On Saturday (27 April) I had the pleasure of standing with local campaigners at the Shenfield Library rally. There was a wonderful turn out from the community who all braved somewhat drizzly weather to make clear their support for the future of the library.
The campaign is one I am pleased to support. Libraries formed an essential part of my childhood - as they now do those of my children (who are regulars at the Ongar library). I know only too well how they serve communities not just with books but as meeting spaces, IT hubs and repositories for local knowledge.
Over the past few months I have been contacted by a good many local people who want to make sure that the library stays open and I have been to talk to users on site. I have had many conversations with our superb Shenfield councillors Louise Rowlands and Jan Pound who are doing all they can to keep the library going. And I have been to Chelmsford to talk to the Leader of Essex County Council - which is responsible for local library services - to make clear the views of people in Shenfield. Most recently, Sue Matthews, who has done great work organising much of the current campaign and who arranged Saturday’s meeting, came to see me at one of my regular constituency surgeries in Brentwood to discuss her concerns and talk through what might be done.
My view, for what it is worth, is that the current library site in Shenfield is poorly used. It is an old, one-storey building on a prime spot which does not make the best use of the footprint available to it. There is clearly scope to retain the library by developing the site to include, for example, some residential property, some commercial property (perhaps a cafe), and a modernised library. This would generate revenue whilst ensuring ongoing library services for the community. It will be for Essex County Council to decide the way forward - I know they have difficult decisions to make. Needless to say I shall continue to monitor this issue closely. Please do get in touch to let me know your views on this or any other subject.