Many Bloxwich people should be well aware by now that, due to the swingeing national government budget cuts being inflicted on many local authorities in England, Walsall Council is seriously considering closing all of the Borough’s branch libraries, including Bloxwich Library and Theatre (aka Bookmark Bloxwich) in Elmore Row.
Amongst the many other possible ‘culture cuts’ (including massive reductions in funding to the New Art Gallery and major cutbacks involving the potential downsizing and moving of Walsall Leather Museum and Walsall Local History Centre in with the Central Library in Lichfield Street), such a closure would be a huge blow to Bloxwich and district both in cultural and educational terms.
The loss of the library staff, facilities and book stock as well as the attached 1964 theatre, which was, along with the 1960 library, rejuvenated in 2009-10 and has since gone on, with the help of Bloxwich Library Forum, to become a successful music and drama venue and much more, would be very damaging. This kind of cultural vandalism is simply insupportable, and once these facilities are gone, they will never return.
Such a closure would also mean that local jobseekers and many others who cannot afford internet access would be hard-hit and forced to pay to travel into Walsall, a not inconsiderable cost in these days of expensive bus and rail services. Many people in the area neither have internet access nor can they afford to buy books, and this is bound to affect local employability, literacy and education, especially in poorer families. National government seems uncaring about all of this, but they of course will not suffer such a blight on self-improvement, which is after all why free libraries were founded in Victorian times.
It also affects all the other people and groups who use the Library, people of all ages from toddlers to pensioners who need a place to come, to be in company, to learn, to work or play in groups or alone, to come in out of the cold and to enjoy the pleasure of reading, of borrowing books and other media. The theatre is additionally unique in the borough, and no doubt if it were in Walsall town centre it would be celebrated to the rooftops instead of being underfunded and out of sight to some.
What is ironic is that it is now a Labour council in Walsall which is being forced to at least propose these draconian cuts, and following the public consultation which is now taking place (until the end of December 2016), they will very likely be required to enact them in the new financial year 2017 (from 1 April). This is the kind of thing that Labour would normally stand firmly against, and we do not envy them the position they are in.
Councillors take a stand
It is perhaps even more ironic, considering that it is the national Conservative government which is forcing local Labour into these appalling cuts, that the loudest voice which now stands publicly against the closure of Bloxwich Library and Theatre comes from the Conservative quarter of Bloxwich.
Active Bloxwich West Conservative Councillors Louise Harrison, Matt Follows and Brad Allen have banded together to organise an online petition on the Walsall Council website (see link below) aimed at saving both Bloxwich Library and the theatre, and have even been out collecting signatures in person.
Cllr. Allen told the Bloxwich Telegraph:
“Bloxwich Library and Theatre is a valuable cultural asset in our town. It is used well by surrounding schools, community groups and members of the public alike. Losing it would be a huge blow to people not just from Bloxwich, but across the whole borough”
Cllr. Allen even said to the Bloxwich Telegraph that they would welcome the signatures of Bloxwich’s Labour Councillors in support of the petition. They certainly deserve that support from us all.
The petition states:
‘Keep Bloxwich Library open. Although we understand the budget cuts coming from central government means that savings have to be made, we believe that Bloxwich library theatre is an asset to our town and very well used by people not just from Bloxwich, but across the whole of Walsall. The closing date of this petition will be Friday 6th January 2017. Once submissions have been made, it will then be handed into the council on 9th January 2017 at a Full Council Meeting.’
Here is the link to the petition page:
You can also contact the Bloxwich West Conservatives direct on their Facebook page:
Out in the cold
Now, it is impossible to tell just how much impact this kind of petition is likely to have on the Council’s decision, or indeed the consultation which is already ongoing, but it seems very obvious that unless some kind of stand is taken, or public opinions made clear on the matter, we will very likely lose some of Bloxwich’s finest and most long-lived public facilities. And what next?
We have already lost the use of Bloxwich public toilets, and it should be noted that apart from all its other wonderful qualities and facilities, if we lose the Library there will be nowhere for local people, marketgoers, shoppers and visitors to go when they are in need of a public convenience. Do you really want to be in that situation, out shivering in the cold in a Bloxwich with no public facilities apart from the leisure centre, a very long walk away?
Council budget consultation
Nothing is yet set in stone, according to Walsall Council, so it is time to make your voice heard.
Apart from the above petition, there is also an online consultation by the council, follow the links below to further information and the online questionnaire.
For a PDF format library consultation document click here:
For further information about this section of the consultation on the Walsall Council website, go to:
For the online questionnaire on Draft Options, click on:
And last but not least, the general Walsall Council Budget Consultation across all services pages:
Back in time with a bang
Bloxwich had its first public library opened in 1874 (that building now forms part of the Memorial Club in Harrison Street), the first branch in the borough. Its stock was for reference purposes and newspaper reading only. The second, larger Bloxwich Library was built around 1882, and like the first incorporated a police station.
It was still not, however, possible to borrow a book in Bloxwich itself until the third library, a converted WW2 ARP ambulance station, opened in 1948, which was the first time in history that the people of Bloxwich did not have to travel into Walsall to borrow a book. Since then, the present library and theatre opened, with a spacious building and vastly improved facilities, in the 1960s.
Despite sometimes limited budgets, Bloxwich Library and Theatre has evolved and reinvented itself over time into a capable modern facility with excellent staff and, like its predecessors, is a vital, essential and vibrant part of the local community as well as a regionally important venue.
Do we really want to wind our local library services back to the mid 19th century and beyond, when we had none in Bloxwich, in this supposedly modern and progressive 21st century borough? We think not.