Volunteers battling to protect community life as cuts hit home

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COMMUNITIES across Yorkshire are fighting to save their libraries from closure as councils continue to cut costs by focusing on what many consider to be “soft” targets.

Altogether 16 libraries have already closed across Yorkshire since local authorities agreed their cost-cutting budgets in March, with dozens more still under threat after staff were told all funding will be withdrawn at the end of the current financial year.

Heaton Library in Bradford was one of the first to close this year, and Elizabeth Hellmich of the local township association said the area’s elderly people, in particular, are still reeling from the loss.

“We’ve lost one of the centres of our community,” she said. “Things like this are sounding the death knell for Heaton village.”

This week also saw the final journeys for 10 of the 11 mobile library services in North Yorkshire, after all funding was withdrawn by the county council. Mobile library services will also end across North and North-East Lincolnshire this month.

“A lot of people used the mobile library,” said Bryan Dexter, who lives in the North Yorkshire village of Darley. “It’s really been a life-line for people in some places.

“Especially if you go right up to the top of the Dales, it’s so difficult for people because they have to make such long journeys to get to a library.”

The pain is far from over, with further closures being announced with every passing month.

Library reviews are continuing in Sheffield, Calderdale, Kirklees and East Riding, while last month Wakefield Council became the sixth in the region to unveil a major programme of library cuts, withdrawing all financial support from 12 of the 25 across the district.

Outwood Library is one of those on Wakefield’s proposed hit-list, and residents from the former pit village are now following in the footsteps of countless others across Yorkshire and campaigning to block the closure.

“The library is one of the few things we still have in Outwood,” said Karl Grubb, head of the Supporters of Outwood Library group.

“It is very well used by young and old alike, from students doing research to pensioners getting their weekly books.

“We’ll keep fighting throughout the consultation and I’m hopeful we can get a result.”

Some grounds for optimism do exist, with many of the closures announced earlier this year likely to be reversed.

In North Yorkshire, for example, the outcry when the council announced it was withdrawing funding from 22 of its 42 libraries, caused its leaders to reconsider.

In June the council announced a new “fair solution”, maintaining funding for 14 of the 22 threatened libraries – albeit with less money.

One area to win a reprieve was Pateley Bridge, near Harrogate, where a huge protest was held in March.

“There was a lot of feeling to keep the library here,” said Katy Penn, who works for local community partnership Nidderdale Plus. “Everyone agrees it is absolutely vital to our high street.

“People come into the town and they go to the library – and then they also go to the bank and do some shopping. If you make them go to Harrogate or Ripon library, it’s a fair journey and they’re obviously going to do other things there as well. And then you start to lose these local services.”

The town is now rounding up volunteers to help keep the library open for more hours each week.

Other small libraries may yet become entirely community-run.

North Yorkshire is in talks with community groups in all eight area where funding is still being withdrawn, and says there is a “strong possibility” that all its libraries will now remain open.

Three communities in Bradford are also in talks with their council about taking over libraries earmarked for closure, while Doncaster Council says it is hopeful “the majority” of the 14 libraries it planned to close will be maintained by local residents.

Nonetheless, with a total of 42 libraries across Yorkshire having now been told their funding will be cut, it is clear more will close before the end of the year.

The worst funding ‘in living memory’

The funding deal given to councils across the UK by the Government last October was described the Local Government Association as “the worst in living memory”.

More than £1bn has been slashed from local authority budgets in Yorkshire alone over the next four years.

Six months on from when every one of our councils agreed the biggest cuts to local services in living memory, the Yorkshire Post is assessing the damage now being done to communities across the region.

On Monday our special report continues with cuts to services for the vulnerable – revealing the devastating impact upon the elderly, the disabled and the homeless who rely on local authority care.