The following guest post, written by Annie Creswick-Dawson, comments on the current situation of Birmingham’s Bloomsbury Library in Nechells.
Nechells is a ‘deprived’ area of Birmingham where the Bloomsbury Library provided a study space, community room and library facilities. Refurbished in the 1990s, it had deteriorated by 2013 and there were urgent repairs required for which funding had been agreed. However, at the last minute the funding was withdrawn. Following the theft of lead from the roof, the building was so badly damaged by heavy rainfall that neither the heating nor the lift could function and in October the Library was closed. Although there had been an arrangement with a nearby community centre for temporary services to be run there during the repairs, the library service has so far been unable to provide any alternative service there. It is not yet even providing the service of a library van which they ‘hope’ to provide once a week.
I had visited the Library in 2013 to record the sculptures on the exterior of this attractive library building and was disturbed by the obvious state of disrepair. It was warm and there were a lot of young people working away in the study area, and the staff were friendly and helpful, which makes the whole sorry story seem even sadder to me. Saddest of all was when I started to look into the situation this year only to find that it had been closed and no adequate substitute provided. It is just appalling that, after initial complaints, there has been little or no opposition because people in the area ‘have got used to services being withdrawn’.
This seems to be a prime example of Councils being able to withdraw services because people have been so used to the deprivation that they see no point in complaining. Protest has no effect and they have other priorities: there is a food bank in the area but no one seems interested in feeding the minds of the young people and helping them to get the best education possible by having a quiet study area in a local place.
My interest stems from my visit and the fact that I was visiting to record the sculptures by my great grandfather Benjamin Creswick. He was a Sheffield knife grinder, a job in which the life expectancy was about 30 years of age. Making efforts to get other employment, he visited Ruskin’s Museum set up for the working men in Walkley, Sheffield. Ben became a pupil of Ruskin, who recognised his talent and supported his family, teaching him how to find commissions amongst other help. After some time in London, Ben became the head of the Birmingham School of Art where he stayed for nearly thirty years.
It is ironic that Ruskin inspired sculpture celebrating the life of ordinary people at work and at play and in the close knit family unit. This included a more formal panel showing the civic pride of Birmingham with the arts representing the city’s wealth in industry. It also featured the real wealth in the youthful figures presenting the city with the fruits of their work. Ironic because this sculpture now stands witness to the dismantling of the systems which sustain the people who are the very lifeblood of the city.
While my interest started in the history and the wish to preserve the sculptures, it seems now to demand the protection of the library service and the recognition of its utmost importance to the communty. I am sorry for the length of this diatribe but it seems so important to see if I can help to raise awareness of this dire situation and hope it may help to make sure it is not just allowed to be another case of library closure.
If anyone in the Birmingham area could put me in touch with local commmunity groups I would be most grateful.
Annie Creswick-Dawson was born in Edinburgh and spent most of my formative years in my grandparent’s studio. My grandfather, trained by his father Benjamin Creswick, was a bronze founder and silversmith and he trained his wife who worked with him in the studio as a jeweller. She worked in the studio as a general helper and had a very liberal arts education which has led to a lifetime of interest in the arts and crafts.
Having been an amateur artist working mainly in gouache and watercolour, she recently became interested in working with natural materials and now runs courses in this interesting type of work. Annie has spent some years in researching the life of Benjamin Creswick and his connection with the great Victorian John Ruskin and it was this research that brought about her interest in the Bloomsbury Library both for the sake of the sculptures and the tragic loss of the library service to the community.