rise library has always provided a refuge that is free, that provides opportunities not only to read and borrow books but also to pursue study, look for work, access information or enjoy the opportunity to socialise with the local community.

20. Anecdotally, we are told that the library space is of particular importance to those from what have been termed “chaotic” or “problem” families where there are multiple problems that disrupt lives and threaten future positive outcomes. To take away space for these families can only undermine a Council’s attempts to support families in need of a safe environment and retreat.

Ethnically diverse population

21. Population movements have resulted in Brent becoming the second most ethnically diverse London Borough (after Newham) with 71% of the population from an ethnic group other than White British. Brent has very high levels of migration into the borough compared to the rest of London. The Kensal Green ward specifically is characterised by an above Borough-average population of Caribbean residents and the library used to have Urdu, Tamil, Hindi and Gujerati books enabling children from these backgrounds to easily access literature in their mother tongue and preserve links with their heritage.

22. One essential element of the legal challenge to Brent Council’s decision focuses around the extent to which the needs of specific ethnic communities were adequately sought during the consultation process.

The impact on local children

23. National statistics highlight that 78% of five to 10 year olds use libraries and that children’s book borrowing has risen year on year for six years6 The research, published by the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy (CIPFA), also found that even libraries in the least deprived areas had a high proportion of children under five using them.

24. Kensal Rise Library served as a place where schools, parents and childminders could bring children. Princess Frederica Nursery and Primary School is about 100 yards away, Kensal Rise Primary a short walk away. Kensal Green Under Fives group is not much further and College Green Nursery is just up the road. On Chamberlayne Road, Kensal Rise, is Manor School, a primary school for children with special needs. Other nearby schools include Furness Primary School and two comprehensive schools, the Capital Academy and Queens Park Community School.

25. All these nurseries and schools took their children to the library regularly. Their teachers have written to and spoken with the Friends of Kensal Rise Library in support of our campaign. They consider the library to be “irreplaceable” and the comments on the survey that follow illustrate clearly the lost resource.

The local cost of illiteracy

26. The Evening Standard recently reported that one in three children don’t own a book of their own, one in four 11-year-olds cannot read properly, and one million adult Londoners are functionally illiterate.7 They found that 70% of pupils permanently excluded from school have difficulties in basic literacy; 25% of young offenders have the reading age of a six-year-old; and 48% of prisoners have the reading level of a seven-year-old or younger.

27. The paper also highlighted the economic impact of illiteracy on public finances, citing a KPMG study8 that summarised the total cost to society of our inability to teach children to read (relating to exclusion from school, reduced employment opportunities and increased risk of involvement in crime) at £2 billion a year.

28. These statistics are particularly alarming in the context of Brent when you consider further findings from the Evening Standard that found that one in three children in Brent started secondary school with dramatically impaired reading abilities, meaning they are on course to be “functionally illiterate”.

29. Notwithstanding the Government drive for early intervention in problems that cost society much more later on down the line; the inability of Brent Council to recognise the impact that closing 50% of local libraries will have on local literacy rates seems a blatant neglect of its duties and something the Secretary of State should have firm grounds to intervene on. The author Alan Bennett, went so far as to describe this as “tantamount to child abuse”.

Transport limitations to alternative provision

30. The Council has claimed that the effects of its closure are inconsequential because, if Kensal Rise Library is closed regular users will “migrate” to the nearest remaining libraries which are Willesden or Kilburn, or access some kind of substitute over the internet, electronically or through outreach services.

31. These alternatives are simply impractical for most users, and highly inconvenient for all. Particularly given that 7% of residents claim disability allowance, placing the area in the top 25% for London super output areas and 13% claim incapacity benefit (in the top 3%).

32. To illustrate, Kensal Rise Library is a five minute walk from our nursery. Having to take under-fives on an expedition by bus or tube is an altogether different prospect than walking up the road. Parents who work will likewise find such a journey daunting, especially after school or nursery hours. Many children who can and do use Kensal Rise Library independently because it is so close will not be able to travel independently to the closest remaining alternatives. And those children and young people who make use of our library’s busy study and computer areas will simply not find room in the other libraries not up for closure, because the designated areas there are already busy.

33. Accessing the alternative, remaining libraries will also present similar problems for other groups of users of Kensal Rise such as women in the late stages of pregnancy, disabled people, and older people with mobility problems. For example, the local train stations at Kensal Green and Kensal Rise have no disability access or lifts for those unable to take the stairs—for example those with pushchairs. Having a facility that is within easy reach of one’s home is vital for such people. To the extent they will continue to use libraries at all, it will be as a result of an occasional, special trip, not as a matter of routine.

Lack of internet access

34. Public libraries are a lifeline for people trying to adapt to challenging economic circumstances, providing online resources for seeking employment, accessing advice and information, and learning about education for new careers or starting a small business. One US report in 2011 from the Public Library Funding and Technology Access Study,9 found that more than 65% of public libraries reported that they are the “only source of free public access to computers and the Internet in their communities”. This situation will only increase as information from jobs, services and government agencies increasingly is exclusively available in digital format.

35. Brent Council’s own figures on internet usage confirm that there is a gap in “digital confidence” between ages (97% of 25–24 year olds are confident using the internet compared to only 77% of those over 65) and at least 10% of the respondents to Brent’s survey did not have internet access at their home. Worryingly, the numbers of people without access to the internet are highest for those aged 55–64 years (14%) and those in social grades D (13%) and E (19%).10 Reducing publicly accessible internet access points by closing 50% of public libraries will inevitably impact upon these groups most harshly.

Mental health and wellbeing

36. In 2009, the Museums Libraries and Archives Council (MLA) mapped English public library activity in the areas of health and well-being.11 The study found evidence of a wide range and diversity of health and well-being activity in public libraries, and strategic areas of opportunity for libraries to play a key role in mental health promotion and addressing health inequalities.

37. Kensal Green SOA suffers from poor mental health and its Index of Mental Health score (0.12) and hospital admissions for mental health problems rank it among the top 20% London SOAs in both cases. 7% of the population are claiming incapacity benefit for mental health issues (top 3% for London). We believe, given the prevalence of mental health issues in Kensal Green there is huge potential to develop library-based activity to contribute to linked agendas.

Part ThreeThe Impact of ClosuresResults from the Resident Survey

This final section illustrates our case and answers the Select Committee’s questions directly by drawing upon a survey of local residents.

38. Between November and December 2011, we surveyed local residents to understand their feelings about the closure of Kensal Rise library. With 280 completed responses to the survey, we can be confident that the survey is representative of the 10,668 population of the Kensal Green ward and also representative of the 268,000 population of Brent. The survey reflected the area’s diversity in terms of age, ethnicity, and gender of respondents.

Depth of feeling

39. We know from our survey that the local community is concerned about the closures. In particular 98% believe access to a local library is essential for children, disabled and older people and 96% believe the closure will impact upon children and families in the area.

Table 1

HOW DO YOU FEEL ABOUT THE CLOSURE OF LOCAL LIBRARIES?

Question

Strongly agree

Agree

Total agree

Access to a local library is essential for children, disabled and older people

88%

10%

98%

It will impact upon children and families in the area

86%

10%

96%

Closing the library will harm the local community

84%

10%

94%

It could have been prevented if Brent Council wanted to keep it open

74%

18%

92%

I am angry at the decision to close the library

77%

13%

90%

It is an inevitable consequence of government cuts

8%

6%

14%

I won’t miss it very much

6%

6%

12%

A larger library that is further away is more useful than a smaller, local library in Kensal Rise

4%

1%

5%

Who is responsible?

40. When asked who the community feel is responsible for the closures, Brent Council are viewed as “very responsible” by 90% of residents. The Coalition Government, David Cameron and Nick Clegg come next on the list of those who should be seen as responsible. In a finding that should get the attention of local and national politicians, 64% of residents say that the experience will “definitely” affect their voting intentions at the next General and Local elections with a further 18% saying it might do.

Table 2

WHO (OR WHAT) DO YOU THINK IS RESPONSIBLE FOR LIBRARIES CLOSING IN BRENT?

Question

Very responsible

Slightly responsible

Not responsible

Brent Council

90%

7%

3%

The current Coalition Government

52%

37%

11%

David Cameron

45%

40%

15%

Nick Clegg

38%

40%

22%

The previous Labour government

19%

45%

37%

The UK’s economic deficit

18%

45%

37%

Boris Johnson

17%

30%

52%

The global recession

13%

46%

42%

Gordon Brown

13%

36%

52%

Ed Miliband

8%

31%

61%

Local residents

2%

12%

86%

41. In another question, 92% of residents feel that Brent Council is acting against the interests of the local community and only 7% believe that the Council is open to alternative proposals to keeping the library open.

Library usage

42. We asked residents how they used the library prior to its closure and the results confirmed that there were a wide variety of usages.

Table 3

DID YOU EVER USE THE LIBRARY AT KENSAL RISE FOR THE FOLLOWING

Answer

%

Take out books for yourself or for others

90%

Learn new skills

17%

Research jobs, courses or further education

35%

Meet new people

27%

Use the internet

45%

Investigate starting a new business

11%

Other (please state)

39%

43. The written answers for the “other” category mostly pertained to using the library as a safe space to bring children or to meet with others in the community

Alternative arrangements

44. In order to try and ascertain the impact of the closure we asked whether residents had been led to do any of the following as a result of the closure

Table 4

ALTERNATIVE ARRANGEMENTS

Answer

%

I have had to buy books or DVDs that I would otherwise have loaned from the library

43%

I have decided against a trip to a library because of the extra distance to travel

71%

I have stopped attending a class or club that took place at the library

15%

I have nowhere local to go to spend time with others

21%

45. The fact that 71% of people have decided against a trip to the library is particularly worrying in the context of our local literacy challenges previously described.

Future provision

46. The survey went on to highlight what residents would like to see in a future library service:

Table 5

FUTURE PROVISION

Question

Definitely

Possibly

Book and DVD rental

221

42

Local news and history

137

95

Childcare, play and nursery services

89

27

Internet access and computer courses

83

77

Lifelong learning and skills

75

96

Homework clubs

60

45

Careers advice

46

59

Family learning courses

45

64

Advice about starting up a business

41

79

Groups for elderly residents

28

23

47. We were heartened to hear that our efforts to create a temporary pop-up library had gone down well with residents with 78% saying “it is a cheerful presence and a symbol of community spirit and 77% agreeing that it is a “good indication of residents’ determination to keep the library going”.

In the residents’ words

48. We conclude this response with comments taken directly from residents who completed the survey. Their quotes clearly demonstrate how the closure is affecting different groups

Since the library closed, my daughter who has just started secondary school, has not been able to use the library for homework and use of the internet. She used to drop into the library after getting off the bus and stay there till it closed two or three times a week. We are not online at home as we are renting temporarily. Last week we walked her to Harlesden library late in the evening so she could use the computer, Very stressful.

I am deeply disappointed with Brent Council. We do not have any community spaces in Kensal rise which cater for all ages, cultures and faiths which do not discriminate.

The arrogance and autonomy of the way the Council has handled this process has been staggering. A local library is a community hub

I was born in this area and still live here after 26 years. It is an integral part of our community- it would be like losing a limb.

Take a walk between the libraries closing and the nearest ones to each one of them you are keeping open- preferably in the rain and with a couple of small children in tow, or pushing someone in a wheelchair. How short does the distance seem now?

It’s very disappointing to realise that the local council care absolutely nothing about local opinion on this matter.

The efforts of the local community at the pop up library demonstrate that residents of Kensal Rise and Kensal Green want a library in our midst. Imagine how these efforts could be put to even greater use INSIDE the library!

Brent is not listening and our councillors’ behaviour is scandalous. They will not be voted for again. The library is the most important community building in our area. Keep it open!

The council have a duty to the whole community not just those near selected high street locations.

Local communities’ need their local library staffed by professionals and trained staff. Closure of a library is an assault on the local community. Children especially rely on this resource; children who use the library perform significantly better at school.

Please re-open the library! We all miss it and need it.

January 2012

1 The details can be found here
www.parliament.uk/business/committees/committees-a-z/commons-select/culture-media-and-sport-committee/inquiries/parliament-2010/library-closures/

2 www.friendsofkensalriselibrary.org/friends-about/

3 www.brentsoslibraries.org.uk/sos-library-campaigns/

4 www.friendsofkensalriselibrary.org/friends-press-plan-submission/

5 www.cilip.org.uk/get-involved/advocacy/public-libraries/Documents/Public_libraries_briefing_CILIP_March2011.pdf

6 According to the Children’s Public Library Users Survey

7 www.thisislondon.co.uk/standard/article-23955746-learning-to-read-set-me-free-from-a-life-of-crime-now-i-have-the-chance-to-help-others.do

8 www.readingrecovery.ac.nz/research/download/long_term_costs_of_literacy_report.pdf

9 www.ala.org/ala/research/initiatives/plftas/2010_2011/index.cfm

10 www.brent.gov.uk/egovernment.nsf/Pages/LBB-7

11 http://research.mla.gov.uk/evidence/documents/library-health-final-report-20-May-2010.pdf

Prepared 5th November 2012