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Walking-friendly Wanstead

March 18, 2011

Gioberti's Italian Restaurant, Wanstead

Wanstead High Street at the edge of East London is a gem. I live within walking distance, so try to do as much of my shopping there as possible. The greengrocer and I share stories of our upbringing. His son and I talk about the fortunes of West Ham football club. The pet shop owner is expanding into hardware, and is asking the local community what goods they would like him to stock! People stop to chat with our Big Issue seller. There are welcoming restaurants, busy pavement cafe’s, a friendly Post Office, public toilets (at the moment), doctors, dentists, physiotherapists and osteopaths, and too many other independent shops to mention. Rarely do I go shopping there without bumping into two or three people I know.

If all this was missing from the High Street, or large faceless chain stores and supermarkets moved in, I would miss the friendly banter. I would have to drive or take a bus or train to some of these amenities, where I would not have a sense of belonging. Extra time taken driving, finding and paying for parking, or coping with public transport, perhaps for just a few vegetables! What a waste of resources.


Photo by fieldus, shared under a creative commons licence


My walk to the library is a weekly ritual

March 17, 2011

I love my local library. I’ve only recently moved to the area, and being able to walk to the library is one of my favourite things about where I live. I’ve already developed a Saturday ritual where I walk down with a rucksack containing the books and DVDs I took out the week before; I chat with the librarians as I return my books; I browse the new displays and find out what community events are coming up; I pick out new book by authors I love, ones I’ve heard of and have been meaning to read books by, ones I’ve never heard of but the covers look interesting. Sometimes I’ll chat with the librarians about my selection, and they’ll recommend similar books which I might like. It’s a highlight of my weekend.

I love books, and there’s no bookshop within walking distance of where I live, so the library is something I cherish. This is why I’ve signed up to Living Streets’ Neighbourhood Heroes campaign. Having a library within walking distance of where I live is incredibly important to me. The government is now undertaking planning reforms around the Localism Bill and the National Planning Policy Framework, so now is the time to stand up and make it known that we want to be able to safeguard local shops and services, like libraries, when they’re under threat.

Join the campaign, and send a strong sign to government that we want to keep our shops and services close, not watch them close.


Libraries are about the good things in life

March 15, 2011

The public library is held in high regard. Libraries are about the good things in life: learning, literacy, health. In times of need they can help us out, by giving us an abundance of knowledge on our doorstep, as well as the tools to access job and business opportunities. They act as a forum of public space, encouraging social cohesion. Who doesn’t like a place where you can take any book, CD or DVD home for free? On that basis alone they deserve to be cherished – and yet that is only the beginning of their great influence on our communities.

Libraries in England are very popular, visited by three quarters of a million people a day. Without a local library in walking distance, it may become impossible for people who live in many areas to access technology such as the internet to be able to train or find employment. They may not be able to access books they need for development and lose touch with other members of the community.

Living Streets’ Neighbourhood Heroes campaign is about protecting local shops and services so that everybody can access them on foot. This is the era of Localism, the big society, giving the power back to the people. The freedom to have the choice to shape our community urban spaces and have our local needs met is now on the agenda. This is put forward by the Localism Bill encouraging neighbourhood planning and the National Planning Policy Framework in the pipeline, with the initial aims for a planning system which encourages development that positively benefits the community. But it’s essential that we get it right and it’s not all hot air or lip service. Celebrating our local shops and services is a key way to ensure community needs are heard and met. Stand up for your neighbourhood hero today.


Libraries are at the heart of our neighbourhoods

March 11, 2011

This post is by Lauren Smith, a founding member of the national libraries advocacy organisation Voices for the Library.

524 libraries (463 buildings and 61 mobiles) are currently under threat or recently closed/left council control out of 4517 in the UK.

Library postcard

Keep them close, don't watch them close

In many communities, libraries are the last remaining public space, where people can go without feeling pressure to buy anything or leave unless they have a specific purpose. People are free to browse, socialise, study and learn, in a neutral environment without feeling judged by the kind of book they’re reading or their level of computing skills, for example. On his blog, Kevin Harris says: “our libraries are one of the few things left that consolidate the public realm. Once they’re gone, it’s not just hard to get the library service back: it will be that much harder to reinstate the notion of publicness.”

Public library buildings tend to be owned by the council and are located on council-owned land. To close these branches and then sell them off or develop them for another use (housing, for example), equates to asset-stripping, and the communities who have seen the benefit of their council tax through local, accessible services see no benefit from the profit made.

To remove library branches may be seen by councils as a way of running a library service more efficiently – many local councils argue that it is more “viable” to run fewer, higher quality branches. This should not be an issue – communities will be paying the same rates for a service that is now further away from them, and in many cases, is impossible to get to. Many councils have failed to investigate whether it is possible for people to use their next-nearest library. In Doncaster, for example, the Mayor has recommended that residents of Bawtry travel to Tickhill instead. This library is over four miles away from Bawtry library, and there is no footpath down the busy main road, nor is there a direct bus.

Libraries are incredibly good value for the benefits they provide to society and individuals, in areas such as education, social cohesion, health and wellbeing, and as such should be treasured by local and national governments, not sold off or run down.

Councils have a statutory duty to provide comprehensive and efficient library services that are free and accessible to all. Legal challenges are being prepared/under way in Brent, Gloucestershire, Lewisham and Somerset. In addition, a judical review has been called about the Culture Secretary’s failure to comply with his legal duties at a national level. The law firm behind the challenge have made a call for information from anyone with information about cuts to local services that may be in breach of the Public Libraries and Museums Act 1964.


Voices for the Library aim to provide a balanced view of the service and the professionals who work there. They work to share positive stories from public libraries and librarians across the country, provide factual information about library usage in the UK, be a voice for communities and individuals to speak out about why they value their public libraries, and to support local campaigns to save libraries where local councils have not properly considered the impact of cuts to library services.

Is your librarian your neighbourhood hero? Stand up for libraries. Join the campaign.

My local library still reflects Carnegie’s vision

March 10, 2011

The last thing I want to do after a long day at work or during my precious weekend is to take a bus or a train or a car all the way to my nearest library. But local authority belt-tightening might mean that soon instead of taking a nice walk around the corner to my Grade II listed Carnegie library, I will have to travel much further.

My local library was built in 1905 by Andrew Carnegie – a poor weaver from Scotland who moved to America and became one of the richest men in the world. He believed that libraries should be free and inclusive. Now I walk into the library Carnegie built and see newly arrived immigrants reading English language books or attending the free language classes on offer. I see parents reading to toddlers in the Kids’ Corner while meeting up with other parents. I see people who don’t have the luxury of an internet connection or a printer using computers and the Over-50s club laughing while they attend a sewing workshop or book group. All in all, English libraries are visited by three quarters of a million people a day and cost each person (through national and local taxation) just under 40p per week.

With all the talk of cuts, I’ve heard people moaning that their local library is under-funded and under-developed and this is why they don’t use them. But this is a vicious circle. We must use it or we’ll lose it – simple as that. We need to keep our libraries within walkable distances or else they are no longer the community hubs they’ve always been.

Libraries have always been about more than books – that’s why my librarian is my neighbourhood hero.


Do you value being able to walk to your library? What would it mean to you if you couldn’t? Tell us your story.

Libraries: keep them close, don’t watch them close

March 10, 2011
Library postcard

Join us and send a sign to government that we need to keep libraries within walking distance.

Walk into a local library today and you might be surprised by the range of people and activities going on inside. In keeping with the times, the local library has diversified. It still offers books, CDs and films for loan, but nowadays it acts as a kind of community hub where people and ideas can mix freely. The modern library can help people find jobs, get skills training, learn languages, ask a question, attend a lecture, get advice on a police matter, search the internet, get involved in local history or events, and meet their neighbours.

Seeing the breadth of activity that goes on in libraries has inspired some local authorities across the country to develop them. Incorporating facilities such as Council helpdesks, payment counters, older people’s and children’s services makes the library cost-effective to run and brings services closer to where people can access them easily on foot, or at least by an easy bike or public transport journey. Councils looking to decentralise services can see that there is already a network of well-located buildings with potential to host more activity. The rare council able to boast to residents that it plans no library closures is usually planning this kind of arrangement.

Because the local library, importantly, is a place locals can walk to. It has a prominent physical presence. That’s part of what makes it so democratic: you don’t need a car to get there. Whether you’re young or old, wealthy or not, it is available to you. If an important local meeting is being held, or there is a training course you’re keen on taking, you don’t need to worry about the traffic. So long as people can walk there easily, they’re much more likely to go, thereby fully enjoying the benefits their community has to offer. And the more people that are walking in a neighbourhood, the more community interaction that generates, and the healthier it is for everyone.

Do you value being able to walk to your library? What would it mean to you if you couldn’t? Tell us your story.


Do you value your neighbourhood heroes?

March 10, 2011

Neighbourhood Heroes

Too many people can’t get to local shops and services such as libraries, schools, shops selling fresh food, post offices, GPs, banks and community pubs on foot. New YouGov research commissioned by national charity Living Streets has found that more than a quarter (28%) of GB adults feel isolated, or have a friend or loved one who feels isolated, because of a lack of access to essential shops and services within walking distance.

Living Streets, the national charity that stands up for pedestrians, is campaigning to make sure neighbourhood shops and services are kept within walking distance and are at the heart of any changes to planning regulations. While the government is undertaking the biggest shake-up of the UK planning system for a generation, Living Streets is campaigning to make sure they understand the need to keep the shops and services we value within walking distance.

Do you value your neighbourhood hero? Send a sign to government that we want to keep them close, not watch them close.