Monday 16 January 2012

Executive approve Willesden Green Regeneration Report but plenty to fight for

Brent Executive unanimously passed the Willesden Library Regeneration Report this evening. Representations had been made on the lack of consultation, particularly over the Brent Archive; a suggestion that the Cricklewood and Kensal Rise libraries should be reopened during the rebuilding; a plea for more study spaces to be opened up during rebuilding; and my request that the Willesden Bookshop be allocated space in the new Cultural Centre that will replace the Willesden Green Library Centre.

The first two representations were not responded to by Cllr Crane who leads on regeneration. Cllr Powney said that council officers were actively looking for more interim study space for students in the area. Cllr Ann John, sidestepping the demand for allocation of retail space in the new development, tried to prompt Cllr Crane into making a response, 'I am right in saying aren't I that the bookshop is being helped to find new premises?' She was assured there were a large number of empty properties in the High Road and the officers would be helping the bookshop. She pressed further, 'The bookshop isn't under any long-term threat then is it?' Apparently satisfied by the grunted response she said, 'We do want the bookshop to continue.'

The issue is of course that we want the bookshop allocated space in the Cultural Centre if it goes ahead and that the high rents in the High Road and not very suitable premises, may mean the Willesden Bookshop will have to close if this is not done.

I print below the speech I prepared for this evening which sets out the case for the Bookshop. The sections in italics were not delivered in order that I meet the 3 minute speaking limit. I retain them because they strengthen the argument with other voices.

I am speaking to you as a Brent resident and as someone who, working in Brent schools, has been a literacy coordinator, children’s librarian, class teacher, reading recovery teacher and a headteacher and is now a school governor who volunteers to help children gain pleasure from their reading.

In all these roles I have found the Willesden Bookshop’s wide range of books tailored to Brent’s diverse population, and their amazingly knowledgeable staff,  hugely useful.

I am not the only one.  There has been consternation in Brent’s educational community at the potential loss of the bookshop. Last year they dealt with 1,000 orders (invoices not individual books) from Brent schools that get a 10% discount and free delivery.

A review in PaperTigers (Children’s International  Book Review) said:

 I have been a frequent visitor to the Willesden Bookshop over the years. It's a veritable honey-pot for anyone looking for "Children's Books from Around the World": they stock many books it is difficult to find elsewhere in the UK.

Local author of children's books, Odette Elliot says: 
Willesden Bookshop 'celebrates the rich cultures and languages of its community'
The Bookshop has been invited to provide bookstalls for three Spring events at the Centre for Staff Development which unfortunately coincide with when they have to pack up and quit their premises. So that will be another loss to education. The Runnymede Trust and National Literacy Campaign recommend the Willesden Bookshop and the Guardian said:
 A wonderful bookshop, great selection including large stock of children's books, and really friendly and helpful staff.

The Report before you on the Willesden Green Library Centre redevelopment states categorically that space will not be provided in the new Willesden Cultural Centre but gives absolutely no reason for this. At the same time space is allocated to a café when there are lots available on the High Road.

A well-established local bookshop would add to the ‘offer’ at the Cultural Centre, in the same way as bookshops add to the attractiveness of the much larger offer at the South Bank.

As well as contributing to the education of our children, the bookshop with its wide stock, reflecting the many cultures of Brent, helps with community cohesion and its support and promotion of local authors raises local aspirations.

The mother of a now internationally famous local author sent me this message:

If they close the bookshop and the library, they will effectively rip the heart out of Willesden.  Both serve people right across our communities. We need a hell of lot of signatures.  What about standing in the street, outside supermarket etc and getting people's signature I am happy to stand there for entire Saturdays or Sundays if that is what it takes.

Yvonne Bailey Smith (Zadie Smith’s mother)

 Nicolette McKenzie wrote to me:

I am most concerned about the proposed redevelopment of the Willesden library.  When six libraries were closed last year it was not made clear at all that the main library would be closed for two years.  This is unacceptable.

Also, the lack of provision for the bookshop, a real local asset, is scandalous.

The lack of publicity about this, and the 'unfortunate' lack of access to the e-petition  all over this past weekend, I consider appalling.
Please do what you can to have this disaster pulled back from the brink of a planning abyss.
Always on the lookout for ‘below the line’ reasons for Council policies I have checked with the Bookshop and they tell me that they have always paid the rent required by the Council and paid it on time – so that’s not the issue.  It can’t be that you can’t cope with businesses on the site as you are planning a café  here and the new Civic Centre has retail space -and anyway, shouldn’t  the Council be championing successful small local businesses that add value to the community?

I call on the Brent Executive, at this early stage in the development of the Cultural Centre, to ensure that Willesden’s Wonderful Bookshop has a place there,


Anonymous said...

Is there enough demand for a bookshop, in this age of downloads?

Martin Francis said...

Of course like all bookshops they are threatened by Kindle and Amazon but there is still a demand for them - especially from schools. Council is still not giving any reason for not including them in a Cultural Centre (for which no plans yet exist they've handed that job to the developer) - seems a natural home for them to me.