“Libraries are the hub and heart of communities” – so why are Luton Cultural Trust closing them?

The following post was sent in by Doreen Steinberg, a campaigner for Luton libraries.

Luton Cultural Trust is forging ahead with plans to close Wigmore and Sundon libraries despite petitions of 10,000 and 1,000 supported by speeches against being presented to the Council at its September meeting. The Trust was instructed to take these into consideration and do everything possible to avoid closures and return to the Council on November 14 with their “final” proposal. In her arrogance and with total lack of respect for democracy Maggie Appleton, CEO of the Trust, put out a press release on October 25 announcing the closures of these and the mobile library service.

For a town which had aspirations of becoming a city it is beyond belief that they would think of closing any library.

There is great concern over the lack of focus by the Luton Cultural Trust with regard to keeping a viable library service in Luton.

Nick Gibson who was chair of the Trust when the decision was made to close these libraries wrote, “It is the least worst solution to cuts to Luton museums, libraries and culture for the next 3 years!”  He is still a trustee.

The so-called consultation process was a major failure in the democratic process. Apparently the consultation document was available in schools, clubs and libraries and on the Council website. This means over 90% of adults had no chance to see it.

I use Wigmore library regularly and saw no consultation – was it kept under the counter like black market food during the last war?

While in Asda with the petition over 5 days, I spoke to thousands of people. Not one had seen any consultation and they were very angry to read that the library was closing. We had five clipboards and at times people were queuing to sign to keep their library – that is how passionate they are about it.

Perhaps the saddest thing is that hundreds of people said there was no point in doing a petition as the Council never listened – I persuaded them to sign. When we are successful in keeping the se libraries open, their faith in local and central government will be restored.

Maggie Appleton CEO of Luton Cultural Trust confirmed that the libraries were not allowed to have a petition on site because of a conflict of interests – I asked whose interests; we are the rate payers and we were not consulted.

It gave no option to keep all libraries. They chose Option 1 which said Stopsley would close and Wigmore which is a strategic library designed to serve thousands would move into a nearby community centre as a smaller library.  However neither of these actions is now planned.

Wigmore has ample parking with Asda, petrol station, medical centre, newsagents and restaurants in the area. People are there going about their normal business so no extra travel or time is required.

In Amendment 15 of Council minutes dated.3.12.12

“24    There will be a negative public reaction to any service reductions plans through the consultation. However, the emphasis of this review is about re-provision of service which will provide some mitigation for this.”

On Sep 19 Maggie Appleton CEO of the Trust wrote to two residents representing action groups for Wigmore and Sundon libraries (Claire Lee of Sundon and myself) asking them to look for access points and let her know as she might be able to help them. This means no plans have been made to mitigate the loss of library service. Wigmore has 72,000 visits a year. Sundon is the only community building in the area.

“26    The library service is the single biggest operational element of services offered by LCST, if any proposals ultimately developed resulted in significant service reductions, there could be risks to the operational viability of the Trust to continue to function.”

Wigmore was opened over 20 years ago to replace Stopsley which was designed to serve the village and was unfit for the large population. The plans were to close Stopsley but people made such a fuss that it has remained open. However it has only 4 parking spaces and there are yellow lines all around the area. It is not a viable alternative for users of Wigmore Library.

Maggie says she is delighted that people are so passionate about libraries – I told her there was not much point in being passionate if they are denied access to a library.

Maggie was asked if the Trust had sought funding or sponsorship for libraries and she said they had not specifically done so!  This is a factual inaccuracy. There is a “Lottery Funded” sign in the entrance of Central Library.

Why was no funding or sponsorship sought for the town’s other libraries?

It is the Council’s statutory duty to provide a comprehensive library service for the whole town. The Trust, to whom the Council has delegated this responsibility, appears to have been determined from the start to close these libraries. Why – when they came highest in customer satisfaction. At least the customers appreciate the staff even if their employers do not.

When Maggie Appleton was challenged  that the consultation was flawed she said that they had received 4,000 responses – when the representatives of Sundon and Wigmore asked what she thought of the 10,000 and 1,000 petitions, she replied, “Those are just signatures”.

Libraries are the hub and heart of communities.  They are essential for the character and social cohesion of the town as a whole. They are not just for borrowing books.

All ages use the computers for homework, looking for jobs, information, social interaction and just for the pleasure of gaining knowledge. Everyone cannot afford an internet connection at home.

Others are lonely and the welcome and help they receive from the library staff and interaction with others is a great boon to them. Without this there would no doubt be more depressed and lonely people in town, which would have a detrimental effect on their health. Reading is a great gift – books can take you anywhere and enrich lives in all sorts of ways.

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) has concluded that reading for pleasure is even more important than social class in determining academic success.

A recent report states that children who read for the love of it do better in all subjects – more so than if one or more of their parents has a degree.  Does Luton plan to discriminate against so many young people?

The Council and Trust are autocratic and care nothing about the wishes and needs of their employers (the ratepayers and electorate).

When Trevor Holden, CEO of Luton Borough Council, was asked if the Council saw detailed accounts of how the Trust spent its money, his reply was “We give them projects and look at the outcomes”.  In other words they apparently do not have a clue where the millions from Luton Airport and the Council money given to the Trust goes.

The Trust claims because it is a charity it is not subject to the Freedom of Information Act. Surely it cannot be morally or legally right that they are unelected, unaccountable to anyone and do not plan to provide a comprehensive library service over the whole town.

Edit: Doreen Steinberg has informed us that there is now a website for the campaign in Luton. It can be found at: Libraries of Luton Arise.

4 thoughts on ““Libraries are the hub and heart of communities” – so why are Luton Cultural Trust closing them?

  1. Glenn Morton

    Hi Doreen,
    I very saddened by the proposed closure of Wigmore Library Luton.
    Bullying Luton have throw huge amounts of money away in the past, and now pick on the smaller, ‘less-able to fight’ places in order to claw back their own un-economic mistakes.

  2. Doreen Steinberg

    Thank you for your message on voices for libraries in response to my article. We are trying to raise the profile of our campaign as council and unelected cultural trust were always planning to close Wigmore & Sundon Park libraries to rationalise their corporate estate management – nothing to do with providing library service to the whole town which it is the mandatory duty of the council to provide.

    We would appreciate any help you can give in spreading this website & facebook page

    Doreen Steinberg

    1. Gary

      Thanks for the information Doreen. We’ve update the article to include the link and have shared it via our social media accounts.

  3. Drew

    Please present an alternative option or model in which the £200,000+ savings could be made. The trust lost £1.58 million funding just a year or so ago, either council tax goes up, people donate more or things are going to shut. Whilst I agree it’s always sad to see a library go, LC aren’t evil, they want to provide the best they can, it’s just the least worst solution.

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