An announcement that a volunteer-run community library threatened with closure had formed a partnership with an educational trust has sparked a bidding war for the building and service.
Raunds Community Library had faced potential closure after North Northants Council (NNC) sought to resolve the temporary deal made with the now defunct Northamptonshire County Council.
The buildings inherited by NNC allowed the library to continue under a Tenancy at Will but the volunteer management committee was told that it would be coming to an end.
In March, two months after a heated meeting, NNC announced that they had entered into a partnership, brokered between an 'experienced and established' academy trust and Raunds Community Library Trust.
Cllr Helen Howell, North Northamptonshire Council’s deputy leader and executive member for sport, leisure, culture and tourism, had said in March: “The decision to close Raunds library, unless a suitable community management agreement was established, was taken by the former Northamptonshire County Council.
“It has always been my desire to find a workable solution to retain Raunds Library without placing the financial burden solely on the residents of Raunds, so I am delighted that we have been able to bring these two trusts together.
"We have been working tirelessly with all concerned to find the best outcome for our residents and this partnership will provide the support and stability that is needed to retain Raunds Library. My sincere thanks to all concerned.”
Cllr Jason Smithers, leader of NNC, had added: “I am pleased that we have been able to announce this partnership and, subject to approval by the executive, we should be able to secure the future of this excellent asset for the residents of Raunds.”
At the start of May Raunds Community Library Trust (RCLT) had revealed the partnership was between themselves and Creating Tomorrow (CT) who partnered with Rothwell Library successfully.
A spokesman had said: “The library is now able to reveal that its new partner is Creating Tomorrow (CT) who approached North Northants Council (NNC) after reading reports about our difficulties in the local press.
"A joint business plan was prepared and approved by trustees of the two trusts at the end of March. The plan is based on a tried and tested formula that CT has used elsewhere in the county with great success and it has been presented to NNC.”
The plan would have seen CT lease the library building and RCLT continue to operate the library service. It is understood that CT had plans to extend the building to provide accommodation for the provision of their services.
It is believed that the joint proposal was to go before the NNC executive committee for approval in mid-April but just before the meeting another locally-based education trust had lodged an objection on the basis that they had not been given the chance to express an interest.
Today (May 17), in an apparent U-turn, NNC has sought ‘expressions of interest’ to take on the running of Raunds Library.
A statement released said: “As part of the council’s Community Managed Libraries Programme, North Northamptonshire Council have been working to find a viable solution to enable the transfer of Raunds Library into community management.
“As an interim measure, in order to keep the library open for the local community, the council has worked closely with a volunteer group who have been occupying the library premises under a Tenancy at Will.
“Before any final decisions are made and to ensure that the best possible service is secured for the local community going forwards, North Northamptonshire Council is putting out a call for any final expressions of interest to take on the running of Raunds Library as a community managed library, under an agreed service level agreement.”
The offer for Raunds Library would see NNC provide and maintain the public library lending system as part of the countywide library offer, computer access for the public, a self service kiosk, maintain book stock and provide training and ongoing support for volunteers and staff running the library.
Any new partner would need to cover the costs of buying or leasing the library premises so that it can be run as a library, or to provide alternative premises that can be run as a library, cover the costs of running the premises and make sure the library is open at least 12 hours a week to the public.
Today Cllr Howell said: “Libraries provide important services for local people and continue to be a valued hub within our communities. I would like to thank the volunteers who have kept the library running in this interim period and we will continue to offer our support until a solution is found.
“The last couple of years have been difficult for many – particularly community groups who have seen demand for their services increase as a result of the pandemic, however we hope that this unique opportunity will spark interest and enable the local community to continue to benefit from a dedicated library service.”
Cllr Smithers added: “Libraries are important community assets and I’m delighted that we’re moving closer to finding a solution that allows this library to be managed by the local community.”
Anyone interested in exploring the offer further is asked to submit an Expression of Interest by email to [email protected] by 5pm on Tuesday, May 31, 2022.