Members of the secretive Carnegie Community Trust which is set to take control of Carnegie library Herne Hill could walk away if work starts on excavating the building’s basement to make way for an unwanted and controversial gym.

The amazing revelation came at a public meeting last night (Thursday) attended by three of the five trustees.

Helen Schofield, one of the five trust members, admitted: “We’ve no idea what would happen if we walk away and Greenwich Leisure have access to the whole building.

“If you could see the email exchanges between the five trustees that’s all part of the conversation at the moment. “It’s not a simple walk away which is why we are giving this very careful thought.”

“We’re trying to keep all the options open. “The most desirable thing would be to stop the dig and the gym and then sit down and (see) what a community hub would look like.”

Intervening, Michelle Loebner of the Defend the Ten campaign which organised the meeting replied: “We wanted a library service. “We don’t want a little group of ex-councillors who think something’s creative and artistic. “That’s what’s brought thousands of people out who’ve never done things like occupying a library before.

“What you’re promising is absolutely nothing. “You’re promising a room of books.”

Helen Schofield: “I’m sorry I wasn’t allowed to finish.”

Earlier, Helen Schofield had begun by saying they had not come to make a speech about CCT but were happy to answer questions. There were a few points that were inaccurate, she told the  meeting at St Saviour’s church hall, Herne Hill Road.
They did not yet know the size of the library.

It would be sizeable but not in the main central room. The original intention of the CCT would have been to have a cafe in the basement and open up the side of the building so it would have an entrance to the library garden.

There had been public consultation on the future of the building.

“Let’s be absolutely accurate when you say these things about the Trust.

“We didn’t just oppose the gym. “We opposed it since it was originally suggested. “When it became clear we couldn’t stop it we suggested it go in the basement, leaving the rest for library and community use.”

They continue to be opposed to the gym but sometimes you just have to work with what was going on, she added.

“We always insisted there must be rental from the basement. “It’s in the plan we submitted to Lambeth. “That rental must go to the community use of the building. “It’s not clear to us yet whether Greenwich Leisure are able to have a rent holiday for five years.

“There’s a suggestion Greenwich Leisure will pay rent. “We can’t yet get to the bottom of that but I assure you we are trying.”

Local resident Steve Freeman told her: “Given that the council don’t appear to be going along with what you want, at what point does your body carry on? “They are using you to legitimise what they are doing.

“I’m glad you’ve come to speak to us and I know people are going to be quite annoyed.

“When are you going to decide ‘enough is enough’? “It worries me you still don’t know about the rent.

“We should be asking you to come and join us and not carry on being the cover story for the council which is treating the library and the people here so badly.” (Applause)

“If you make no progress in stopping the hole I think you should resign. “It gives a serious message to the council. “You’ve got to listen to what’s being said at this meeting and you should resign if they continue to dig the hole.”

To applause, he asked for an assurance from those of the five trustees who were present to “resign as a signal to the council that we mean business.”

Another trustee, Frances Lamb, said: “Steve Freeman asked what would happen if CCT does not come to an agreement with Lambeth council.

“The building will stay with Lambeth and Greenwich Leisure will be there and Greenwich Leisure will probably be given custody of the entire building and will be used to run the library because they are already running libraries up and down the country.”

Steve Freeman, responding, told her: “That’s the cover story. “They have got you by the short and curlies.”

Leaving early, Helen Schofield told News From Crystal Palace outside the meeting: “We would publish the business plan if the environment was a bit less hostile. “There have been slurs on my character. “They talk about us all being councillors.

“In a less hostile environment we would all get along much better.”

One of the trustees, Frances Lamb, had chaired the Friends of Carnegie Library, she added.

“The difficulty came when people couldn’t agree about the use of the central room. “Could the library be located in other parts of the building to enable the central room to be used to generate income to keep the building going?.

“It’s a real shame they couldn’t agree way back and it wasn’t able to continue as one project.”

Jeff Doorn of Carnegie Library Association, said: “If CCT does pull out, Carnegie Library Association are ready to step in. “We are going to put a really strong case that we’re ready.”

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