Save Newcastle Libraries campaign group steps up pressure over cuts

PLAYWRIGHT Lee Hall called for “direct action” against the proposed closure of 10 Newcastle libraries by suggesting campaigners stage a sleep-in.

Lee Hall addresses a meeting at the Assembly Rooms against council library closures
Lee Hall addresses a meeting at the Assembly Rooms against council library closures

PLAYWRIGHT Lee Hall called for “direct action” against the proposed closure of 10 Newcastle libraries by suggesting campaigners stage a sleep-in.

Speaking at a public meeting last night, organised by campaign group Save Newcastle Libraries, the North East writer said the only way to ensure the issue isn’t “swept under the carpet” by Newcastle City Council was to grab its attention.

Mr Hall, who has taken a very public stance on both the culture cuts and library closures, said: “I’m talking about direct action ... the kind of thing I have in mind is a sleep-in.

“We get a group of people led by pensioners who use the local library to occupy the building. We’d make them lovely beds, arrange nice grub and every night writers and actors and musicians will come and read them a story, sing them a song.

“I think that would be quite good fun in itself and it would be instantly national news but crucially it would stay in the news. We need something that isn’t going to be brushed aside. Something which sticks in their throat until they have to rethink this ridiculously unfair budget.”

The council is proposing to close 10 libraries, reducing the overall network citywide to eight, as well as reduce the budget for books. It justifies the radical proposals by stating that 96% of people will have no further than a mile and a half to travel to a library.

But hundreds of Newcastle city residents packed out the hall at the Assembly Rooms in the city centre last night to show their support for the campaign to protect these vital services.

Mr Hall, author of Billy Elliot and The Pitmen Painters, received a standing ovation on more than one occasion during his speech in which he accused budgetary decisions made by the council as being “morally bankrupt and indefensible”.

Calling on the residents to take action, he encouraged people to challenge their local councillors on the three-year budget report.

“We need to pick off every local councillor, one by one. We have to barrack them, petition them with the fiscal arguments, with the cultural arguments and we must challenge each one of them individually about the report.

“Each one should be made to account for the inconsistencies and we should call on each one of them to defend the libraries, especially the ones in their ward. Isolate the leadership because you can bet your bottom dollar that there is discontent within Labour ranks about this already.”

He added: “We do not have a right to stand by and let them do this.

“These things have been fought for tooth and nail for generations and generations ... by little pit laddies in the dark and all those generations of people who were exploited by commerce, who were deprived the right to read and learn and share the very basic things of life that are just normal for the rich and cultured.

“Culture and learning are for everyone. It's absolutely fundamental that we don't give it away.”

Alongside Mr Hall talking at the event was Tynemouth-based crime writer Ann Cleeves, who shared her experience of spending the day at one of the under- threat libraries in Cruddas Park.

She said: “We shouldn’t be planning to close Cruddas Park but to develop it.

“In communities like this libraries provide people’s only access to the arts so let’s use these places to introduce people to history, music and drama as well as books.” Paul Gilroy of Newcastle City Unison, local playwright Peter Mortimer and library worker Rachel Kirk also addressed the meeting.

Newcastle City Council say they have no choice but to cut services after being told to find £100m of savings by the Government, which will lead to 1,300 jobs being axed.

Libraries threatened with closure include Dinnington, Moorside, Cruddas Park, High Heaton, Denton Burn, Jesmond and Fenham in June, and Blakelaw, Newbiggin Hall, and Fawdon Libraries in March 2015.

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