#MondayBlogs The LeftLion perspective on the selling of the Central Library Site

LeftLion editor Ali Emm attended a meeting in December with other interested stakeholders regarding the selling of the Angel Row library site. Cllr David Trimble and Nigel Hawkins were on hand to answer questions…

 

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Issue 1 of Dawn of the Unread. Published 8 Feb 2014

On Monday 14 November, the Nottingham Post ran a piece detailing Nottingham City Council’s plans to sell the Central Library building on Angel Row to property developers. The people of Nottingham, including us to an extent, threw their collective arms in the air and started running around in a panic over what the implications of such a deal could be. Well, they took to the internet, as is the way in this day and age.

And rightly so, to some degree. After gaining UNESCO City of Literature status earlier this year, and with one of the lowest child literacy rates in the country, the news seemed to be more doom and gloom than bright and hopeful, and raised more questions than it answered.

Immediate action was taken by Nottingham People’s Assembly: they started a petition that was sensationally titled Save Nottingham Central Library – which, to date, has over 1,600 signatures – and organised a ‘Read In’ at Central Library at the beginning of December that was attended by over 200 people.

It warms our hearts to see that the city and its residents care about the library and its provisions, but we thought we should try and get a few firmer answers on the matter to see what exactly the plans are and why the council has made this decision before we got our pitchforks out.

As Cllr Jon Collins, Leader of the City Council, said in a press release, “The council has always been committed to our central library and library facilities across the city, given the range of services they provide for all citizens.

“Central Library isn’t just a place to borrow free books – it provides services for older people to come and meet and learn to use new technology, for mums and tots, schoolchildren, jobseekers, newcomers to the country looking to learn English, housing advice, access to free computers and Wi-Fi, local history investigation and research, and so much more. It would be ludicrous to lose such important services in a city centre and that has never been our intention.”

Ludicrous indeed. Going back as far as 2007, the Labour Manifesto stated that they would “Seek funding to develop a new Central Library in the city centre.” Reiterated in the 2011 Manifesto, the 2015 Manifesto further pledged, “We want to help families get on in life by providing a good range of leisure activities, free and cheap events and excellent public services, as well as creating a development plan for the new Central Library.”

So this news of development isn’t completely out of the blue – the council have been aware that the Central Library hasn’t been fit for purpose for some time, but money has been too tight to do anything about it with Central Government funding cuts to Nottingham.

During a meeting with Cllr David Trimble (the Portfolio Holder for Nottingham Leisure and Culture) and Nigel Hawkins (Head of Culture and Libraries) this week, we put to them the questions that have been buzzing around everyone’s heads. And it seems to us that, although there’s going to be upheaval, the library’s future is something to look forward to.

The building is indeed to be sold to Henry Boot Development Ltd, who have proposed redeveloping the site from a 30,000 sq ft four-storey building into a 100,000 sq ft nine-storey building accommodating Grade A offices. They are also hopeful that the current facade will be retained in the development. The real good news, though, is that approximately 20,000 sq ft of this space is earmarked for the new library and it will be let at no charge to the council. They have made it clear that there is no possibility of a Nottingham City Centre without a library. In addition to the library space, the council will be able to raise income from the rental of the remaining space within the property, although it will not be ring-fenced for library services.

Cllr David Trimble stated that it was a high probability that the library would remain on Angel Row, but they do have an alternative site in mind if this plan doesn’t come to fruition. He was also keen to point out that it was a land deal and not a property deal, and that after thirty years, the property’s lease would revert back to the City Council, meaning they will not be losing out on important city centre space.

Once the deal has been finalised with Henry Boot Development Ltd, there will be a year of due diligence where details such as planning permissions, designs and planning will be arranged. In the meantime, the Contact Centre will more than likely be moved to Loxley House, Station Street, and they are determined to make sure that disruption to services are kept to a minimum.

There will not be a like-for-like service in place, and they don’t want to be unrealistic about promising something they can’t deliver, however they will try and maintain as many of the services to their fullest. Important collections, such as Local Studies, will be kept in the city centre where they are most easily accessed by the public.

The new library will be designed with a view to its long-term function and what the city’s residents need – the councillors discussed how they want to define the place of the library in society and are committed to directly running them.

The entrance to the new library, if it remains within the the Angel Row site, will be prominent and on Angel Row itself. Although they are aware that the footprint of the library will decrease, they don’t believe that the current 30,000 sq ft space is being used to its full potential and therefore it being within a smaller space will not have an impact on the services it can and will provide.

At the time of the meeting, full plans have not been confirmed, so Cllr Trimble and Nigel Hawkins could only answer our questions to the degree of their awareness. They do, however, want to keep the public updated and involved as much as possible as the development moves forward.

 

If you have an opinion on the selling of the library site and would like to write a guest blog, please get in contact. Dawn of the Unread welcomes all perspectives. 

 

 

#MondayBlogs Nottm Council on the future of Central Library

The following Q&A was produced by Nottingham City Council. If you would like to respond with a separate blog, please get in contact.

Nottingham City Council has in principal agreed to explore the opportunity to redevelop the site working with a developer. If we are able to agree a sale, this would include investment to provide an updated central library facility which otherwise we couldn’t do. We understand people’s concerns about the sale and where the library will go – below is some information to provide reassurance that there is a commitment to developing a new Central Library and an outline of the early proposals to make that happen.

Is the council fully committed to keeping Central Library open?
Yes.
This council absolutely recognises the value of libraries, both as community hubs and to help improve literacy and provide internet access for many who don’t have it themselves – that’s why we’re committed to not just keeping the Central Library open, but to investing in it so it remains open, relevant and popular for many years to come. We’re proud of Nottingham’s great literary heritage and our status as a UNESCO City of Literature. Our track record in recent years shows investment in modern neighbourhood libraries including Bulwell, Hyson Green and St Ann’s, often in new joint service centres which encourages more people to use them. This is in contrast to some councils facing budget cuts which have carried out large reductions in library provision to make savings. Bucking that trend, Nottingham City Council’s ruling Labour Group has had a commitment in its last two manifestos to develop the Central Library, and this is now part of the Council Plan.

Is it true Central Library is closing and being turned into offices?
No. That’s only half a story.
We are investing in new Central Library facilities through a deal which will also see new offices developed. The council has approved in principal the disposal of the Angel Row library site to developers Henry Boot Developments Ltd which would provide funding for the council to reinvest in a new and updated library facility. It also paves the way for an increase in Grade A office space to be created, meeting the demand for top quality office space in the city centre and keeping office development in the city centre where it needs to be.

Isn’t this deal more focused on office space?
No. This deal means we can build a new library at virtually no cost to local taxpayers.
This is a good deal for Nottingham and local library users. At a time when we are facing huge Government cuts to our budgets, we have to find imaginative ways to raise capital to fund ambitious plans for Nottingham and without this deal with Henry Boot Development Ltd, we wouldn’t be in a position to develop new Central Library facilities. With it, we have certainty that we can meet our commitment to develop Central Library facilities to meet modern standards and expectations. It also helps to meet the demand for top quality office space in the city – and it delivers a new Central Library at virtually no cost to local taxpayers.

Why does the library need developing?
To create a library fit for the 21st century.
The current library is not fit for purpose. The needs of library users are changing but this site is tired and not very adaptable to those changing needs. Modern central libraries should be a destination which attracts large numbers of people not only to borrow free books, but to access a wide range of services including learning, business intelligence, job clubs, literacy development and access to PCs and wi-fi, research archives, get help using new technology and so much more. Our proposals will give Central Library users the 21st century facility they deserve.

Will Central Library remain in Angel Row?
That’s the plan.
Our focus at the moment is on providing upgraded Central Library facilities on the existing site, but there are other options we are exploring to see if better value and a better outcome can be achieved.

How long will the development take and will services continue while work is underway?
It’s too early to say.
It is too early to say precisely how long the development will take, given that plans have not yet been submitted. While negotiations progress we will be looking at options that enable us to continue providing some Central Library services, but it won’t be a like-for-like service during this interim period. A number of approaches could be followed, all of which will be looked at, and it is important that we consider how we can enable people to use their local neighbourhood libraries to gain better access to the Central Library stock.

Will there be consultation on the proposals?
Absolutely.
Proposals are at a very early stage but we will of course consult with people in due course when our proposals are more refined.

Are there any details yet about the Angel Row development?
Yes.
The scheme will deliver a new Grade A office development of over 100,000sq ft. The proposal seeks to retain the existing façade facing Angel Row. It will also provide free space within the proposed new development, together with a £3m capital contribution, that can be used to provide a new Central Library within the Angel Row development. There will also be new retail units on the ground floor. A planning application has yet to be submitted.

Is there a chance the library element of the scheme is dropped?
No.
There is a clear commitment by the Labour Party and by the Council to provide a Central Library for the City.

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Today a meeting was held with Councillor David Trimble. Dawn of the Unread were invited but we were unable to attend. We will release more information soon.

#MondayBlogs Central Library Nottingham site sold off to Property Developer

esIn the opening issue of Dawn of the Unread we made some subtle observations about the state of British Libraries. Our intention was to ask whether libraries could still be a focal point of the local community. We suggested that on a political level, libraries weren’t valued. This was represented by a hideous hybrid called the Cleggeron (representing the then coalition government of David Cameron and Nick Clegg) whose favourite game was smashing up libraries.

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On an educational level we see a young teenager being dragged to the library, complaining ‘they’re boring and full of oldies.’ Our intention here was to think about how young people perceive libraries. When the teenager is given a copy of Dawn of the Unread and discovers that quite a bit has gone on in Nottingham he complains ‘My school is bobbins. They don’t teach us owt good like this.’ The implication here is that our cultural partnerships need to be better joined up and support each other. A thirst for knowledge at school leads to a thirst to learn more through books and engagement with extra curricular activities. According to an essay in Standing up for Education (2016),  50,000 teachers quit last year due to stress and the pressures of micro management. Teachers are vital in raising the aspirations of teenagers, so give them the time to do it!

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We included future predictions for libraries when our heroine Edith Slitwell has to check out her book using a Tesco style self-service machine which bleeps ‘unexpected genre in the bagging area.’ The slow erosion of humans from all areas of work is gaining momentum and libraries will be no different. Money is being saved through reduced opening hours. With this in mind we had our heroine informed that she would have to leave the building as it was shutting soon. Originally I’d wanted a sign on the library wall saying ‘opening hours 2pm -2.30pm’ but it was lost in the edit.

I mention this as it has just been announced that the Central Library site has been sold off to a property developer for 4 million. The council have put out an ambiguous statement of intent and consequently it is leading to a lot of concern. The Nottingham Writers’ Studio have quickly reacted and created a small group of interested parties who will be meeting with Councillor David Trimble to express their concerns. We have been invited to join in this conversation and will report back once we have some solid facts on exactly where the library will live.

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I have long been highly critical of Central Library. It is an ugly and depressing building in much need of a makeover and may very well benefit from being embedded inside a new fancy pants building. But it is called Central Library for a reason, so I do hope that the Council remember this so that it doesn’t have to be renamed ‘tucked away in one of those Sneinton Market huts that nobody uses on the outskirts of town library.’

In our Gotham Fool issue I stipulated to writer Adrian Reynolds that his narrative must mention that Central Library is a one stop centre where you can also pay your council tax. Originally, I was disgusted by this. I felt it devalued knowledge. But three years on I’ve changed my mind. Proximity may very well be the best way to encourage access to books and computers, films and music.     .

Dawn of the Unread was always meant to be a dialogue about the role of libraries. The reason that we are donating one copy of our book to every library in Nottingham is to support them. To help create conversations. To celebrate the very many positive things that have come out of Nottingham. The book is published by Spokesman Press, part of the Bertrand Russell Foundation. It was important our publisher reflected values we believe in as well as having a local connection. We sincerely hope that issues raised in our 16 part serial are taken into consideration by the Council in these very difficult times. We’re already witnessing a high rate of homeless people back on the streets, will we start to see books made homeless as well? And what will follow after that?

There are currently talks to hold a peaceful demonstration some time in December. Hopefully a silent sit in, like our reading flashmob a few years ago. We’ll post more information as and when this is confirmed through our Twitter account. @Dawnoftheunread.

FURTHER READING

 

 

#MondayBlogs: A literary walk that became an App, flash mob and then a book…

Dawn of the Unread started life as a literary walk around town as part of the Festival of Words a few years ago. Then it became a reading flashmob, 58 Youtube videos, the placement home for 120 NTU students, an interactive App, a computer game, music video, Guardian Education Winner, zombie dolls, a manifesto for the digital humanities, and, of course, an online graphic novel serial. 16 issues later it’s finally become a gorgeous glossy book published by Spokesman Books in collaboration with the City of Literature.

We launched the publication at the inaugural Festival of Literature on 11 November at Antenna. Antenna is quite a significant location as this is where the first conversations took place about the project. It’s a nice space for a book launch because they have a mixture of small tables and leather sofas that can be arranged in an informal setting.  My ideal literary event is always something that resembles an underground 1930s jazz bar, with dim lights, casual seating but shit hot visuals. Screens are littered around on various walls, meaning the audience can view the talk from wherever they are sat.

Although I did a quick chat on the Verity Cowley Show, one for NottsTV and a lovely feature on East Midlands today, I barely had time to promote the event other than a late email panic on Thursday evening. The key to a successful event is direct personalised marketing and after ten years of journalism in Notts, I have a lot of contacts. I just didn’t have time to talk to anyone on a meaningful level. I intended to write to all of the librarians, to schools, to all of the partner organisations who helped support us, but… Having said that, we had a turnout of around 50-70 people. That’s not bad, but it deserved to be a lot more.

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This is what planning a book looks like…

One bit of promotion I did really enjoy was creating the Nottingham This is Your Life video which you can see at the top of the page. It was shot in one hour with the LeftLion designer Raph Achache. If nothing else it proves my lack of vanity, as nobody in their right mind would shoot a video with such an awful dad haircut. It enabled me to be Richard Ashcroft for the day, cutting my own ‘bittersweet harmony’ through town and thankfully not getting lamped as I entered the Thurland…

I wrote my script a few hours before the event started. Sadly, this has become the norm now. But this is only because I was script editing Lucy Brouwer, one of the featured writers in our follow up project: Whatever People Say I am.

I themed the book launch around ‘the making of’ and used it as an opportunity to bring in all of the little stories people may not know about, the hidden references in the comics that may have slipped people’s attention, and the rationale behind the editorial decisions. Different contributors were invited up, but we didn’t have time to look at every comic in detail.

Dawn of the Unread continues to live on. As I write, it is being used by NTU students for an animation assignment, a filming module is using it to create a mock Kickstarter campaign, I’ve just read a script by one of our contributors who is turning one of our featured literary figures into a full length graphic novel, and our book is being sent out to every school in Nottinghamshire as part of the City of Literature’s drive to support schools and help raise literacy levels. I also in negotiations with Canvas, the home of the UK’s art scene on YouTube to see if we can get more exposure for our work and reach new audiences.

This is a project which has continually supported and promoted other organisations from Joanna Walsh’s #readwomen2014 campaign to the lack of Black representation in the Arts. It has created opportunities for aspiring and up-and-coming writers rather than drawing from the same repetitive palette. It has pushed the boundaries of the comics’ medium through our innovative use of embedded content – as far as I’m aware nobody else has provided such contextual reading for all types of readers before. It may also be the first ever graphic novel to explore a city’s entire literary history. It is a project with genuinely legacy, particularly in terms of education. And it was carved and crafted with spit, blood, guts and love to help raise awareness of this little old factory town, Nottingham.

Now, I want a week off. Then it’s time for part II…

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Dawn of the Unread (2016) James Walker and Paul Fillingham. Spokesman Books. £14.99

NottsTV short. 11.11.16

#MondayBlogs Alan Gibbons on National Libraries’ Demonstration 5 Nov 2016

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Alan Gibbons was our featured writer back in Issue 11 of Dawn of the Unread when he brought Robin Hood and his Merrie Men back to life for a tub-thumping protest at the demolition of library services. Now he’s urging us all to stand up and walk in protest at cuts faced by public institutions that are integral to learning.   

“Public Libraries and Museums remain the lynchpin of communities, offering access to learning, reading, history, art, information and enjoyment. Libraries are, or should be, trusted public spaces for everyone. They play a crucial role in improving literacy, in combating the digital divide and in widening democratic involvement. BUT, in the UK since 2010, we’ve LOST:

  • 8,000 paid and trained library workers (a quarter of all staff);
  • 343 libraries (600-plus including ones handed to volunteers); and
  • One in five regional museums at least partially closed.

We’ve also seen:

  • Libraries’ and museums’ opening hours cut;
  • Budgets, education programmes and mobile/ housebound/specialist services slashed;
  • An escalation in commercialisation and privatisation;
  • A 93% increase in the use of volunteers in libraries;
  • Income generation become the priority for almost 80% of museums.”

So say the organisers of the National Museums, Libraries and Galleries demonstration on 5 November  in London, PCS Culture Sector, Unite the Union, Barnet UNISON & Save Barnet Libraries, and Campaign for the Book have initiated a national demonstration to save some of our most treasured public services.

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Words: Alan Gibbons. Art: Steve Larder. From Issue 11 of Dawn of the Unread ‘Books and Bowstrings’

Jeremy Corbyn, Leader of Labour Party says: “I give my 100% support to this demonstration. The Tories have devastated our public services using austerity policies as justification. I promise that a Labour Government will act to ‘in-source’ our public and local council services and increase access to leisure, arts and sports across the country. We will reverse the damage the Tories have done to our communities in the cities, towns and villages.”

I will be there, marching alongside service users, staff and campaigners from around the country. Will you please join me?

When: Saturday, November 5th, noon.
Where: British Library, Euston Road, London.
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