At the time of going to press, nearly 15,000 people had signed a petition calling for Southwark Council to drop its new rent demands for the Feminist Library, located in Westminster Bridge Road.
The library, which last year celebrated its 40th anniversary, says it is being asked for a 150% rent increase by Southwark Council – although the council has since clarified that the library has not, in fact, paid any rent at all over the last seven years, simply paying an annual service charge. Citing local government funding cuts, they are now asking for market rent.
Regardless of the semantics, the library say they have no chance of paying these new costs. They are therefore facing eviction by the council when the rent deadline passes at the end of April – a sad end to a valuable facility.
It is easy to sympathise with the council at first glance. At a time when the council is facing £47m in funding cuts, handing out rent-free accommodation to organisations in the borough cannot be expected – in fact, the decision not to ask for rent since the library moved in seven years ago seems outright bizarre. This was not a gesture of goodwill by the council – it simply appears that they never got around to asking for it.
But, despite this, a service like the Feminist Library is too valuable a facility for the borough to risk losing. Run by volunteers and boasting 7,000 books on feminism, the importance of the library should not be understated. It is a social commodity recognised of national, never mind borough-wide, importance.
Asking for rent is understandable – but doing so suddenly after seven years has left the library in the lurch. Perhaps rent could be increased in a gradual basis, which could allow the library to work towards securing greater funding. If not, maybe a reduced rent should be considered given as a compromise.
The council say they “recognise and appreciate” the good work being done by the library. If they really mean this, we hope they work with the library to ensure that such an important facility remains in the borough.