Local residents flocked to Stansted library as it settles into its new Mountfitchet Exchange venue with staff reporting more than twice the usual number of users and a surge in membership
I visited the library at 3pm and staff told me more than 100 people had been through the library with a quarter of them signing up for membership – and there were still two more hours of opening time. Every day this week has been busy with 75 people coming through the doors in the three hours of opening on Wednesday. This contrasts with around 15 on a typical weekday and 50 on a Saturday in its old venue in Crafton House.
The immediate success of the new venue vindicates Stansted parish council’s campaign to keep the library open. In its draft strategy launched in November 2018, Essex County Council proposed closure as part of Tory austerity measures, claiming that Stansted library was under-used. But the council had failed to take into account that the library had been hosted in temporary accommodation while the Mountfitchet Exchange was being built.
I joined the parish’s library action group to campaign to keep it open. We organised two protests and drafted a response to the consultation that demonstrated our strong case for keeping Stansted library open.
The building had been designed to accommodate the library, so the decision to pull the plug just as the new building was in the process of completion threatened to put the parish council into a financial tailspin. As it was, costs had surged and the development was delayed after a landowner took legal action over easement rights, forcing the parish to hand over a six-figure sum with money borrowed from the Foresthall Park S106 fund as well as footing the cost of delayed construction.
Last year, ECC abandoned its library closure plans, which had fuelled protests across Essex, including Stansted. It also agreed to honour its previous commitment to rent space at Mountfitchet Exchange and share the building running costs with the parish council, which was a huge relief for the community.
The library features two new work stations, providing free internet use giving opportunities to conduct research as well as giving young people a quiet place to study and revise. A children’s corner is well stocked and comfortable and the adult section has a mix of fiction genres and non-fiction.
The spacious, modern Mountfitchet Exchange also has a public toilet and will host a police desk, a community information point for Uttlesford district council services, and Citizens Advice Bureau services. The parish council is now situated in the building and its meeting rooms are available hire to local organisations and businesses.
The work is not over as the library needs continued community support and engagement. As the maxim goes, “use it or lose it”. Use the library. If you can’t find books for you, order one on inter-library loan. Borrow CDs and DVDs. Use the work stations. Make the best use of this new facility.
In coming weeks, the parish council will be launching a community questionnaire to get ideas on how to maintain the library’s upward momentum by widening community involvement. We want to know your ideas on opening hours, stock, services, and use by community groups and volunteers.
Library opening hours
|Tuesday||9am – 1pm|
|Wednesday||2pm – 5pm|
|Thursday||2pm – 6pm|
|Saturday||9.30am – 5pm|