Another Northants library at risk of closure
Raunds is the latest area to face the loss of its library
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By Natalie Bloomer
Raunds library in East Northamptonshire could face closure as early as March if the town council doesn’t step in to save it.
The loss would be felt hard by the people of Raunds who would need to travel to other towns for a library service, and the groups and local organisations who use the building would need to find new venues.
“Raunds is a growing town and we are regularly signing up new members. There are young families who come in for children’s books, a knitting group, other organisations meet here and there are people who use the computers and printing service. Large sections of the community would miss out if we close,” Phil Grace from the Raunds Community Library Trust said.
In 2017 amid a series of cuts by crisis hit Northamptonshire County Council, Raunds was one of 17 libraries that were told they would need to close if they could not be run by the local community.
At the time Raunds Town Council held a community meeting where it was agreed that a group of volunteers would take over the day-to-day running of the library and the town council would purchase the building from the former county council to ensure the library was kept open.
The Raunds Community Library Trust was formed and they put in a business case to NCC as required. This was accepted but then a valuation of the building increased from around £170,000 to £320,000. Other libraries also saw their building valuations increase.
The town council decided they couldn’t purchase the building at that price but said they would lease it from the authority and then sublet it to the library trust instead. They then formed a Library Working Party but it only met twice before Covid hit.
During the pandemic, volunteers arranged a call and collect service so that local people still had access to books and in the summer of 2020 the trust wanted to reopen the doors. But the town council refused to take on the lease and said it was taking a pause on the library due to Covid. Instead, Northants County Council granted the trust a ‘Tenancy at Will’ which gave them access to run the library. But this was only ever a temporary measure.
A year later and the trust hadn’t heard any more from the town council about its plans for the library so it requested a meeting with the Library Working Party. They were told that due to the local elections last May there were different councillors and the group needed to be reformed. They haven’t heard any more on this since then.
“We’ve been very disappointed by the lack of engagement from the town council on this. Any way you look at it, if the library closes, everybody loses,” Grace said.
In the Autumn, a council report on the library was produced by the town clerk which raised a number of concerns over the trust’s business plan which had been submitted a year previously. The trust were then asked to provide a new plan before the end of the year which they say they have done.
But just before Christmas they received a letter from North Northamptonshire Council advising them that the Tenancy at Will would be coming to an end in March. The letter was signed by Cllr Helen Howell who is not only the executive member for Sport, Leisure, Culture and Tourism at the unitary authority but also a Raunds town councillor.
If the town council doesn’t agree to take on the lease to the building from NNC, the volunteers who have put so much time and effort into keeping the community facility open fear they could close their doors for the final time.
As NN Journal has previously reported, other libraries in the county are also struggling to stay open and Higham Ferrers and Far Cotton have already closed.
When contacted by NN Journal Cllr Howell said:
“NNC can only go so far in supporting the Raunds Library as the Needs Analysis, previously conducted by NCC, demonstrated that this library is not required as part of the statutory Library provision. This means that NNC must treat this library in the same way as all the other Community Managed Libraries and if there is no viable case from the Raunds Library Community Trust and all other possibilities with the Town Council have been exhausted by 31 March 2022, then potentially the library may have to close.
“NNC will continue to work with all parties involved and look forward to hearing from Raunds Library Community Trust as discussions progress.”
A NNC spokesperson said:
“Following a Needs Analysis by Northamptonshire County Council in 2018, 15 libraries were identified as required to fulfil the council’s statutory duty. In order to maintain as many libraries as possible across the county, but at the same time achieving financial savings for the Council, the remaining 21 libraries were offered out to become Community Managed Libraries. The cabinet decision of May 2019 stated that if a viable option for a community managed library could not be found for any library, then it would result in the library closure.
“Community groups were invited to submit a business case to demonstrate the viability of their offer, including sustainability of volunteer numbers and financial sustainability.
“As an interim measure to maintain the library facility in Raunds, the Raunds Library Community Trust have been running the library on a volunteer basis under a Tenancy at Will. During this time NNC retain control of the premises and bear all property and associated building costs.
“Representatives from NNC and the Raunds Library Community Trust met in July 2021 and agreed that the trust would work up an updated business case for the running and sustaining of a Community Managed Library, which it is recognised will need the full backing and financial support of Raunds Town Council. The town council are currently awaiting this proposal which needs to demonstrate that a community run library in Raunds is a viable proposition and will offer a sustainable project for the Council that offers best value for their taxpayers.
“No decisions have yet been taken and the town council will be discussing the Library as an agenda item at their next meeting on 11 January.”