Libraries change hands in volunteer takeover

VOLUNTEERS ARE set to take over at the helm of 13 libraries in Sheffield from today in a controversial community takeover designed to save £1.6million, despite the looming threat of a Government inquiry into the decision.

Responsibility for the running of branches across the city is set to change hands following months of negotiations between community campaigners and council bosses to save them from closure.

The local authority will provide upkeep and maintenance costs at every branch for the next three years. At ‘co-delivered’ libraries in Broomhill, Burngreave, Park, Southey and Woodhouse this will continue, while the remaining ‘associate’ branches, many of which have become registered charitable organisations, will have to secure funding themselves.

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Volunteers have agreed to take on everything from manning the front desks to cleaning duties as the council axes 75 members of staff from the service.

The changeover comes as culture minister Ed Vaizey continues to gather evidence into whether the takeover means the council is failing in its duty to provide a ‘comprehensive and efficient’ library service for the whole of the city.

While critics argue the move puts the long-term future of libraries in the city at risk, the community groups are confident they can make it work.

Stannington resident Jenny van Tinteren, who has taken on the role of trustee at her local library, said: “None of us wanted this to happen and none of us think it is right to lose council-run libraries, but we recognise that if this is what it takes to keep it open then it is what we will do.

“You have to be willing to muck in with whatever needs doing and in Stannington there’s a determination to do that. There’s a sort of ‘bring it on’ spirit here.”

“There are going to be challenges, but our aim is to make it more than just a library,” said fellow trustee Bob Mynors.

“There are some volunteer-run libraries in other parts of the UK which have been running for years and we just have to emulate the successful ones and try and learn from them.”

Not all of the venues are solely reliant on volunteers, however. In Walkley, private firm Forum Café bars has developed a joint business plan with members of the community to manage the branch, which has yet to be finalised.

The council, which blamed Government cuts for its decision to withdraw public funding from 13 of its 27 libraries, has praised the efforts of local residents for preventing the closure of branches.

Councillor Mazher Iqbal, Sheffield Council’s cabinet member for communities, said: “I would like to thank each and every volunteer for all their hard work, as they take responsibility for running their community libraries.

A Department for Culture, Media and Sport spokesman said Mr Vaizey is expected to reach a decision on whether an inquiry will be ordered is expected at the end of October.