Marsden Mechanics Institute: Yorkshire charity slams council for threatening to close library - despite not having to pay any rent for Grade II-listed building

The Marsden Community Trust has objected to a potential closure of the village’s council-run library and strongly opposed a proposal that it is taken over by volunteers.

Marsden Library, which is located inside the historic Marsden Mechanics Institute building near Huddersfield, is one of a number of public libraries under threat following a Kirklees Council review of the service.

If approved, a closure would mean the council withdrawing staffing from the library, which would retain only the books and access to the service’s IT network but would become a ‘community’ library manned by volunteers.

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The plans have angered both the Marsden Community Trust, which owns the Mechanics Institute, and the Friends of Marsden Library – who have released a joint statement pointing out that the council already gets rent-free space in the building thanks to the charity’s generosity.

Marsden Mechanics, Peel Street, Marsden, HuddersfieldMarsden Mechanics, Peel Street, Marsden, Huddersfield
Marsden Mechanics, Peel Street, Marsden, Huddersfield

Altogether, the council is proposing that eight libraries in the district become community-managed, meaning they would have to fund their own furniture, equipment and training of volunteers. The council would no longer be legally accountable for any service failures.

Yet the Friends group already provides a level of volunteer support to assist paid staff, and feel they could not sustain full-time opening hours.

The statement read: “We assess that the proposal is neither viable nor sustainable. It provides a minimal cash saving for the council while transferring costs and responsibilities to the local community. Removing the library from the services that the council has a legal obligation to provide creates a risk that the limited support that the council is promising will not be sustainable, and could be withdrawn in the future. Removing the 20 hours per week of paid staff time and expecting the community to cover this role via volunteers is unrealistic and it undervalues the role of professional staff in ensuring the quality and consistency of service delivery.

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"Marsden Community Trust is not equipped to manage a library service itself and the financial burden of providing and servicing the space is certain to bankrupt the organisation unless generous grant support is reliably available for the foreseeable future.

The library is currently run and funded by the council but they do not have to pay the £56,000 rent to the charity that owns the buildingThe library is currently run and funded by the council but they do not have to pay the £56,000 rent to the charity that owns the building
The library is currently run and funded by the council but they do not have to pay the £56,000 rent to the charity that owns the building

"We both say that the local community already makes a notable contribution to the running of the library. For the past seven years Marsden Community Trust has provided the library space free of rent or service charge to a value of £56,000. Since 2018 Friends of Marsden Library has produced an annual calendar and has donated £14,500 of the proceeds to Marsden Community Trust to partially offset the loss of income for the library space.

"Friends of Marsden Library supports an average of 14 volunteers at any one time to match the 20 hours per week currently provided by paid staff. We promote the library service through regular events featuring national and local writers that have included Simon Armitage, Robin Ince and Brian Groom."

The Trust and Friends representatives have met with the council during the current feasibility stage of the process, with the outcome of the assessment due in the summer. Community engagement will be carried out.

Built in 1860 for workers’ education, the Mechanics Institute narrowly escaped demolition in the 1970s, and in 2017 the council passed its ownership to the community trust.

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