How Chalk Farm Library became Primrose Hill Community Library: run for the community by the community
From 1987 onward Camden Council intermittently threatened they wanted to cut library services in the borough and finally in 2011, after their grant from Central Government was drastically cut, they announced they would close three Camden Libraries at end of March 2012. Chalk Farm Library was one of them. This decision was taken at a June 2011 Council meeting, but a number of local councillors then got together and came up with a plan to encourage local groups to take on the running of these libraries. They persuaded Council members to let them take this idea forward and in September 2011 set up meetings in the community to describe how this could work. In November 2011 they produced an “Expressions of Interest” document and groups were invited to apply to run these “condemned” libraries. After many discussions the Trustees of the Primrose Hill Community Association (PHCA) a registered charity, agreed for an application to take on the running of Chalk Farm Library be submitted to Camden.
Then the really hard work started. Dame Joan Bakewell a local resident agreed to be Patron of the Appeal and after a budget to run the library had been agreed by PHCA, a “pledge of money” form with a leaflet was delivered to all houses and businesses in Primrose Hill, and was followed up by volunteers knocking on doors to collect in these forms. By January 2012 pledges totally £400,000 were received. In early March 2012 Camden Council told us our application was successful and they gave us: a 20 year lease, with rent relief on the first six years; a “setting up grant” to help with initial expenses and donated all the library books in the library for us to use.
So then we had to turn all the pledges promised into cash, negotiate a lease with Camden and set up procedures on how to run our library. A part time Project Manager was employed to sort out utilities and IT requirements, including a system for logging books in and out, a Library Board of 11 volunteers was recruited and sub-groups were set up to take things forward. A Library Manager and Bookkeeper were employed in July and a Librarian in October.
Initially we opened the doors on Saturdays to introduce people to the Primrose Hill Community Library but once staff were in place, volunteers trained, the Eclipse Library system working and library cards available we opened four days a week Mon, Wed, Fri and Sat with Tue, Thu and Sunday being set aside for people to rent out the space. The official opening took place on 22 October 2012 with Alan Bennett and Dame Joan Bakewell in attendance.
To date over 100 volunteers have been trained in a variety of tasks needing to be done in the library, over 2500 people have become members, and room bookings are proving very popular.
If you haven’t yet come into the library to either register for a library card and borrow books, use the computers, wi-fi or read the newspapers we do hope we see you soon as you will be very welcome.
Maureen Betts, former Chair Primrose Hill Community Library, December 2012.