Standing in defiance both Doreen Steinberg and Claire Lee, the central figures in a community campaign against the closure of libraries central to their communities in Sundon Park, Wigmore and the mobile services, lead a protest outside the central library in Luton today. The public, angry at a consultation process they say was not fit for purpose, braved the wind, rain and cold to show the council and the community that they will not be silenced.
Doreen said: “I am determined to find the truth in all of this, the Luton Culture Trust are not answering the questions the public wants to know, hiding behind their status as a charity in doing so.”
Last year Doreen, who with the help of another lady Janet, collected over 10,000 signatures from people in Wigmore opposed to the closure of their library, a vital community hub for people of all ages. The library in Wigmore formed a central part of the community, affording children a safe place to wait for their parents after school giving them access to books and the internet and for the elderly who take advantage of the social interaction with staff and each other, whilst the library in Sundon park was the only real cultural building of any significance. Both now sit empty.
What we are witnessing with the loss of these libraries is as what one member of the group described as “education apartheid” with the children from families less fortunate not being able to afford the internet, books or kindles at home being left behind. With austerity and the cost of living tightening its grip around the public’s purse strings, this gap will only further widen following these closures and they also disproportionately affect those seeking work but with no or limited internet access at home. The Luton Culture Trust repeatedly cite that these closures were the “least worst” option and that the reduction of £1.58m from their budget was contributing to this. Doreen said: “This trust receives money from the airport (London Luton) and it was meant to be used to safe guard against exactly this kind of thing happening and they refuse to explain where the money has been spent.”
The library campaign group have not finished and will continue to fight, they will be heard and they will get the answers they seek.