HUNDREDS of campaigners demanded the reopening of two London libraries in a mass protest at the weekend.
Carnegie library in Herne Hill and Minet library in Lambeth, south London, have both been closed for a year with the council claiming that Tory cuts are to blame for the closures.
Defend The Ten — a campaign group which is fighting to keep the borough’s 10 libraries opened and unchanged — opposes plans by Greenwich Leisure Limited to build “unwanted” gyms in both buildings.
The council plans to reopen the libraries later this year but with reduced services, including the removal of all librarians.
Author Stella Duffy, who is part of the campaign, gave a passionate speech, saying: “A lot of what’s being talked about by Lambeth is around community volunteer groups.
“I’m all for community groups, but libraries also need librarians. They are the frontline in health and wellbeing.”
Ms Duffy said there are already three gyms within a 15-minute walk of the library.
Independent Labour councillor Rachel Heywood, who was suspended from her local party last year after taking a stand against plans to close Carnegie library in her ward, also supported the protest.
At Saturday’s rally, she commended “the incredible, passionate, committed and determined people of Lambeth.”
She said: “This is a brilliant day — a resounding vindication of the conviction that we need our libraries — all 10 of them.
“These things really have to be said. And I’ll keep on saying them while I can.”
Last month, Lambeth libraries campaigner and chair of The Library Campaign Laura Swaffield addressed a council meeting, saying that plans to turn Carnegie into a gym “would incur a massive extra spend of £4 million.”
She said: “It also emerged that a much better and simpler plan from the library manager could make the full saving demanded while keeping all 10 libraries running. It had been rejected unseen.”
Ms Swaffield pointed out that people living in the most deprived areas had been singled out to lose their library, and added: “The council has become more and more determined to force through the plan at all costs, and has thrown more and more money at it.
“The craziest waste is still to come. Carnegie library is soon to become an unwanted gym, furiously opposed by local people, with wildly contradictory projected costs running into millions.”
The library campaign received nationwide attention last year after protesters occupied the Carnegie library for nine days.