Parish Council response to the proposed closure of Mayfield library

Mayfield and Five Ashes Parish Council strongly opposes the closure of Mayfield Library for the following reasons:

  • East Sussex County Council (ESCC) has stated that it wishes to focus on areas such as improving literacy and digital skills therefore one has to question how this will be achieved by closing the library in Mayfield given that that it is a valuable community facility which is relied upon by vulnerable residents who cannot afford to purchase books and do not own computers but need internet access.
  • There appears to be little thought for services in rural communities such as ours. The Parish of Mayfield and Five Ashes is in a unique geographical position compared with other library locations earmarked for closure. The supporting evidence suggesting transport links to Crowborough is not correct, as no regular daily service exists from the village. There is a regular bus service to Heathfield but it is expensive and prohibitive to use – every half an hour and ticket prices of £6.20 per adult and £3.10 per child. Some rural villages have regular bus services every 10 minutes but this is not the case in Mayfield and Five Ashes.
  • The library is a much valued community resource for socially isolated and lonely residents. ESCC actively promotes voluntary organisations to set up Good Neighbour Schemes to help combat this growing problem then contradicts itself by removing a safe and friendly place to socialise in.
  • The computer buddies scheme run by Mayfield & Five Ashes Community Services (MAYFACS) in the library is an important initiative that bridges the generational gap bringing the community closer together. Since March this year, there has been at least one computer buddy session in 89% of the Saturdays in term time to date for 2-4 hourly sessions with different teenagers and elderly residents. 40% of Tuesdays and Thursdays also had an hour’s session with teenagers after school. MAYFACS has recently received a grant from ESCC Building Stronger Communities Fund to develop this project. The library is the only place for residents to easily access public computers and they are crucial to the success of this project. Computer access and assistance is essential to an elderly population and to remove them risks a dangerous divide between the digital haves & have nots.

The Government’s Digital Inclusion Strategy states:

“To make sure the web is truly for everyone, we need to provide more than just access. We need to equip the whole country with the skills, motivation and trust to go online, be digitally capable and to make the most of the internet. There is a lot of great work going on across the public, private and voluntary sectors to help people and organisations go online, but digital exclusion remains a big issue. Maintaining momentum is not enough. We need to bring together and scale up our efforts, more than ever before. No single organisation can tackle this alone and only strong partnership across all sectors will succeed.”

  • The closure of the library will impact on young school children that regularly use the library after school to choose books with their parents. The choice of books that might not otherwise be available to them allows children to develop the literacy, communication and social skills required for their future.
  • The computer services the library provides is an access point for benefit applicants. Universal Credit requires the majority of claimants to make their applications online and libraries are signposted as a nearby location where people can use a computer to make their application and manage their account. The library closure will limit our least wealthy resident’s ability to apply for Universal Credit thus discriminating against the most vulnerable members of our community. It will also deny members of the community digital assistance required to produce a CV and to help find and move back into employment.
  • The consultation supporting documentation provides an unfair presentation of statistics as we feel that the reduced opening hours correlates to the reduction in footfall – in particular the loss of opening hours on a Monday morning.
  • More appropriate opening hours to include mornings would very likely increase visits to the library especially as the High Street is at its busiest at this time. ESCC has not promoted the use of the village library, even though better signage has been requested, and over the years has gradually reduced the opening hours and therefore footfall serving its own purpose to prove that it is not an essential local village service.
  • The supporting evidence provided for the consultation concerning the running costs is misleading and incorrect. It includes the £2,800 that the Parish Council already contributes annually which reduces the relatively small savings that ESCC can make if they close Mayfield library. One also has to query the statistics for Annual Capital Costs for the refurbishment for such very small premises.
  • In the current climate the population is encouraged to reduce the number of vehicle journeys which ESCC is now contradicting by forcing additional road journeys to access libraries. This is in direct conflict with Wealden District Council’s draft Local Plan to reduce car emissions and nitrogen deposition in Ashdown Forest.
  • Closing the library will be yet another blow to retailers in Mayfield High Street who are already struggling. We have lost our banks and High Street Post Office which has severely affected footfall in our shops. If the closure goes ahead library users being forced to travel by car to Heathfield or Crowborough are most likely to choose to do their shopping while they are there. ESCC will be providing a nail into the coffin for retail in Mayfield High Street.
  • This public consultation appears to be fundamentally a biased paper shuffling exercise with inadequate questions to accurately ascertain the community’s feeling on the closure with a foregone and pre-determined conclusion.
  • In comparison to other county provided services and given the value of Mayfield Library to the community and its low running costs, the savings for ESCC are negligible compared to the impact of a reduced library service.

The Libraries Deliver Report, Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport, updated June 2017 states:

“Libraries change lives for the better. They not only provide access to books and other literature but also help people to help themselves and improve their opportunities, bring people together, and provide practical support and guidance. As a locally accountable service, they are well-placed to respond to local needs and issues.”

We therefore call upon John Glen MP to intervene to prevent this library closure to fulfil his Department’s role to support, superintend and promote public libraries or the sector will continue to be seen as an easy touch by local councils.