NEWS from FoWHL
February 15 2018
FoWHL holds its Annual General Meeting and celebrates its 20th anniversary with a special debate on the future of public libraries, joined by Sheila Bennett from the government appointed Libraries Taskforce, local MP Tulip Siddiq, Camden's Head of Communities, Jessica Gibbons, Cabinet Member for Culture and Communities, Jonathan Simpson, Camden Libraries Team Leader Nick Durant and a host of local councillors, representatives from community associations and library users. But while the mood was entirely supportive and at times passionate, there was no escaping the severity of the challenges ahead, not least Camden's proposal – on the table since December 2015 – that the future running of West Hampstead Library becomes a joint enterprise between the Council and a community partnership, using volunteers to supplement library staff, and opening up the building to more usage and more potential sources of funding. The evening also saw the unveiling of a new library clock and the consumption of a splendid 20th anniversary cake baked by founder FoWHL member Janet Pedder.
Read our report on the meeting here.
Read the Ham and High's report of the meeting here
December 5 2017
Another full house as acting legend and all round good guy Sir Derek Jacobi talked about his life and career on stage with his fellow actor and FoWHL patron Jim Carter. Read the full report here.
October 25 2017
West Hampstead Library received a welcome boost when Councillor Georgia Gould, the recently appointed Leader of Camden Council, paid her first visit to the library, meeting representatives of both FoWHL and the library staff.
Joined by West Hampstead ward Councillor and FoWHL supporter, Phil Rosenberg, FoWHL Secretary Jeannie Cohen, and two officers from Camden, Cllr Gould called into the library as part of her long term aim to visit every ward in Camden and meet with community groups. Her first stop in our area had been the Sidings Community Association, followed by a sheltered housing association in Lymington Road.
Admitting that she had never visited West Hampstead library before, Cllr Gould appeared genuinely enchanted by it, listened intently as FoWHL's representatives explained how much the library is valued by the community, and how FoWHL's membership continues to grow. Jeannie also emphasised the library's importance as the last Council building in West End Lane.
Also up for discussion was Camden's putative scheme for adopting the so-called 'Highgate model' for West Hampstead Library (whereby FoWHL or a local community association would become partners with Camden in running the library, using volunteers to supplement professional librarians). Reflecting months of discussion on this sensitive issue, Jeannie explained why FoWHL does not believe that this model will work in West Hampstead, not least because of layout of the building and the lack of space (whereas Highgate Library has its own large function room for hire). FoWHL also believes that recruiting volunteers from amongst West Hampstead residents, many of whom work full time or are transient, would be a tall order. At the same time we were able to assure Cllr Gould that despite the building's limitations, our event schedule offers a beacon of cultural life in the area.
Above all Jeannie emphasised that although we know how tough things are with libraries in other boroughs – Barnet and Haringey being the closest examples – uncertainty over the future of West Hampstead Library feels never ending, with new threats seemingly always on the horizon. This is one reason why the Friends group was formed nearly 20 years ago, and how it was able to swing into action in 2015 when Phil Rosenberg's petition to Save West Hampstead Library gained such widespread support.
Discussions apart, Cllr Gould was keen to look round the library, and was introduced to library manager Celia Hayre by FoWHL Treasurer Simon Mulliner, who made it quite clear what a great job our librarians do, despite all the pressures.
Down in the children’s library, which clearly impressed Cllr Gould, Celia made a point of explaining why having a separate library for children was so important, if only for the purpose of insulating other library users from the excitement and clamour of young book lovers!
The tour concluded with a look around the library offices and the car park at the rear, before Cllr Gould headed off for yet more meetings with West Hampstead community groups.
Overall, FoWHL's representatives were left with the impression that Cllr Gould is a sympathetic individual, committed to the principle of public libraries. For our part, we hope she and her cabinet will back up this commitment, and, of course, that we will see her again soon.
October 24 2017
A packed audience tapped their toes and sang along as songwriter Graham Gouldman regaled FoWHL with stories of his youth in Manchester and his path to success via the Yardbirds, the Hollies and 10cc. Read the full report here.
October 17 2017
As the decorators prepare to make good the results of yet another water leak from the flats above the library – the FoWHL noticeboard having received a right old soaking – FoWHL announces the appointment of its second Writer in Residence, 26 year old Tal Gurevich.
September 28 2017
National Poetry Day and members of FoWHL were busy handing out a free poem to passers-by outside the library, while our friends from the Friends of Fortune Green did the same on the green. The poem, which followed this year's theme of 'freedom', was penned by FoWHL's Writer in Residence, Ted Booth, and made reference to the false imprisonment in Iran of charity worker and West Hampstead resident, Nazanin Radcliffe. If you missed Ted's poem, click here.
July 5 2017
'Let's hear the life stories of Grenfell Tower residents. They deserve to have their stories told', North London novelist, Linda Grant told a gathering of the Friends at West Hampstead Library. The Orange prize-winning author of seven novels said that reports of the tragedy had so far not brought to the fore the people caught up in the fire, whether as survivors or victims.
Grant, whose latest book, The Dark Circle, was shortlisted for the 2017 Baileys Women’s Prize, told the audience that she made the move from Guardian feature writer to novelist after writing articles about ‘the day in the life’ of people caught up in public tragedies, including an IRA bombing. ‘The features editor told me to write about people whose lives were changed by public tragedies - by asking them what happened from the moment they woke up to the end of the day and writing it up in detail.'
'I don’t think journalism like that exists today. Of course we need news reports analysing the background to the Grenfell Tower tragedy. But I can’t help feeling there’s something missing. I would like to know about the everyday lives led by residents of Grenfell Tower and how they came to be caught up in this terrible tragedy. I believe it would also be good for people to hear these stories.'
Born in 1951, Grant grew up in Liverpool in a house where ‘my mother read Harold Robbins and my father Damon Runyon’. She herself had three library tickets ‘which were in use all the time - I'd read all three books and by the end of each week, I'd be back for more. One of my best memories is the time when a brand new modernist library was opened in my suburb of Liverpool. It was the place to be. All I ever wanted was to be a writer.'
The Dark Circle, a story based in a TB sanatorium in Kent during the early years of the NHS, 'is about the late 1940s, a time I’ve always been fascinated by,' Grant explained. 'It was a grim, austere time that predated the prosperous '50s of TV and the Coronation, the decade in which I was born‘.
FoWHL has donated a copy of The Dark Circle to the library, so do look out for it. Meanwhile several of her other novels and non-fiction works can be found both here and at other Camden Libraries plus at our friends and neighbours, West End Lane Books.
FoWHL members Sue Fox, Simon Inglis and Jeannie Cohen prepare to entice passers-by into West Hampstead Library with promises of free books, wild ideas and a haven from the high road.
With them on Saturday April 22 was a posse of FoWHLers, handing out leaflets telling the public about all the latest range of library services on offer, and to encourage them to join both the library and (of course!) FoWHL.
'It was a huge success,' says FoWHL Chair Simon Inglis of the day's efforts. 'We handed out 250 leaflets explaining the range of library services now available, such as e-books and magazines. We signed 100 people up to FoWHL, and encouraged everyone we met to join Camden Libraries. A dozen or so local residents actually joined on the spot, which was great. We also showed several people around. It's amazing how many people have lived in West Hampstead for years but have no idea what's inside the library, or even that it exists.
'Today's leafleting exercise was aimed at introducing them to its delights, highlighting the fact that if you pay Council Tax in Camden, you have already paid for the 21,000 or so items that are in the library. We also found that there are still many locals who, whilst they love the library being there, have still not joined as members.'
He added: 'Even regular library users are not always aware that these days you can get foreign language movies from the library, and CDs, and language courses, and then online you get access to free books and a great range of websites that would otherwise charge, such as the OED, the Times Digital archive, Who's Who, www.ancestry.co.uk and loads more.
'A Camden library card is not only free but it really does offer a lot more than what you see on the shelves.'
May 2 2017
They weren’t exactly James Bond. But at FoWHL’s meeting last week, local historian Dick Weindling had a large audience entranced with lots of rattling good yarns about the men and women who lived in West Hampstead and spied for the Kaiser.
There was Lizzie Wertheim who lived an ‘extravagant lifestyle’ from her lodgings in Fawley Road, ‘sharing sexual favours’ with Navy chaps in between driving fast cars round Scotland and stopping off at Scarpa Flow. Leopold Vieyra lived in Sumatra Road and managed a famous troupe of midgets and later the Bijoux Frognal Cinema opposite what is now the 02 centre. He took to spying, scratching naval intelligence into the edges of his films.
They were among just 120 German spies working in the UK during the 1st World War, Weindling told the meeting - most of them exceptionally amateur and relying on lemon juice to send invisible messages via the thriving community of German barbers living in Camden at the time.
Some of his research was reported for the first time at the meeting. It was Weindling who unearthed research about Lizzie Wertheim including the fact that she went mad after the war anddied in Broadmoor.
Leopold Vieyra was arrested and narrowly escaped the death penalty. Ernst Melin was less fortunate. He moved to Haverstock Hill after being recruited by the German Admiralty but his nosy landlady had him arrested before he set eyes on an English warship - after she found incriminating evidence: a bottle lemon juice and a copy of Baedeker with key UK ports marked with dots. After being arrested and interrogated by the newly formed Special Branch, Melin was shot in the Tower of London in 1915.
And all for nothing, it seems. The information the German spies passed on was ‘largely rubbish - there’s no evidence that Despite everThere’s nothing to suggest they provided any useful information back to Germany,’ Mr Weindling told the meeting. In fact, the impression that Britain was under threat from German spies was down to another local boy, Alfred Harmsworth, proprietor of the Daily Mail. In the pre-war years, Harmsworth sensationally serialised a novel entitled The Invasion of 1910 by a writer called Le Queux, drumming up fears of thousands of German spies - that were largely unfounded.
Weindling’s investigations are due to appear in the September issue of the Camden History Journal (to be found on the shelves of West Hampstead library.
While another FoWHL stalwart, Loulou Brown, has retired from the committee with warm appreciation shown by the Friends for her efforts, three new members have come forward to serve on the committee: former BBC Radio report and producer David Stevenson, journalist Jane Feinmann, and former TV director Sue Fox. Following our bumper evening with actor Jim Carter in January, FoWHL is in fine fettle, but all too aware of the challenges to come, as more librarians are laid off, among them Brendan Canty (see right).
December 12 2016
There was applause all round for long standing members of the FoWHL Committee who stood down at the AGM after years of service. Alan Templeton, a founder member of FoWHL in 1998 and its treasurer ever since, has stepped down, to be replaced by Simon Mulliner (although Alan has promised to remain on the committee in the coming months).
Secretary Valerie Cedar has also stepped down after many years of hard work, to be replaced by the ever present Jeannie Cohen who has switched posts from Chair to Secretary. This in turn paved the way for the return of local author Simon Inglis to resume the post of Chair that he first occupied from 1998 to 2004.
Warning of the challenges to come, Inglis explained that although Camden was now committed to keeping West Hampstead Library open – which is to be hugely welcomed given what is happening in our neighbouring boroughs of Brent and Barnet and indeed all across "Austerity Britain" – further cuts to the bookstock and to staffing levels expected next year still mean that the continuation of the library service as we know it remains in the balance. Specifically it was clear that Camden are hoping to bring in volunteers at West Hampstead in the same way that has already happened at Highgate Library, with very mixed results.
November 15 2016
This month FoWHL members and library users in general were sorry to have to bid farewell to two familiar faces, co-library managers Saul Letourneau and Jeanette Canziani. After years of friendly service in West Hampstead, both have left Camden Library Services as a result of cuts to staff across the borough. We wish them well. Concerns about staffing levels, meanwhile - now down to their lowest in living memory – will no doubt be aired at FoWHL's AGM, set to take place on Monday December 12 at 7.30. Three officers of the committee are standing down so there will also be elections to appoint their successors. The AGM will be followed by a programme of SEASON'S READINGS brought to us by the FoWHL Players.
September 28 2016
Confirmation has now been received that West Hampstead Library will be closed from Saturday November 19th until Sunday December 4th in order for Camden Council to install the new 'Open Access' System.
During that period both Kilburn and Swiss Cottage libraries will remain open.
What is 'Open Access'? Essentially the system is designed to enable Camden Libraries to remain open with fewer members of staff on duty. Instead of being able to wander in and out of the library at wlll, for certain off-peak hours of the day – we think this will be from 11.00am to 12.00 in the mornings – users will only be able to enter the building by swiping their library card in a new reader by the main door (a bit like using an Oyster on the tube). Once inside, users will find only one member of staff on duty on each floor, offering a limited service.
The Friends of West Hampstead Library remain sceptical that this new system is the answer to Camden's funding crisis – apart from the cost of card readers it requires additional CCTV coverage inside the building – and we can be sure that it will not make for a better library service since it requires experienced staff to be laid off.
But will it make life harder for library users?
One concern is that when the off peak hours begin in the evening – we have been told this will start at 6.00pm – all users in the library at that time wishing to stay on will have to stop whatever they are doing, collect up all their belongings, exit the building, and then re-enter it using their cards.
If this is indeed the case, this will apply at West Hampstead only on Mondays, when the library remains open until 7.00pm.
We do not yet know whether the system will kick-in on other evenings at West Hampstead when the library closes at 6.00pm; that is, will the period from 5.00 - 6.00 pm be considered 'off-peak'?
Everyone understands that in the current economic and political climate, cost savings have to be made if all Camden libraries are to remain open.
But is 'Open Access' the way to do this?
No doubt we shall all know more after December 5th.
In the meantime, as illustrated, there are leaflets at the library explaining the new system which we recommend library users pick up and study.
Or you can download our scan of the leaflet here.
To find out more about the Open Access system from its makers, click here
July 19 2016
Advanced notice of changes to library
In a meeting with Camden's Head of Libraries, Sam Eastop, members of the FoWHL Committee were briefed on impending staff cuts and the programme of changes due to be implemented at West Hampstead Library during the last two weeks of October. We will report more on the details once we have received confirmation from Camden in August.
June 5 2016
Should there be a shelf at West Hampstead Library stocking donated books?
A number of library users have asked why the library cannot have a shelf which offers books that have been donated by members of the public. They have seen these in social clubs, at railway stations, and nearer to home, at Swiss Cottage library.
FoWHL member Alan Templeton reports on the issue on our Forum page with a brief explanation and YouTube film.
June 2 2016
Friends of West Hampstead Library rally to donate new public address system
After years of begging and borrowing various PA systems from members and friends, FoWHL is delighted to announce that it has raised over £400 to purchase a portable PA system for the library.
FoWHL wishes to place on record its thanks to all those individuals who contributed to the fund, and also to two local community groups, WHAT and the NDF.
Hopefully we shall hear no more the familiar cry of 'Can't hear you!' from the back.
May 12 2016
'Use it or lose it!' warning on future of library
It is an undisputed fact that public libraries are not as well used as they once were, writes FoWHL Treasurer Alan Templeton. This is sometimes presented as 'libraries are not as popular as they once were'. However, survey after survey has shown that this interpretation is wrong. Whether or not they use libraries, people want them to survive, and to continue to provide traditional library services.
In West Hampstead it is clear that local residents approve of and like our library. Whenever it has come under threat from Camden Council there is an instant outcry. This has occurred so many times that it has become something of a ritual, one or two years after every local election.
Following last year's review, West Hampstead library has once again been reprieved. But it is my belief that the reprieve is only temporary and that Camden Council will renew its attempts to dispose of the library in the next few years.
As its justification for such a disposal, the Council will cite falling use.
Sadly, the statistics back this up. In common with all other public libraries in the country, the number of visitors to, and the number of issues from West Hampstead library have been in decline for a considerable time, as the chart below shows.
There are many theories as to why public libraries are not used as much as they once were but, in West Hampstead, unpopularity is not one of them.
So, what are the reasons for us not using our library so much? What will turn the tide and confound the anti-library clique that I believe exists within Camden Council?
Your thoughts are welcome and we will do our best to report them on this website. But in the meantime, the message to all FoWHL members, and all residents, is clear.
If you really want to support the library then the best way to send a message to the doubters at Camden Council is to go into the building, not just once a blue moon, but regularly. Take a good look at what is there. Take out books. Take out a DVD. Use the computers. Enjoy a bit a downtime with a book or a newspaper.
In short, Use the place. Or risk losing it.
May 1 2016
Camden is preparing to roll-out its new system of running public libraries, West Hampstead included. Each day will have some hours that are staffed (the peak usage periods) and some that are unstaffed. During unstaffed hours the library will depend on a partially automated arrangement called the Open+ system, supplied by a company called Bibliotheca. To get a preview of how Open+ works click here
Bibliotheca's website addresses some of the concerns that have been expressed by staff and public about the consequences of allowing unsupervised access to Camden’s libraries, but these responses are restricted to the experience of Scandinavia, where there are 205 Open+ libraries. There is no mention of UK experience with Open+ , probably because, with just 25 Open+ libraries in the UK, there is not yet enough experience to make any judgements. Or could it be because library users in this country are not as well behaved as those in Scandinavia?
Perhaps the most memorable statement on one of the film clips on the website is from a Danish librarian. She views the implementation of the Open+ system as “Giving the library back to the community”. Let us hope we in West Hampstead can respond similarly, once the new system is in place.
Meanwhile, it appears that Open+ has a competitor.
April 25 2016
FoWHL committee meeting at library. Start 7.00pm. All members of FoWHL welcome. If you cannot attend and want to raise any issues for the committee to discuss, please email in advance.
April 8 2016
Will you miss your local library if it's shut down? That is the question posed by a new survey of nearly 30,000 people conducted by the website, MoneySavingExpert.Com.
The website reported: 'In the last six years alone 343 council-run libraries have closed, leading to the loss of nearly 8,000 jobs. Some say in the internet age a library is no longer a necessity – then again, some visit it to access the internet.'
Respondents to a series of questions were split into age groups (under 25s, 25-34, 35-49, 50-64 and 65+), and in every age group but one the majority agreed that 'I often visit the library, it's crucial that it’s protected'. In the 25-34 age group the majority agreed that 'I visit the library occasionally, and think it’s crucial it remains'.
Interestingly, the cross section of respondents corresponds closely to the age profile of voters in the West Hampstead area (see here for our graph). It can also be argued that those who support libraries are also those most likely to vote. Local politicians please note!
More details of the MoneySavingsExpert.com survey can be found here.
March 10 2016
Author, journalist and broadcaster David Aaronovitch talked frankly to FoWHL member Simon Inglis about his new book Party Animals - My Family and other Communists, his brilliant memoir of growing up in a Communist household in north London. From the audience it became apparent that many shared similar experiences, especially when it came to reading illicit copies of The Beano!
Also at the meeting, Councillors Flick Rea and Phil Rosenberg brought members up to date on the latest developments concerning the future of West Hampstead Library, including proposals for a doctor's surgery at the rear of the building, integration with the West Hampstead Community Association, and the possible use of part of the library as a heritage centre. Once these and any other proposals have been fully developed, FoWHL will hold a meeting to keep its members informed.
March 2 2016
FoWHL committee meeting at library. Start 7.00pm. All members of FoWHL welcome. If you cannot attend and want to raise any issues for the committee to discuss, please email in advance.
December 16 2015
Camden's Cabinet approves its new strategy for libraries and issues the following statement:
Reshaping delivery of library services (VC7)
As part of the financial challenge, we consulted over 2300 residents on how we might save £800,000 from the service’s current budget of £4.5m. The formal consultation ran from Wednesday 15 July until Tuesday 6 October 2015. We will still be investing £3.7m to create a modern library service that supports both existing and future customers and best meets the needs of Camden residents.
A new library strategy was agreed by Camden’s Cabinet on 16 December 2015 and it was decided that:
• there will be no library closures
• opening hours will remain broadly the same.
• the new strategy will see an ‘open access’ library model implemented, where customers will be encouraged to become self-reliant for many transactions at non-peak times where there are fewer staff. This will allow more vulnerable customers to be assisted when they visit our libraries. However there will be staff available at busier times and we will be continuing with many of the popular activities such as rhyme times and the summer reading challenge.
The full report can be read here.
It is hoped that over the coming months FoWHL will learn more about the proposed 'open access system' (which is set to cost £220,000) so that users in West Hampstead can be better informed. What we fear is that it will result in fewer trained librarians on duty, more automation and a greater reliance on card-reading entry systems.
December 7 2015
Camden's councillors have deliberated, and as FoWHL members re-elect the incumbent officers at the AGM and settle down to an enjoyable evening with actor Rebecca Front, a picture is emerging of the measures likely to be taken over the next two years. The library does appear to be safe, but in what form?
October 6 2015
The last day for the Consultation process. By this stage the Save West Hampstead Library petition, organised by Labour Councillor Phil Rosenberg, has attracted 1,593 signatures. But will this, and the efforts of FoWHL, be enough?
September 15 2015
West Hampstead Library hits the local headlines following reports that the recently elected West Hampstead Ward Councillor, Angela Pober, has resigned the Labour whip. She claims that the Save West Hampstead Library campaign had been a sham because, as she alleges, the library had never actually been in danger of closure. Instead, she claims that the campaign had been organised so that when the closure threat eventually lifted, Labour could claim the credit. Vehement denials from Labour follow. Confusion reigns. Will we ever know the truth? Can anyone trust anything said about Camden libraries? But at least, it would appear, West Hampstead Library is not for the chop. Not immediately at least.
September 10th 2015
It is standing room only as the Friends of West Hampstead Library and its partners in the Save West Hampstead Library campaign meet to discuss how library users should respond to Camden's Library Consultation Document.
Chaired by former FoWHL chairman Simon Inglis, the meeting is first addressed by Councillor Abdul Hai, Camden's Cabinet Member for Customers, Communities & Culture, who is later accused by some attendees of lacking detailed knowledge of libraries or of West Hampstead.
West Hampstead Labour Councillor Phil Rosenberg, who has been active in the library campaign, speaks of the need to make better use – that is, more profitable use – of the library facilities. Options included more early morning and evening lets, allowing other Council departments to use space in the library, and the redesign of the basement floor to create a lettable meeting room.
Councillor Flick Rea tells the meeting that FoWHL has already commissioned an architect to see how this might be done.
FoWHL Treasurer Alan Templeton voices users' concerns that none of the proposed additional uses should impact negatively on the building's core function as a library (for example by the removal of bookshelves or the permanent letting of the children's library to an outside party).
James Earl and Keith Moffitt on behalf of the West Hampstead Neighbourhood Development Forum explain the current situation affecting the controversial redevelopment of 156 West End Lane (the Travis Perkins site). Local newspaper reports have suggested that the new development might be suited to a new library, a suggestion that does not appear to meet widespread approval from the meeting.
There is a further presentation from Diana Edmonds, the Head of Libraries at GLL, the not-for-profit organisation that runs Camden's leisure centres and numerous libraries elsewhere in London. GLL, it transpires, have not been approached by Camden concerning libraries, but would be interested. (Soon after the meeting it emerged that GLL were planning to convert two libraries in Lambeth into fitness centres.)
The chair of FoWHL, Jeannie Cohen, speaks about the experiences of libraries such as Heath and Belsize, where volunteers were now running the libraries. Again, this was an approach that FoWHL counsels strongly against.
There follows a lively discussion as to how library users should respond to the options offered in the Camden consultation document, with the meeting reinforcing the community's overall determination to fight any attempt to close or downgrade West Hampstead Library.
Library users and local residents are back in campaigning mood as it emerges that the closure of West Hampstead Library is once again one of the options being considered by Camden Council in its attempts to slice £800,000 off the annual libraries budget. Representatives of the three main political parties rally to the cause, posing outside the library, whilst the Friends of West Hampstead Library prepares to garner its own supporters.
As so often in the past, the fear amongst library users is that the library's prime position makes it an obvious target for selling off. Within a week or so some 700 people sign up to support the campaign, while FoWHL's own membership nears 400 for the first time since 2004.
• Please note this website supersedes our previous website at www.fowhl.co.uk