New Folkestone Society campaigns with community groups to save Folkestone Library
On Thursday 23 March 2023, Councillor Jackie Meade asked a question at KCC’s full County Council meeting (Question 3) and the statement that it would remain closed until at least £1.8 million for repairs – or an alternative venuewas released that afternoon. Vice chair Mark Hourahane spoke with Jon O’Connor, who sits on the committee of Sunflower House and is AFRA (the Alliance of Folkestone Residents Associations) ‘facilitator’ (he dislikes ‘chair’!), about the possibility of using the venue for an emergency meeting of community groups. The following three days remain a bit of a blur, but apparently we contacted dozens of organisations, giving them 53 hours’ notice if they would like to attend.
With such short notice, we were quite taken aback that 24 people gathered in Sunflower House at 7pm on Tuesday 28 March, representing various groups – some with multiple hats. We collectively discussed the announcement of the prolonged closure, considered the repairs detailed in approved Listed Building Consent application 21/1925/FH (granted in October 2021 but almost entirely not actioned), gave our thoughts on the situation, looked at the letter, proposed tweaks and had packed up the hall all within 90 minutes!
Once the letter had gone out, further groups, as well as businesses who use the library, pledged their support.
Supporters – groups and businesses
We are delighted to have the support of The Library Campaign – a national organisation set up in 1984 to support Friends of Library groups and to campaign for improved services in publicly funded libraries – as well as the following local groups and businesses:
- Bayle Residents Association
- Books for Change
- Enough is Enough
- Folkestone & District Family History Society
- Folkestone & District Local History Society
- Folkestone Art Society
- Folkestone Art Trust
- Folkestone Bookshop
- Folkestone Fringe
- Folkestone Literary Group
- Folkestone Music Town
- Folkestone Plimsoll Memorial Campaign
- Folkestone Pride
- Folkestone Research & Archaeology Group
- Folkestone Then & Now
- Folkestone Walking Tours
- Folkestone’s Fishing Heritage & History Museum
- Friends of Folkestone Library
- Friends of Leas Pavilion
- Friends of Old Folkestone Cemetery
- Friends of St. Mary & St. Eanswythe
- Go Folkestone
- Gorddinan Consulting
- Here Before Us
- Hythe Remainers Book Group
- Leas Pavilion Archive
- Leas Residents’ Association
- Marrin’s Bookshop
- Pavement Pounders
- Poets’ Corner Folkestone
- Save Folkestone Library
- Shepway HEART Forum
- Shorncliffe Trust
- St. Eanswythe Research Group (a continuation of the Finding Eanswythe project)
- Strange Cargo
- Sunflower House
- Urban Room Folkestone
- Wealden Strand
- Write by the Sea
Supporters – individuals
Dr Julian Baggini
Dr Julian Baggini is the author, co-author or editor of over 20 books. He was the founding editor of The Philosopher’s Magazine, has written for numerous newspapers, magazines and think tanks, was Academic Director of the Royal Institute of Philosophy and is an Honorary Research Fellow at the University of Kent.
“Without Folkestone Library, my childhood reading would have been severely restricted. I may not have been able to become the first person in my family to go to university, and subsequently become a writer and philosopher. And even if the library is relocated, it is short-sighted to lose a historic building forever because of short-term monetary pressures. This is about our heritage and our future. We owe it to all those who built and have run the library and its future users to save it.”
Nicolette Jones, Hon FRSL
Nicolette is a writer, journalist, literary critic and occasional broadcaster. She is the Sunday Times children’s book critic.
“Libraries are our most valuable civic asset and should never be allowed to close. They facilitate every object councils should be pursuing, including social mobility, literacy, educational standards, community cohesion, economic growth, health and well-being, reduction in the crime rate, inclusivity, social justice, levelling up, equal opportunities …
I wish you luck.”
Manjeet is a multi-award-winning children’s author, actress, playwright and screenwriter. Her second book, The Crossing, is set in Dover, and was inspired by the refugee crisis on her doorstep along the Kent coast. She is also the founder of Run the World – a charity that uses sport and theatre as a means to empower women and girls.
“It is no secret that libraries change lives for the better. They go beyond providing access to books, for many they are often a place of safe refuge, community cohesion and provide access to opportunities and practical support and guidance. Libraries play a fundamental role in society and no town should be left without one.”
The letter, as sent at 5.40pm on Friday 31 March, can be seen below.
An immediate response?
Either our timing was exceptional, or we received an almost immediate response! At 6:50pm, barely an hour after the letter had been sent, the Folkestone Libraries Facebook page made a post, which included a statement that includes frequently asked questions.
Whilst we appreciate this initial attempt to explain the situation to the public, it doesn’t answer some of the points raised in our letter, and we do not believe it goes far enough in detailing how we have got to this situation, what is being done to remedy it, how long that will take and when the public will be properly consulted.
We also have serious concerns about the splitting up of the heritage collection, especially some of it going into storage. This is a vital resource for the community, and many people are being inconvenienced by not being able to access the collection. Access must be maintained in its entirety.
We are pleased to hear that KCC will be applying for Round 3 of the Libraries Improvement Fund but we have to ask, when the building has needed repairs since at least 2018, if not earlier, why the Council didn’t apply for Round 1 or Round 2.
An update to KCC’s FAQ has been posted, which can be found here. Whilst a response to our letter was promised within 20 working days, this period elapsed on 5 May without reply.
Action you can take
If you represent a community group or local business and would like to add the name of your group / business to our list, or if you are a public figure and would like to pledge your support, please get in touch!
We would suggest individuals consider the following actions (and for groups to recommend them to their members):
A second group has been formed, Friends of Folkestone Library, which aims to collect stories about how Folkestone Library has had an effect on people’s lives, speed up the re-opening of the building and perhaps look at future options for sustainability.
N.B. The Facebook groups Save Folkestone Library and Friends of Folkestone Library are not run by, or affiliated with, the New Folkestone Society or AFRA. We are pleased to collaborate with them, however, and suggest individuals join the groups. Any public events advertised in the groups are not run by the New Folkestone Society or AFRA unless clearly marked as such (we will usually use digital flyers)… but you may well see us at the events!