Sunday, 13 June 2021

Deal agreed to keep library running after staffing cuts

CAMPAIGNERS have reached an agreement to keep Benson library going after funding cuts come into effect next year.

CAMPAIGNERS have reached an agreement to keep Benson library going after funding cuts come into effect next year.

The Friends of Benson Library group has provisionally agreed staffing arrangements following four months of negotiations with Oxfordshire County Council.

The library in Castle Square is one of 16 due to lose half their staff funding from the council.

Full details of the agreement will be revealed at a public meeting in the parish hall on July 4 (7.30pm), when a vote will be taken.

Dave Rushton, chairman of the Friends group, urged people to attend. He said: “The bottom line is that the library’s future depends on the public. I want people to turn up to show support for what we have done and give us a good indication that we have done the right thing.

“We are past the protest stage, it is now about doing what needs to be done.”

The agreement includes details about how many staff will be employed by the council, the hours they will work, the amount of money which will need raising to top up those hours and the number of volunteers needed.

Last year, a survey by the Friends showed that 20 per cent of its members were willing to donate to the cause. Mr Rushton said: “We need to get people who have put their hands up to say they are willing to man the library two or three hours a week.

“We will have to raise money every year but it is not a fortune and we have already raised enough to pay for the first year.

“It is part of our policy not to pitch too high but to decide on an achievable amount which we can raise every year.”

If the vote is in support of the agreement, the Friends will sign a contract and then begin recruiting and selecting volunteers.

The group hopes the council will be able to begin training volunteers by the end of the year. Mr Rushton said: “It is very exciting to be where we are today. It is a long way from being threatened with closure and then our staff being halved.

“The library has had a makeover, which went down really well, and we have had strong negotiations with the council and are now where we wanted to be.

“We are on course and, dare I say it, it looks like we are within budget as well.”

He said the county council’s appointment of a library co-ordinator had been invaluable.

“He has really hit the ground running and has worked very hard over the last two months,” said Mr Rushton. “He has been absolutely pivotal to the whole process.” More than 200 new people joined Benson library last year and 40 per cent of those were under 12.

“It shows that the library is not dying,” said Mr Rushton. “It is still a vital part of village life as youngsters are coming to the library and it is not just used by 80-year-olds.”

The library has also risen in the county council’s league tables as the number of issues has increased. This means it is more likely to receive new releases.

lA supper quiz in aid of Friends of Benson Library will be held in the parish hall next Friday (June 28) from 7pm. Tickets cost £10 per person, including supper, and are available from Mr Rushton on (01491) 838711.

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