Sunday 26 October 2014

Costa vs Customer Centre:? Willesden Green Cultural Centre: Have your say on Monday

The saga of the Willesden Green Library redevelopment continues.  Another promise made to sell the redevelopmet appears to have bitten the dust. Here is an update fron Make Willesden Green LINK

Last month we blogged about the rumours that there would be no Customer Services (previously known as the One Stop Shop) at the new Willesden Green Cultural Centre and that, despite several enquiries from both Make Willesden Green and from individual residents, there was little knowledge of the plans from our councillors although they did promise to keep people informed if, or when, they found out more.

Having not heard anything further we were surprised to see the issue on the agenda at Brent Cabinet last week, hidden within a long document on Community Access Strategy. Two local residents spoke at the Cabinet meeting and raised several queries and objections but the document was approved unamended. There were no representations from any local councillors at the meeting.

The document presented a case to say that, since more residents were using the online service rather than seeking face-to-face contact, there was no longer a need for a dedicated Customer Services space within the Cultural Centre. Instead, self service computers and telephones with a direct line to the Wembley Civic Centre would be placed in the library and a weekly "by appointment only” surgery would be held (in an unspecified space within the Cultural Centre) for those who could not travel to the Wembley Civic Centre. 

The (approx 210sqm) space on the first floor that was to have housed Customer Services is now subject to a “local dialogue” about its alternative use but that use, says the council, will need to be both "of public benefit” and “income-generating”.

It’s a great shame that while the strategy document contains some positive proposals to improve the quality of the council’s online service to residents it seems to have come at a high cost, both to those who are unable to use that mode of communication and to library users who will see their facility further reduced.

Some of the points raised by residents at the meeting were:

  • a significant proportion of people still do not have online access, they are most likely to be poorer, elderly, disabled and more vulnerable residents. These are the very people who have complex needs that need to be dealt with face-to-face, rather than via a self-service computer or on the phone.
  • the majority of the council’s high need residents live in the south of the borough.
  • the housing of the Customer Services self-service computers and telephones within the library will represent a further reduction in the actual library facility – library users will be jostling for space with self-service customers and librarians will be expected to facilitate both sets of users.
  • the redevelopment of the library site was “sold” to residents on the basis that the old building couldn’t house an enlarged Customer Services facility, yet we are now going to end up with less than we started with.
  • there has been no consultation with local residents on what they feel their needs are relating to Customer Services provision.
  • how will the "alternative use" of the space be determined? Is there a contradiction between the need for it to be both “of public benefit’ and “income-generating”? Will the “local dialogue” be nothing more than giving us a choice between a Costa and a Starbucks?
Despite these concerns the proposals were nodded through. The broken promise that the Cultural Centre will mirror services at the Wembley Civic Centre  leaves us yet again feeling like the south of Brent is the poor relation of Wembley and that we are subject to a two tier service when it comes to council provision.

Having made this decision without any reference to residents views, Brent Council is hosting a meeting next week, the agenda is to include:

  • An update on progress with the building and services
  • A presentation from the building designers and a chance to take part in design workshops for the interior
  • A chance to give your views on how the community can be involved and put this building at the centre of life in Willesden
Monday 27 October 2014  6:30-8:30pm
St Andrews Parish Centre, 2 St Andrews Road, NW10 2QS

All residents are invited to attend and we encourage you to do so.

The original Brent Council offer for the Cultural Centre is worth revisiitng ahead of this meeting. It can be found in the Equality Impact Assessment HERE

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