SOUTHWARK COUNCIL’S threat to shut the Feminist Library down on March 1 is rather ironic, considering that date marks the start of Women’s History month.
We’ll be forced to close us unless we agree to an immediate rent increase from £12,000 to £30,000 a year — more than double. The council’s actions could end a unique archive with a 40-year history. As a practically unfunded, volunteer-run feminist organisation, we cannot afford such a steep increase in our rent.
The Feminist Library has been a tenant of the Southwark Council property at 5 Westminster Bridge Road since 1987, when it was placed there by the London Residuary Body after the abolition of the Greater London Council, which originally donated the building to black, Asian and minority ethnic community groups. They remained the majority of tenants until quite recently.
Over the years the library has become well-established in the local community and is internationally recognised as an archival resource of cultural and heritage significance, as well as a venue which provides facilities for various women’s, feminist and community groups, both local and London-wide.
Other longstanding tenants in the building are also suffering from the demand for increased rents. Gharweg Advice, Training and Careers Centre, which provides vital services for Southwark residents, was given notice of repossession of its lease on February 9. Like all community organisations, Gharweg has faced financial constraints recently, and so has been unable to afford market rent. It has been locked out of its offices and its services are being severely affected.
Southwark Council told us two days before Christmas that we would have to start paying the vast increase in rent by March 1 or else vacate. Since then we have been trying to negotiate with them, so far without success. With less than two weeks until March 1, there is no way that the Feminist Library collections, which include over 7,000 books, 1,500 periodical titles from around the world, archives of feminist individuals and organisations, pamphlets, papers, posters, and ephemera, can be safely moved in time — and then there is the issue of where the collections would go.
The Feminist Library used its 40th anniversary last year to launch a fundraising campaign to find a new home.
However, with affordable, viable properties in London in extremely short supply, the library has thus far been unable to find suitable premises. It is therefore crucial that the library be able to stay in its current location until the money can be raised to move.
As well as trying to publicise the situation and seek financial and political support, the Feminist Library has launched a petition to ask Southwark Council to reconsider its stance. At the time of writing there have been 2,500 signatures on the petition within 24 hours of it being launched.
The Feminist Library has masses of support. It is well-used and well-loved and it will be a massive loss to the people of Southwark and the local area if the library is forced out by the intransigence of borough officials.
Ultimately what is happening to the Feminist Library and other organisations in a similar situation is the product of austerity and cuts to services and funding and the non-stop gentrification of London. On February 10, Southwark Council cabinet approved a report that “highlights the need for a thriving voluntary and community sector that mobilises community action and makes best use of community resources, skills, knowledge and spaces.” We cannot understand how treating our organisation in such a way is consistent with that.