The race is on to find a way to reopen Ore Library which shut it doors more than a year ago.
A bid by Ore Community Association to reopen the library as a community run enterprise failed last month but now a new community group with Hastings Borough Councillor Heather Bishop at its head is hoping to pull together a rescue deal and have already staged two well-attended meetings to get the ball rolling.
Time is tight though. East Sussex County Council (ESCC) which owns the building that once housed Ore Library, has given the community an exacting timetable to work to.
By August 31st ESCC want to have a submission outlining the group’s proposals. Those
proposals will be evaluated by the council by September 30th and ESCC will make a decision on whether the community bid can proceed by October 31st.
However the group has already agreed that to make a meaningful case they need to ask ESCC for more time.
Ore Library was closed at the beginning of May last year. It was one of a number of smaller libraries to be closed by ESCC as the council looked for ways to save money. As the closing date approached though it looked like the library had been saved as Ore Community Association announced it’s bid to reopen the facility as a community library had been successful.
But time dragged on and while other libraries that had been shut at the same time re-opened as community run libraries the doors of the building in Ore stayed resolutely locked.
In May Terry Fawthrop, the former chairman of the community association, told Hastings In Focus the delay had been caused by ‘unfounded’ and ‘malicious’ accusations that were made anonymously against the association.
He said at the time: “That meant the county council had to hold back and because of the delay the business plan we had prepared was then out of date and we have had to re-do and re-submit that to the county council.”
Mr Fawthrop said the association was finalising paperwork with the Charities Commission and expected the library to be open again sometime during the summer.
But in June the community was hit by a bombshell when ESCC announced: “A year ago we agreed in principle to lease the former Ore library building on a peppercorn rent to the Ore Community Association for a community library to be provided at the site.
“We have been working hard together for the past year to make this work but reluctantly we have come to the view that we are not able to progress with the proposal any further. As no other proposals to run a community library at the site have been received, we will now seek approval to dispose of the site.”
Community leaders, including former borough councillor Richard Street were quick to establish whether it was too late or if an alternative community group could still make a bid to run the library.
Within days more than a dozen people had put themselves forward to form a group to look into preparing a proposal and that group has now held two meetings and while acknowledging that time is tight they are working flat out to get the facility up and running again.
Education Futures Trust, Sandown School and Hastings Voluntary Action are backing the community bid and keen to do what they can to help.
Councillor Bishop told Hastings In Focus that she has already been in touch with other potential funding bodies and she has also been offered help by the community group who reopened Ringmer library. While she hopes the group will be able to persuade ESCC to give them more time she says: “…time is needed to cement a solid business plan but we also need to show ESCC we are a serious group. We will push for time as we show the sort of excellent progress we are fully capable of achieving.”
She says: “ESCC is keen to see how a community library can fund itself beyond initial ‘one off’ grants and I believe this is seen as essential to a successful proposal.” She says her aim is to create a business plan that show the reopened library can sustain itself for three years.
Ms Bishop is also keen to draw on the experiences of those who have already reopened libraries in their communities and she has been speaking to people further afield and finding out about their experiences.
She says the group has also asked ESCC to be able to expect the building: “I’m not sure anyone has even been inside it since its doors were locked on the day it closed so we want to check for any damage – we don’t want any nasty surprises,” she says.
For more than a year, she says, people in the community have been storing books and collecting books that can be made available when the library reopens and she says she wants to ensure that effort has not been in vain.
For the future she hopes the old library can be a community hub and include computers for people to be able to use.
With another meeting scheduled for next Monday (July 22nd) there is clearly no shortage of enthusiasm in the community the get a community run library off the ground.