Campaign to save All Souls’ owned library continues

The lifelines for the survival of Kensal Rise library continue to persist as a petition for the restoration of library ownership to the local community nears it target of 500 signatures.

On 6th June the famous library, opened in 1900 by Mark Twain, was stripped of its books, furniture and even the plaque commemorating Twain’s involvement, by the council of the London Borough of Brent.

Originally founded as a library for the amelioration of working class residents, it was closed following the decision by Brent council in 2010 to close 6 of the 12 libraries in the borough due to £100m of government spending cuts.

The land was originally gifted by All Souls’ College to Brent council to be used as “a Free public library and Reading Room and for no other purpose whatsoever”. With the closure of the library, the building’s ownership reverted to All Souls’ College. Despite the council’s decision to talk with campaigners about a possible community run project, All Souls’ are currently preparing the building for an open bidding process.

Since the initial closure of the library the local community has been fighting under local leadership for the library to remain open. Previously used by people of all ages from the local community as a resource for the local special needs school through to adult computer
classes, the library’s closure led to local outcry.

The campaign, ‘Save Kensal Rise Library’ was started to lead the fight, with the charity ‘Friends of Kensal Rise Library’ set up to raise funds to support the campaign and pay for future maintenance of the building. This campaign has developed and gained attention nationwide.

Local campaigner Jodi Gramigni, one of the fight’s leading figures, commented, ‘Kensal Rise is changing, but at its heart is an urban diversity that needs to be cherished and nurtured. The library was, and is, at the heart of this community. Its value to us is incalculable, and cannot
be measured against the fleeting monetary gains that might be made by the sale or lease of the building.

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‘Two centuries ago, All Souls owned most of the land in Kensal Rise. In honour of Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee, the fellows gifted a small area for a public reading room. Now, almost 112 years later, that gift has been returned to them, albeit against the wishes of the
community. And while All Souls had no part in the Library’s closing they are now in control of its fate and bear the burden of ultimate responsibility for its future.

It seems only fair that the Fellows grant us this small consideration in light of our shared history. And while our Library holds little significance to them, in the scale of the college’s wealth, it is an
irreplaceable asset to us.’

Boyd Tonkin, literary editor of the Independent, in an article that referred to All Souls’ College, added, “All Souls should comply, prove its lavish assets serve a greater purpose than the upkeep of a favoured few, and do its bit towards mitigating the chaos and error
that Brent as sown”.

The campaign has further gained official support from the MP for Rotherham, Denis MacShane, as well as backing from writers such as Alan Bennett, Jacqueline Wilson and Phillip Pullman.

The signature total for the petition on change.org continues to increase with its count at 403 signatures on 7th July.