Please prevent Hackney’s Community Library Service space being sold off for another bloody cafe.

IMG_1142From Stoke Newington Literary Festival

You may or may not have been aware of the consultation going on about the future of Stoke Newington Town Hall. Hackney Council has drawn up plans to redevelop the site in order to make its upkeep sustainable.

We’re strongly of the opinion that whilst more could be made of the whole site, the current piecemeal approach to its redevelopment falls far short of a long-term, sustainable and flexible plan for making this amazing building busier and more profitable for the council and the community.

Additionally, the plan proposes taking parts of the site and turning them irreversibly into corporate or private space, fundamentally changing the whole relationship of this large, prominent site with its surrounding community.

Please have a look at the consultation document and make your opinions heard. You might not agree with us on all points, but having been to a planning consultation meeting, and being very familiar with the current workings of the whole Town Hall and Library complex, we strongly feel that the plans lack an overall community vision, and are pretty much lowest common denominator ‘easy wins’: bung a cafe in, rent out some rooms to a corporate organisation, build some flats. We’d love to see some decent benchmarking with community projects across Europe: this should be an award-winning redevelopment.

Stoke Newington has a large group of freelance workers, an increasingly priced-out group of entrepreneurs, designers, makers and artists. We need space where diverse groups of people can interact. We’ve got mothers and toddlers crowded into cafes and pubs who could spread out in the Town Hall a couple of mornings a week. Certainly we need housing, but we don’t need to plop some ‘luxury penthouses’ on top of a Grade 2 listed building.

The festival is mentioned with reference to the Assembly Rooms – we’ve shown that over the past 8 years, the right events and the right marketing can fill that space. However, the hire cost is currently so expensive (it’s the festival’s biggest cost) that film nights, music events, conferences, exhibitions, rehearsal space, dance events (it has an amazing sprung floor) etc are all currently priced out. It is currently only marketed as a wedding venue. As far as we know, there hasn’t been a cost-analysis exercise done to explore how different pricing points could boost rental income and provide a busy programme of events that serve the whole community.

Closest to our heart is the removal of the Community Library Service team from the old Reference Library. In the consultation document, the space is erroneously described as a ‘warehouse’. It isn’t. It’s the beating heart of the housebound library operation, from which a dedicated team of librarians select and deliver books, DVDs, CDs, jigsaws and periodicals for over 800 people who, for one reason or another, can’t visit the library. The team hosts a number of events there: telephone reading groups, informal get-togethers plus the room is let out for filming (it’s a glorious, faded art deco library) and once a year acts as the Green Room for the festival. It’s an inspiring place, beloved by our authors, but first and foremost it’s a library. Turning this into a cafe is sacrilege as far as we’re concerned. (Plus large restaurant spaces are pretty much unsustainable in Stoke Newington, as the failure of Foxlow and Homa suggests). We’d love to see a vision for Stoke Newington Library that keeps the team there and develops the current library facilities to provide more working space and community activities.

We’ve got until close of play on Monday 14th August so there isn’t much time left at this initial stage. Please have a look and help preserve the community use of the building, and prevent the corporate creep that this government has been so desperate to roll out across public buildings and community space.

Thank you very much.

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