Croydon locals rally to save Shirley Library from closure (2024)

Residents have called for Croydon Council to reconsider plans to close Shirley Library, claiming it would receive more footfall if it was open more often.

This comes following the news that the council could be closing three other libraries due to a poor post-Covid slump in visitation as well as the overall costs of running all 13 libraries in the borough.

According to the council’s analysis, released at the start of the year, Shirley Library had suffered from especially low footfall in the past few years, which they used to justify its place on the potential closure list.

However, some Shirley residents believe the council has allowed the library to suffer, by limiting opening hours and failing to maintain the building’s historic façade.

The Save Our Shirley Library group was set up three weeks ago to try and force the council to reconsider its plan and understand the library is a valuable resource for the East Croydon neighbourhood.

They have since set up a petition, which has attracted around 1,800 signatures, and calls for the council to save what group leader Hugh Atkinson calls “the symbol of Shirley”.

Speaking to MyLondon, Mr Atkinson spoke of how the library sits in the heart of the area and acts as the local resident’s only truly free public resource.

He said: “The library is the only place in Shirley that people can use free of charge.

“As well as being important for all kinds of things, the library is important because it makes Shirley feel like a place rather than an anonymous urban area you just drive through.

"One of the key things about Shirley, which the council itself point out, is that it has got a lot of younger families moving in as well as a lot of older residents and a lot of these people rely on the library.”

Alongside its book and computer offering, the library also hosts a number of groups that serve the diverse local community.

These include Games Club, Knit and Natter, Poerty Group, Rhyme Time for Children and The Shared Reading led by the Reader Project.

Shirley Library is currently only open on Wednesdays and Fridays from 10am to 6pm.

All but one of Croydon’s libraries have significantly shortened their hours of operation since the onset of Covid-19 in 2020, this downscaling was also the result of the stringent spending constraints imposed on the borough following its bankruptcy.

However, Mr Atkinson believes the council’s decision to reduce the service has meant that lower footfall was inevitable.

He said: “The problem for young people using the library is that it is not open at very convenient times. I was in there the other day and there were a couple of young girls in there reading books and I asked them what they were doing, they were revising for their sociology A-level.

“There’s loads of kids like that where it’s a bit too noisy for them at home and the library is a good space to study. If it was open longer, more people could use it.”

During meetings with their local councillor Jason Cummings, the group suggested that they could run the library as volunteers but with financial support from the council.

Mr Cummings, who is also the Cabinet Member for Finance, said he wants the library to stay open but insisted any voluntary operation would have to be at “zero cost to the council”.

Mr Atkinson raised concerns over the ways the council measured the library’s footfall when it made closure assessments last year.

A recent paper published by the Consultants Activist Group looked into the council’s consultation on library closures and highlighted a number of issues with their methodology.

In their paper, the group states: “Visits are recorded by counters at the entrance to the library and collected periodically by library staff. When the counters fail, staff have to resort to counting users.

“As a result, data on visits is not wholly reliable. We have noted if there are any particular problems with the reliability of the visitor numbers in our assessment of each library.”

The paper also pointed out that: “As might be expected, the largest reductions in opening hours is associated with the largest falls in visits.” The other libraries that have had the largest falls in visitation are the other libraries targeted for closure: Bradmore Green, Broad Green and Sanderstead libraries.

Despite, this the paper also highlights that Shirley had also suffered from some of the lowest visitations before the Covid-induced restrictions, and further requires high levels of investment to maintain its ageing building. They also point out that the building is too small to host all library functions and could not be hired out to host events.

The council has previously suggested that Shirley residents could use the nearby Ashburton Library if Shirley Library does end up closing. However, Mr Atkinson believes this school-based library is not a suitable alternative.

He said: “The council has said that the alternative is the Ashburton Library, but that library is effectively part of Oasis Academy Shirley Park and it is not an easy place to get to. Shirley Library is on five different bus routes, so it’s a very easy place to get to for people.

“Shirley Library is also a beautiful art-deco building and it’s just been neglected. I’m not just referring to the recent financial difficulties, if you have just looked at it over the years it just needs a good lick of paint and some maintenance.”

“Croydon has got one of the lowest spends on libraries in London, we’re talking very small amounts of money. Last year Croydon was the London Borough of Culture, and it seems to be making a mockery of that to close local libraries down.”

Croydon Council has said the potential closure will allow it to focus on providing extended hours and better outreach services for their remaining nine centres.

They also specified that six libraries (Central, Ashburton, Thornton Heath, Norbury, Selsdon and Coulsdon) could return to opening five to six days a week as a result of the changes.

Outside of the four closures, the proposals suggest changes to three smaller libraries that receive low visitor numbers but are nonetheless vital for their area. These three libraries are Purley, New Addington and South Norwood.

The council has said the current set-up in these libraries is not working and instead is proposing to introduce community hubs in an attempt to bolster visitor numbers.

In their words, this is ‘where a library would be available alongside other services such as family and adult education services and community partnerships’.

When approached for comment, a spokesperson from Croydon Council said: “Library opening hours were reduced following the council’s financial collapse in April 2020. Working with our library staff, residents and partners, we carried out a thorough review of all our library services, which included footfall, book loans, computer usage and memberships, and examining the need in different communities.

“We received 3,600 responses to the consultation survey and over 1,000 people joined us at meetings and events around the borough. The library review team has been reviewing the feedback received and identifying improvements that can be made to the service offer, within the existing budget.

“The results of this will be published in September. We will continue to work with volunteers and partners to provide the best possible library service.”

Croydon locals rally to save Shirley Library from closure (2024)
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