Unparished parts of Northampton will struggle to keep libraries open say community group leaders

Campaigners believe a plan to pass libraries in Northampton on to community groups is fraught with difficulties.
Campaigners believe a plan to pass libraries in Northampton on to community groups is fraught with difficulties.

Deprived parts of Northampton will struggle to pull plans together to run a local library - because they do not have a parish council to help fund them, community leaders fear.

This week, the county council announced it had proposals in place to keep all 36 libraries in Northamptonshire open, though 22 of those would be run by community groups.

The cash-strapped council said it was striving for a workable plan in "each location" and said the measures were a vast improvement on the scheme proposed earlier this year that would have seen 21 inially closed.

But the new plans will see some of the community-run libraries classified as being part of the authority's statutory provision and others not.

The statutory libraries, which include the facility in relatively affluent Hunsbury, will effectively receive support from the council if they fail.

As it stands, neither libraries in St James or Far Cotton have the assurance of being a statutory requirement.

Yet both say they are struggling to find the funds needed to run any kind of service and their volunteers dwindling by the day.

Chair of the Friends of Far Cotton Library Group, Lorraine Crannell, says they will struggle to meet the £60-a-square-metre rent the county council wants to charge them to run the premises in Towcester Road.

The building is owned by the borough council, so the friend's group is currently being offered a deal to sublet from the county.

"This is a deprived area," said Lorraine. "But to expect a community group to come up with that sort of money is very difficult."

Lorraine said the group feels like negotiations are going backwards currently, as both parties have hit an impasse over the cost of rent.

Areas, such as Far Cotton and St James do not have a parish council, which can support them financially - though Duston, which has a well-funded parish, is more than likely to be classed as statutory according to the latest cabinet papers.

"We keep saying we don't have a parish council or a neighbourhood one," Lorraine added.

"Unlike other areas, we can't just make a deal for more money with a council."

Only the central lending library, Hunsbury and Weston Favell will remain part of the statutory offer as it stands in Northampton - though discussions are ongoing in Duston, Far Cotton and Abington.

Graham Croucher, who is leading the bid to see St James' library maintained, told a similar tale to that in Far Cotton.

He said: "It's an uphill task. We have got to provide running costs, we've got to find a building potentially and then we've got to find volunteers.

"While our volunteers are finding out exactly what's involved in becoming a trained, full-time member of staff, we've lost a few along the way - it's a lot to expect."

Mr Croucher believes many of the community-run libraries will have to reduce to a simple book-lending service.

"A lot of people depend on our library to use the computers," he said. "Especially the unemployed.

"If that goes they are snookered. They will have to travel all the way to Duston or the town centre."

A spokesman for Northamptonshire County Council said the draft new model announced this week sets out an individual proposal for each library.

He added: “Owing to the bespoke and complex nature of some of the solutions, proposals for Far Cotton and St James are still under discussion and have not yet been finalised.

“We are working with interested parties to find a long-term and sustainable solution to maintain the library provision in Northampton.”