Friday, 11 April 2014

Need for more transparency by Croydon Council Part 2, Carillion and the Library Service

In Part I discussed the problem that we cannot rely on Croydon Councillors to respond quickly to questions, using the issue of the governance of Fairfield Halls as the example. This Part is about the same problem with Councillors and a Council contractor, namely Carillion which manages the Library Service.

On 24 March I discussed in a posting on Croydon Citizen (  what appeared to be the gradual improvements to the Croydon Library Service following a meeting I attended between representatives of Carillion and Norbury  Residents Associations.  At that meeting I handed the former a list of questions – see below.

Is it Carillion or CCS?

Labour’s Tim Godfrey took issue with my statement that CCS was running the contract, and asked me for proof that this was the case. I have been in lengthy email exchange with him. As the evidence I provided did not satisfy him I emailed him and Councillor Tim Pollard, the Cabinet member responsible for the Library Service (30 March), asking them to jointly find out whether or not Carillion operates the library contract through its not-for-profit subsidiary CCS and issue a joint public statement on the matter.

By 8 April I had not had a reply and so I did a reminder email. It  is now 11 April and not even a holding reply from either of them. No doubt they will explain that this is due to their being busy in the local election campaign. But the management of libraries is an election issue and therefore clarity about the facts is important.

It is to be hoped that the new Council after 22 May will tighten up the rules on Councillors and contractors to require a speedier response  to residents letters and emails, and thereby improve accountability.

Request to Carillion

On 24 March I had emailed the  Carillion staff who had attended the Norbury meeting drawing their attention to the Croydon Citizen piece, reminding them that I looked forward to receiving their reply to the list of questions I had handed them at the meeting. I also drew their attention to the fact that a decision had been taken not to purchase an important new book on British anti-racism: Caroline Bressey. Empire, Race and Politics of Anti-Caste (Bloomsbury Press. December 2013).  I have not had a reply despite a reminder sent on 2 April. On 26 March I asked them to provide me documentation showing that CCS was managing the library service for Carillion. I still have not had a response.

Contrast with GLL in Wandsworth

This lack of engagement contrasts sharpely with my experience of dealing with Wandsworth’s library manager GLL, which lost out for the Croydon bid to JLIS.  I received a full response to concerns I raised with GLL’s Head of Libraries Diana Edmonds. This is posted on my blog site at

Putney Society and the Friends of Putney Library have now organised a public meeting for 27 May which she will address on the  matters covered by her reply to me and further developments in the pipeline. The meeting also hopes to discuss the apparent threat to the library in Roehampton as a result of a Council backed regeneration scheme. If closure goes ahead it will clearly be taken out of the contract with GLL. The Putney meeting takes place during the Wandsworth Heritage Festival (24 May to 8 June) which is co-ordinated by GLL as part of its responsibility for managing the Heritage Service. Unfortunately I will not be able to attend the meeting as it unavoidably clashes with one of my talks in the Festival. 

The Questions Carillion has not yet answered

1.    What is the catchment population for this Library by age group?

2.    How many people are registered as users of this Library by age group?

3.    What is the weekly use of the library in relation to:
(a)   Borrowing books etc from the adult and children’s sections
(b)   Using the computers
(c)    Other uses?

4.    How many staff are there who are
(a)   Full qualified as librarians
(b)   Training to be fully qualified librarians
(c)    Not qualified or undergoing training

5.    What functions do the staff who are no qualified or undergoing training undertake?

6.    How many staff were TUPEd across and how many are not employed here?

7.    Do you intend to maintain the current staffing level and the ratio between qualified,  those undergoing training and the other staff?

8.    What plans have you go to re-stock this library given the paucity of books on the  shelves?

9.    Which local schools use this library on a regular basis?

10.  Which local schools do not use this library?

11.  When will you make available for use the upper floor even though it has no lift?

12.  What events do you plan to organise in this Library this year?

13.  If individuals or organisations want to hold an evening event in this library in the  evening is it available for letting?

14.  What is the letting costs for this Library for
  (a)   day-time
  (b)   evening events?

15.  Do you plan to change the opening hours this year?

16.  If so to what?

17.  Is there an email system which enables staff to let registered users know about  events and new books and services at this Library?

18.  Do you intend to try and use volunteers?

19.  If yes what tasks do you envisage volunteers will undertake?

20.  If you recruit volunteers will you guarantee that their use will not be to justify  staffing reductions?

21.  Do you intend to encourage the formation of a Friends of Norbury Library group?

22.  What do you see as the role of a Friends group?

23.  How often would you meet the Friends group to discuss issues and improvements to  service?

24.  Would you support making representations to TfL to place bus stops by the Library  on both sides of the road in order to make it easier for people to come here?

Tuesday, 8 April 2014

Need for more transparency by Croydon Council. Part 1 - Fairfield Halls Governance

Whichever Party wins control of the Council on 22 May there needs to be a  re-think of the rules regarding response times by Councillors, a requirement on response times by Council contractors, and on reporting things publicly back to Committee on implementation or non-implementation of decisions. The former issue will be dealt with in Part 2 on the Carillion Library Contract. This part discusses the issue of Council decisions in relation to Fairfield Halls governance.

I submitted the following question to the 24 March Council meeting:

‘What are the conclusions of the Charity Commission’s Operational 
Compliance Report published on 25 February on the Council’s 
decision on the governance of the Fairfield Halls charity, 
when they will be reported to the relevant Committee, 
and who are the current charitable Trustees?’

Pollard’s written response states: 

The Fairfield is the responsible organisation for this work so we 
direct the questioner to that organisation.’ He gave the url for the 
Commission’s report. 

He then added: 

‘The council’s nominees to the board of Fairfield (Croydon) Ltd 
in 2013/14 are Councillors George Ayres, David Fitze, Timothy 
Godfrey, Lynne Hale and Dudley Mead.’

Is Pollard Holding the Council in Contempt?

I asked a verbal supplementary question:

‘Given that the proposed changes ion governance were approved 
by Committee and full Council, through you I request  the Mayor
 ‘ Will you rule on whether Cllr Pollard is treating this Council 
with contempt in not stating when the Committee will be told
 that the Council’s decisions cannot be implemented and 
the reasons why’.’

Pollard replied that the decisions had been set aside in a subsequent Committee meeting.
I am perfectly happy to admit if I am wrong so I checked back in Committee papers and could not find what Pollard was referring to. I did not include the issue  in my review of the Council meeting posted on Croydon Citizen ( 

No Report Back To Committee

I emailed him on 25 March as follows:

‘I am perplexed by your answer to my supplementary question
 on Fairfield Halls at last night’s Council meeting.

You referred to a discussion at the Cabinet which meant that 
the previous decisions on governance have been superceded.

I cannot find any such reference in the report Fairfield Halls Capital 
project position update and capital investment to the 18 November 
2013 Cabinet meeting.

This report deals with the issue of changes to the lease, not to governance. 
The minutes do not record anything about the governance issues.

Nor does the governance issue appear to be addressed in the report 
Fairfield Halls Modernisation Project – Award of Professional services 
Consultancy Procurement Lots 1,2  &3  to Corporate Services on 26 
February 2014. Until the minutes of that meeting are posted on 
the website I do not know whether there was a minuted verbal report 
on governance leading to decisions.

I appreciate that in the cut and thrust of Council meetings it is not 
always possible to be able to recall the exact facts of every single issue
 that may be raised.

It does seem to me  that, unless I have missed something in the 
documentation,  the 29 April Cabinet decisions still stand, and 
that therefore there should be a report back to Cabinet on 
why the Council’s proposals cannot be proceeded with.

I would be grateful if you would let me know if there is something 
I have missed in the paper work, or if I am correct that the matter 
will be reported to the next Cabinet meeting.’

Pollard Reveals Behind The Scenes Failure To Implement Council Decisions

Well by 8 April I had not had a reply so I sent him a reminder. To be fair to him he sent a very quick reply in which he stated:

‘As you rightly state a report went to Cabinet on the 29th of April 2013 
putting forward proposals in relation to the governance arrangements in
 respect of Fairfield (Croydon) Limited Halls (and also the London
 Mozart Players Limited).

The recommendation delegated authority to the Executive Director
 for Children, Families and Learning to finalise negotiations 
on the basis of the detail set out in the report. 

Unfortunately it was not possible to reach agreement with Fairfield 
Croydon Limited on the details and therefore the proposal did not 
proceed. Relevant Members of the Council and senior officers were 
kept fully apprised of this situation. The decision was not therefore
 implemented however there is no need for an additional report to be
 brought to Cabinet in such circumstances and there is no intention
 to do so at present.

It is considered by the Council that the Corporate Services Committee 
reports that you refer to were able to proceed notwithstanding the fact
that the governance proposals were not implemented.’
I trust this answers your queries.’


because all this was done behind the scenes. As so much of the Council’s affairs are delegated behind the scenes is it any wonder that residents can misunderstand what is going on?  Openness and transparency are key principles in the democratic process. The outcome of behind the scenes action should always be reported back publicly. After all unless there is a report that the decisions on Fairfield Halls governance could not be acted upon, and better still if they are not formally noted as such, they remain Council policy. Will the Party that controls the Council after 22 May change the rules to ensure that non-action of decisions is formally recorded in public Committee or Council papers?

Background reading

Charity Commission report: 
Previous discussions by me on Fairfield Halls can be see at by typing 'Fairfield' into the search box top left of this page.. 

I can be contacted at: 

Commemorating John Archer - Wandsworth Heritage Festival 24 May - 8 June


Saturday 24 May to Sunday 8 June


Royal Mail stamp April 2013

This year is the 100th Anniversary of the Battersea Mayoral year in 1913/14 of John Archer, an advocate of social justice and black rights. His biographer Sean Creighton is giving two talks and leading four walks about his life and views and the parts of Battersea particularly associated with him.

Tuesday 27 May, 7pm

John Archer’s Views on British and Black History

John Archer was actively interested in the history of African peoples around the Atlantic, and the campaigns for the abolition of the slave trade and slavery in the West Indies and the United States. Sean will discuss his views on British and Black History, including his view that British history neglected black history, and about the people he regarded as significant inc. white abolitionists and black campaigners  in Britain and the United States. Battersea Library, Lavender Hill, SW11. Free.No need to book in advance.

Tuesday 3 June, 7pm

Culture and Sport in John Archer’s Battersea

A keen supporter of the Nine Elms Swimming Club and friend of the black composer Samuel Coleridge-Taylor d. 1912) is just one of many leading citizens who supported the rich cultural and sports life of Battersea from the 1890s to 1930. Sean Creighton, a historian of the Edwardian skating boom, will discuss aspects of that life. Battersea Library, Lavender Hill, SW11. Free. No need to book in advance.

Walks Through John Archer’s’ Battersea

Wednesday 28 May, 7pm and Sunday 1 June, 2pm. To Our Lady of  Mount Carmel and St Joseph Church, Battersea Park Rd
Thursday 5 June, 7pm and Saturday 7 June, 2pm.  To Battersea Arts Centre

Meet outside 55 Brynmaer Rd, off Albert Bridge Rd (Battersea Park Rd end).  Free.

Further details from

Wandsworth Heritage Festival Launch Event Saturday 24 May


Saturday 24 May to Sunday 8 June


This year’s Wandsworth Heritage Festival will open on Saturday 24 May with a day event at the Wandsworth Town Library at the top of Garratt Lane, showcasing the work of the local amenity and history societies and the enthusiasm of several individuals talking about their interests and their local links.

10.30am. Opening
Stalls: local history and amenity group; free information stall; second hand history book stall.
Displays, including one on John Archer, Battersea’s black mayor 1913/14.
These will be open all day up to 4.30pm.

11am. One Way Road - Dead End Town
Suzanne Simmons will outline the history of the Wandsworth Town Centre One Way System which she studied for her MSc.

11.40am.  River Wandle Walk
Shirley Passmore (Wandsworth Society) will lead a walk from the beginning of the Causeway to Feathers Wharf. Taking in the history of adjoining sites in the Wandle Delta, we will also look at the listed II* Wentworth House in Dormay Street. We shall cross the Causeway Bridge over Bell Lane Creek and walk along the temporary riverside walk to the Thames. Duration: 45mins – 1 hour. Meet outside The Armoury pub (formerly The Crane) 14 Armoury Way SW18 1EZ. More information from:

12 noon. The Wandsworth and Battersea Battalions in the First World War.
Talk by Paul McCue, historian of Wandsworth servicemen.

1.30pm    Municipal Dreams
Talk about the Totterdown Fields and Latchmere Estates – some of the finest early council housing in the country – and the Aspen House Open Air School – pioneering education from the LCC. John Boughton is an historian.  His blog Municipal Dreams is a celebration of the reforming efforts of local government.

2.20pm    Honouring John Archer and Other Black People Through Plaques
Jak Beula, chair and founder of the Nubian Jak Community Trust, will talk about one of the UK's most recognised independent plaque schemes. The Trust has plaques honouring people as diverse as Bob Marley and Malcolm X to Claudia Jones and Frederick Douglass.  It mounted the plaque to John Archer (Battersea’s Black Mayor 1913/14) in Battersea Park Rd in 2010.

3.10pm    Exploring Battersea Pubs
A Battersea resident for 29 years and local history enthusiast Claire McConville will present information from her research about the history of Battersea’s pubs She has ‘Battersea Pubs’ page on her website:


The aim of the day is to introduce residents, especially newer ones, to the rich history of all the different districts of the Borough: Balham, Battersea, Earlsfield, Nine Elms, Putney, Roehampton, Southfields, Tooting, West Hill, Wandsworth Town and parts of Wimbledon, and the districts of Clapham and Streatham which were part of Wandsworth until the mid-1960s.

Further details and to request stall or display space for your local history project contact Sean Creighton at  

Details updated 22 April - additional talks highlighted in purple.

Sunday, 6 April 2014

Croydon Arts Network Powers Up

Holding arts events under the Croydon Flyover was perhaps the most exciting idea to be suggested at the Croydon Arts Network workshop and social held on Sunday 30 March at Matthews Yard.

The Network came about because South Croydon Community Association was concerned about the programming and costs of hiring Fairfield Halls, and the context of the cultural disengagement by the Council, through, for example, the closure of the David Lean Cinema, the ending of grant support to the Warehouse Theatre, the sale of Riesco Collection items, and since then the cut in funding for the Croydon Music Service.

The resultant campaigning has led to a number of changes in direction by the Council including: letting the Cinema Campaign start to use the cinema again, and the display of items from the Art Collection on the ground floor of the Clocktower.

The inquiry that SCCA set up on Fairfield Halls led to the idea of having an independent Arts Network. These developments have taken place alongside initiatives to add to the mix of cultural activities on offer e.g. at Matthews Yard and the Spread Eagle public house, and in film shows at Ruskin House and some churches. Perhaps the most ambitious cultural event in the Borough put on with no Council funding in recent years was the 2012 year long Croydon Samuel Coleridge-Taylor Festival.

Main Conclusions From Discussion

The Network evening started off with a fascinating account by Clive Alando Taylor of his own life journey in the arts and his work with young people. He also discussed the value that some homeless people find in reading their poetry at the Poetry Café in Central London.

We then chatted in small groups on particular topics suggested on Post-it notes by those attending. Perhaps the main conclusions from these were:
  •  The need for a vision.
  •  Encouraging groups to think outside their own silos and work together.
  •  The importance of providing the basic information of what is going on and who is    undertaking the activities.
  •  The importance of reaching out to people who are not on the normal communication  networks, especially those not on the internet and those not currently participating  in the arts.
  •  Having events in the open so people can sample and perhaps be enthused by them.
  •  Finding ways to show people whose daily lives are a struggle how they can have a  positive engagement with cultural activity.

Learning from Museum Experience of Public Engagement

The formal part of the evening ended with Rhiannon Green giving an explanation of her work in community engagement at the Design Museum and previous experience at the British Museum. What came out clearly from her talk was the fact that engaging people with institutions like museums requires different ways of finding out why visitors and audiences might be interested. She spoke in particular about coming to understand the needs of a particular group of refugees and asylum seekers by working in partnership with an Iranian Community Centre. Funding for community engagement projects is often short–term, and engagement is difficult to sustain without funding. There are however, insights to be gained from museum staff hearing about the alternative interpretations offered by members of the public. It is sometimes these contributions that enables re-writing to happen.

Network Developments

Many people attended a Croydon Arts Network event for their first time and were feeling their way with what it is and what it might be able to do. After the formal part of the evening several attendees stayed to chat, and to get to know each other better.

While the web site for the Network is being set up, communication is through email, placement of paper version of the notes in key locations in central Croydon and via social media, especially Twitter.

Behind the scenes, the website and its database of activities is being finalised, with the Board of the proposed Community Interest Company working with a group of Friends of CAN on this project. Additional Board members are needed, especially from organisations working in cultural activity in the BME sector. Less formal support is also being sought from Friends of CAN – people who would like to support the growth of the network by running events, circulating publicity and assisting with other specific projects.

The next get together will be on Tuesday 22 April upstairs at The Spread Eagle. This will be a less structured opportunity to come together again with others in the arts, do something creative and get to know people better. This will be followed by another more formal meeting on Thursday 15 May at Matthew’s Yard. For details of the events, keep an eye on the CAN website.

What else can be done by individuals who want to help develop the arts in Croydon?

·      Why not go along to the monthly West Norwood Feast on Sundays and get inspiration from what the local organisations and Lambeth Council are doing especially with the Open Works project at Portico Gallery, 23 Knights Hill, SE27.
  • Have a look at the ideas around Fun Palaces ( Croydon will be hosting its own Fun Palace. Visit to find out more, or drop by the Croydon Fun Palace stall at the arts and crafts fair in Exchange Square (by Matthew’s Yard) from 10 am until 4 pm on Saturday 19 April. Needless to say given the name, it’ll be a lot of fun!
  • Give some thought to whether there should be a campaign to use the space underneath the Flyover for open air cultural events eventually leading to the development of a community trust to build facilities under it, as was done from the 1970s under Westway. Key questions for examining the potential in Croydon: who owns the land? will the owner let the use of the land at a peppercorn rent? will Westfield/Hammersons, other developers and the Whitgift Foundation be prepared to donate substantial sums to a Croydon Flyover Development Trust? have the political parties the will and imagination to back such an idea and help facilitate it through the Council?
  • Have a look at Croydon Turf Projects. This potentially exciting new culture and open spaces initiative can be read about at
  •  Have a look at Croydon Forest School
  •  Offer to put on a cultural activity at one of the forthcoming community Festivals, e.g. South Norwood Arts and Purley.
  • Offer a display for the Heritage Festival on any cultural activity which has been inspired by a local heritage theme.
  • Attend Heritage Festival events to see if any of the topics being discussed might lend themselves to a cultural activity such as music, a play, poetry etc.
  • Question candidates in the local elections on what their party’s future cultural strategy will be.

Croydon Arts Network: Its temporary website is

Croydon Heritage Festival
For discussion on the Heritage Festival see my blogs at

Previous Contributions on aspects of Croydon culture:

·     See Croydon Citizen and search ‘Creighton’.
·     See my discussion paper ‘The Future of Fairfield Halls’ with Appendices ‘The relevance of cultural and historical activities’ and ‘Broader issues relevant to developing a cultural strategy’:

I can be contacted at

Saturday, 5 April 2014

Did Thomas Bewick Design 'The Kneeling Slave- Am I Not a Man and a Brother''?

An astonishing find was made this winter in a Northumberland field next to the 18th-century George Hotel at Chollerford, – part of the bowl of a clay pipe with the ‘Am I Not A Man and A Brother image’ on it. ( It was found by Ron Brown of the North East AAG Archaeology consultancy (

This finding is significant because it suggests that the Gateshead area pipe makers were using the famous image which is most associated with the potter Josiah Wedgewood. It is a small indication of the degree of support for anti-slavery across the classes in the North East as shown by the work in the 2007 Tyne & Wear Remembering Slavery Project. But it could have more significance if, as I have been arguing since then, that the image was based on a design by Northumberland engraver Thomas Bewick, a known supporter of the anti-slavery movement. The pipe could therefore be an artefact representation of perhaps the North East’s most influential and powerful contribution to the anti-slavery movement, which finally found its success in the abolition of slavery in the British West Indies under Northumberland’s Earl Grey’s Government in the 1830s.

When designing its 2007 commemorative badge the Great North Badge Company states that its ‘inspiration … is taken directly from Wedgwood's medallions. The badge's ornate belt border being based upon a contemporary engraving by the well-known artist Thomas Bewick.’ (

Bewick's Full Engraving

A full engraving by Bewick sets the kneeling slave in the plantation background and it was reproduced in John Sykes Local Records collection of events in Northumberland and Durham. Thomas Hugo's 1866 book 'The Bewick Collector contains the following note written years before by the North East collector John Bell: “Bewick took a deal of pains with this cut. It was done for a Society in London and Newcastle, 1787, in which there were Sir John E. Swinburne, Mr. Thomas Bigge, and others, who were particular friends. It has since been much hacked, by being used for everything which had any allusion to Negroes or the Slave Trade....” While this is not conclusive, it suggests that there may be a strong case for Bewick being the designer of the image for the London Society’s seal in 1787, which was then quickly interpreted by Wedgewood’s designers into the jasperware medallion in the same year. The reference to a Society in London and Newcastle in 1787 is perplexing, because no evidence has been found for the existence of an anti-slavery society that year in Newcastle. The Newcastle Society was not established until 1791. There may have been an informal grouping of anti-slave trade supporters because Newcastle Corporation was to submit one of the first petitions from the provinces to Parliament in 1788. That was the year Swinburne became an MP.


Mediallion Version

A medallion style version of the kneeling slave with plantation background was used on the front cover of the printed play Princess Zanfara by William Hutchinson a solicitor, antiquarian, and freemason based at Barnard Castle published in 1789. Another version was used for the tract published in December 1791 by the newly formed Newcastle Anti-Slavery Society giving details from the inquiry into the slave trade by the House of Commons. In discussing this in his book Popular Politics and British Anti-slavery: The Mobilisation of Public Opinion John Oldfield writes Bewick’s interpretation of the London Committee’s seal gave fresh life to what was by now a familiar image.’ The image went on being used in Newcastle publications to 1830.

I have an image of a page of a printed publication showing both of these images which discusses both the 1789 and 1791 images. ‘We learn from John Fenwick, Esq, of Newcastle, that Thomas Bewick engraved two cuts of the Negro kneeling. One of these was cut for an Abstract of the Evidence given in reference to the Slave Trade .. published at Newcastle and the other for the “Princess of Zanfara” …Fenwick was one of the Secretaries of the Newcastle Anti-Slavery Societies and donated many of his anti-slavery tracts to the Newcastle Literary & Philosophical Society. Given the massive number of notes taken in the 2007 Project I unfortunately cannot link the image of the page to the reference to the publication this was printed in. This appears to confirm that medallion images reproduced in Newcastle publications were by Bewick.

Raising the Question

I first began to raise the question of whether Bewick is the original designer of the kneeling slave image, and whether Wedgewood took his inspiration from Bewick, when I was Archival Mapping & Research Officer for the 2007 Tyne & Wear Remembering Slavery Project. I shared the idea with a wider audience in my talk on slavery and abolition in the North East at the 1807 Commemorated Conference at the University of York held in September 2008, and in January 2011 in my talk at the British Society for 18thC Studies Annual Conference at Oxford University.

I asked Jenny Uglow, author of the superb biography of Bewick Nature’s Engraver, whether she knew anything about it, but she did not.

Bewick, who financially subscribed to the abolition cause in 1792, had a clear moral philosophy and supported radical causes throughout his life. But he was not an organiser. He was one of the hundreds of supporters whom organisers need to be able to sustain movements through the peaks and troughs of campaign activity. To have that support requires a climate of opinion that organisers can energise. As a leading engraver he leant his skills to the cause.

Geting Up-to-date

I have not undertaken any more work on the issue in the last three years because of concentrating on other research interests. Now thanks to Roger Holly asking me for information about John Fenwick, I decided to see if anything new had gone onto the web that might throw more light. I was very pleased to find that the British Museum features several of the uses of Bewick’s design in its on line collection of images.

Its notes on the front cover of Zanfara state: ‘This famous image originated in 1787 as the design for the seal of the Society for Effecting the Abolition of the Slave Trade; it was produced in many versions, probably the best known being the jasper-ware cameo by Josiah Wedgwood, a member of the Society (see 1887,0307.I.683). A small version is included in a scrapbook of wood-engravings in P&D, 166*.d.1, 1928,1126.71.’ The design attribution is given to Bewick with a question mark. It takes the same approach with the Society’s Abstract of the Evidence to the House of Commons Committee on the slave trade published in 1789.

It is more confident about attributing the same image used on the Newcastle Religious Tract Society’s published edition of Hannah More’s The Sorrows of Yamba (1823): ‘Print made by Thomas Bewick.’ (

Given there is no mention in his autobiography of the image, I think it is time to reassess Bewick’s role in anti-slavery, his links with other activists like Clarkson, Swinburne and Bigge, and his contribution to the visual campaigning imagery. I leave it to others to decide on what should be done and how it should be done.

Tuesday, 1 April 2014

How has GLL been performing in managing Wandsworth's Library and Heritage Services?

Over the last few weeks a number of concerns about the management of the Library and Heritage Service in Wandsworth by GLL have been raised with me,  I have posed a number of questions. Diana Edmonds, the GLL Head of Libraries has sent me the following comments on the questions and the issues. 

The answer is reassuring. However, there is no room for complacency. The establishment of Friends groups, like the one that already exists at Putney, would be helpful to enable users to have a say in future developments, and help promote the library with events, so that useage goes up. Communicating with users through email about forthcoming events and developments and seeking views, would help. 

I will continue to raise issues about the Heritage Service and publicity of heritage activities in the libraries as a member of Heritage Wandsworth Partnership. Many of the events in the Heritage Festival will take place in libraries, starting with an Open day I have been organising at Wandsworth Town of stalls, displays, talks and an associated walk. Full Festival details will be published soon.

On the future of Croydon libraries see my posting on Croydon Citizen

Are the numbers using the Wandsworth Heritage Centre lower than comparable local archives/local studies?

CIPFA statistics for visitors to archive services in 2012/13 for Wandsworth and neighbouring local authorities are detailed below:
Wandsworth: 1508
Richmond: 1484
Lambeth: 1143

CIPFA statistics for the same period for other Inner London boroughs are provided for comparison:
Tower Hamlets: 1457
Hackney: 2267

In terms of comparative size of holdings, Lambeth have 200m3, Wandsworth has 136m3 (or did at that point, although it has increased a little since then). Tower Hamlets and Hackney both have 211m3, so Wandsworth is actually performing better than services with larger holdings. 

Is there a limit to the number of local history publications on sale and if so, is this a situation inherited from Council managers?

We will be pleased to sell more local history publications in the Heritage Centre – and indeed in local libraries, but there have been supply difficulties in the past.

We have recently approached both the Clapham Society and the Streatham Society for details of publications for sale and have now raised an order for material from the Clapham Society.

We are still waiting for a response from the Streatham Society, although we purchased several copies of a publication by one of their members for re-sale at the end of last year. We are also hoping to buy material from the Wandsworth Historical Society, but have had supply issues on previous occasions. We are also pleased to sell self published material by local authors if the items are relevant to the local area – and indeed have some arrangements in place to do this.

Is there adequate publicity at each library about the Heritage Service?

Additional information about the Heritage Service has been included in this year’s Festival brochure. We are also considering improvements to the website as well as printed information in individual libraries. A photo shoot to provide suitable images for use in publicity material is being undertaken this week.
Withdrawal from the London Libraries Consortium

The withdrawal from the London Libraries Consortium formed part of GLL’s bid to manage the Library Service in the London Borough of Wandsworth. Wandsworth has been a member of the Consortium for 9 years and joined when there were 3 members with a similar spend on stock. There are now 17 members with very different levels of spending on stock and corresponding differences in the amount of material available for loan. This has resulted in more and more material from Wandsworth being out on loan in other boroughs with significantly less material being borrowed in return. So while Wandsworth meets 75% of reservations from its own stock, and would meet more if material were not out in other boroughs, other library authorities meet less than 40% of requests from their own stock. For every item borrowed by a Wandsworth customer, two items are lent. New material is particularly popular and many new books do not reach our shelves before they are lent to another library authority. Indeed, for some time, Wandsworth Libraries have deliberately placed a stop on the loan of bestsellers.

We feel that this is no longer economically viable. The loaned material is not available to customers in Wandsworth while Wandsworth incurs considerable costs in terms of stock retrieval and transportation simply in the process of lending to customers outside Wandsworth.
We should like more material to be available for Wandsworth customers. We shall, of course, continue to provide an efficient reservation service for items which are in stock but out on loan, and a request service for material which is not in stock in Wandsworth. Wherever possible, for items such as large print and talking books, for instance, we prefer to buy rather than borrow, because it builds the collection of material available for local customers. This often ensures that the request is satisfied more quickly – and also ensures that the item is available for other customers who would not reserve the item but will, nonetheless, enjoy using it. Adult fiction and non fiction will be purchased either from our standard suppliers or from internet bookshops who can supply very quickly. Specialist items will be borrowed from the national and international sources which we use currently.

Has the overall quality of service improved or been deteriorating since GLL took over?

I asked staff for their comments on this question, and they provided a list of improvements;

-           The IT upgrade for the People’s Network PCs replaced hardware which was over 10 years old, much of which was no longer fit for purpose, Equipment including scanners is now available for use by members of the public. Comms lines have also been upgraded, giving considerably faster access to online services. Our next upgrade will include colour and A3 printing. The price of printing was halved in January 2014.

-           New online resources are now available, including The Driving Test, Mint for company information and Freegal, the music download series.

-           The purchase of new stock has continued much as before the transfer, with qualified librarians selecting stock for libraries in the Borough. Wandsworth Libraries has a good stock budget but is currently part of the London Libraries Consortium and lends a great deal of material to other library authorities. Wandsworth lends 2 items for every item borrowed – and so customers may not see a full representation of stock purchased by Wandsworth Libraries on its shelves. Newer stock is particularly attractive and may be borrowed by another authority before it even reaches the shelf. Wandsworth Libraries is in the process of withdrawing from the Consortium and we anticipate being able to display a better range of material in our libraries when the withdrawal is complete, as well as being able to develop collections suited to the interests of the customers using particular libraries.

-           Libraries are actively promoting books and authors. We have had a number of visits from authors including Penelope Lively and are currently promoting the CityReads programme with events and promotions. Events have already been planned for Heritage Month and for Family Learning. Book groups have continued to operate; a new adult reading group has been established in Battersea Park Library which is proving very successful.

-           Work with children has been developed, with more class visits from local schools and nurseries. We held a very successful Summer Reader Challenge this year and also hosted a live streaming event with Cressida Cowell, a well known children’s author, which was viewed live by over 600 schools across the World, as well as by 100 children and teachers from local schools in Southfields Library.

-           The number of learning opportunities has increased with sessions of IT support, English conversation and CV writing, as well as the regular programmes of more formal learning opportunities in Roehampton Library and in the Learning Centre in Battersea Library. Wandsworth Town Library is working with the local Job Centre to provide sessions on using IT to find a job, while a new “Start your own business” has started in Roehampton Library. The National Careers Service supports programmes in Battersea Park Library while Balham Library is now working in partnership with Krypton, a learning provider, to assist job seekers with CV writing.

-           Arts programmes have been developed with regular exhibitions in Putney Library and a special exhibition to celebrate LBGT month at Balham Library organised by Wise Thoughts. The HeART project was launched at Wandsworth Town Library, with a trail of artwork. Southfields Library has also been working in partnership with Aspire, again showcasing the artwork.

-           Library buildings are being systematically reviewed and upgraded, with areas being redecorated and improved with new furniture and fittings. New technology to improve the efficiency of the library service has been introduced, with self issue machines now available in the 4 smaller libraries, and an automated sorter being installed in Balham Library. Library hours are being extended, too, with both Balham and Putney Libraries now open on Friday afternoons.  This is already proving popular with our customers who expect to be able to use a library when it is convenient for them.

Are there are problems with getting books people want to read?

At present, Wandsworth Libraries use the London Libraries Consortium to satisfy reservations, securing items which are not available by purchase or Inter Library loan. We are not aware of any issues which would affect the supply of specific items.

What is the percentage of households without access to internet in Wandsworth?

Wandsworth Council’s website states that 85% of residents have internet access, presumably giving 15% who do not.

Are there plans for shared facilities within Wandsworth libraries or other strategies to increase visitor numbers?

We are reviewing the potential for a Community Bookshop operating from Northcote Road Library and are open to other partnership activities taking place in libraries.

Are members of staff being moved around libraries?

We have moved a number of members of staff who have been based in the same library for a several years, in order to give the staff opportunities for development. Many members of staff are also attending a variety of training courses organised by GLL.

Diana Edmonds, Head of Libraries, GLL

31 March 2014