East Greenwich Library

I’ve been getting increasingly concerned at the state of East Greenwich Library. Whereas its sister in West Greenwich, also funded by the philanthropist Andrew Carnegie’s foundation in the early years of the last century continues to be a well-loved – and used – part of the community, the Woolwich Road version gets ever tattier, ever lonelier and seemingly ever fewer books.

I go in there occasionally, and I would like to go in more often, but it’s been a long while since there was actually a book I wanted to get out – the selection seems to consist of large-print romances, technical manuals and kiddies’ picture books (though there is a small section of local history volumes.) The place was clearly once rather grand, but now it just has a sad air of neglect, almost as though it’s waiting a fate of doom.

What that doom would be, no one seems to know. The building is Grade II listed, but, in a chilling conversation I will never forget that I had with a pimply young promotions guy at the blink-and-you’d-miss-it ‘consultation’ for the Heart of East Greenwich (all rather a long while ago now…) I discovered listing won’t necessarily save it. The arrogant young pup announced with great glee that only the facade is listed – they can do what they like with the rest (and yes, that’s not far off the exact words he used.)

While he’s hopefully been hurriedly bundled off for ‘re-training’ – the last thing they need is someone who’s actually truthful at these events – that doesn’t help us.

The pictures of deep-down rot on this post were taken by Charlie, who’s also very concerned about what’s to become of the library. He says:

“Currently, the building’s central heating system isn’t working, the flat above the front of the building is condemned and about 1/3 of the building’s lying derelict. It’s a real shame, and I’m hoping to get a question asked at Council about what the library’s future is, particularly since the proposed replacement in the “Heart of East Greenwich” project is looking more distant than ever.”

I bet you didn’t know there’s a Friends of East Greenwich Library. I didn’t either – and they’re not easy to find. They don’t have a website but they do have good intentions in their hearts – and a track record. Terry Wheeler says:

“The library campaign in East Greenwich was started by Richard & Molly Bartlett in the early 90′s and I became very active within the group and after what Bob Harris, (our opponent in the council) described as a brilliant campaign, following our listing of the building, East Greenwich Library was saved.

Sadly, at a price, because they shut half of the building down, reduced the opening hours and the stock to a fraction of what it was and got rid of our wonderful old oak shelving and called it a model library.”

“Following a report in Greenwich Time that a sum of £1.3m for five libraries but with nothing for East Greenwich, we started writing to the press and contacting our councillors about our library with the result that in September, we had a meeting with John Fahy who is going to get some work done to make the building more waterproof, clean the front and do some redecoration.”

“It was finally admitted by councillor Fahy at that meeting that the new ‘wonder’ library we have been told we should be grateful for, which will be ready by 2012, will not, actually be ready, for at least 4 years, if not five.When I saw Dick Quibell, he said that they needed to have the social housing in place first before the new library would be built in order to generate some income. I understand there are problems with funding for the old hospital site, so my guess is that it could be six, if not seven years away, if then. I for one, like the library, where it is, in the building it has been in since 1905. Carnegie got it right.

We also managed to get the council to clear the blocked drain outside the library which had caused flooding in the library through the floor every time there was heavy rain. The gutters in the Tunnel Avenue part of the building were cleared of weeds and grass following representations to our councillors. We have suggested that flat above the library be repaired and let to generate income, and, indeed, suggested this over ten years ago.

Our library, and it’s building, which is listed, has been severely neglected despite the efforts we made to get it repaired and the suggestions we have made to the council over the years to help generate some income.Despite the obligations of the council to upkeep this listed building, it has taken a lot of effort by numerous members of our group to start things moving.”

So – what can we do to help push things along? Well, firstly, we need to let the council know we do give a damn.

I know it’s hard when there aren’t really any books in the library to borrow (although I can see that for short-sighted romantics and parents with bookworm kiddies it’s still very useful) but if there’s some way that we can tell them we don’t want to lose what we have now, and, when the magical Heart of East Greenwich finally gets built we don’t want it sold off for luxury flats but used for something community-related, then maybe it’s not completely doomed after all.

Writing to John Fahy would be good – I suspect Mary Mills is already batting on the side of the library – and letting the print-press know (especially Greenwich Time, who have suggested that the money outlined for various libraries but not East Greenwich could be an ‘oversight’ – not that the ‘mistake’ has ever been rectified…)

If you’re wanting to really get your hands dirty here, you can also contact Terry by emailing him – feglig@yahoo.co.uk.

One Comment to “East Greenwich Library”

  1. Nick says:

    I spent many happy hours of my childhood in that library, and I'm dismayed, disgusted and very sad to see it being allowed to fall into such a delapidated state. I know that funds are tight these days, and I know Greenwich has to move with the times, but one day someone will notice that apart from the Royal Naval College and Greenwich Park, there isn't much of the old Greenwich left.