The Feminist Library is about to be thrown out of the building that has been its home for 30 years.
Southwark Council is threatening to close down the Feminist Library on 1st March unless the Library agrees to an immediate increase in our rent from £12,000 to £30,000 a year. The Council’s actions could cause the closure of a unique archive with a 40 year history. The Feminist Library has launched a wide-scale campaign, fast gaining international support, to fight the council’s decision, including a special appeal to donate to its Emergency Fund.
On 10th February, Southwark Council Cabinet approved a report that ‘highlights the need for a thriving Voluntary and Community Sector that mobilises community action and makes best use of community resources, skills, knowledge and spaces’. Una Byrne, on behalf of the Feminist Library, said: ‘We cannot understand how treating our organisation in such a way is consistent with approving this report.’
Last year the Feminist Library launched a campaign to find a new, permanent home to house this unique resource and community space, currently at risk of being lost forever, and all this effort is now under threat. The Feminist Library is an archival resource which is internationally recognised as of cultural and heritage significance, as well as providing facilities for various women’s and community groups, both local and London-wide.
It is ironic that the Feminist Library is in danger of being made homeless on 1st March, when March is Women’s History Month and 8th March is International Women’s Day.
Many libraries, women’s organisations, and longstanding community projects have been forced to close in the current climate of austerity, including Lambeth Women’s Project, Peckham Black Women’s Centre, and the London Irish Women’s Centre. Southwark Council forcing the Feminist Library to pay market rent immediately is another symptom of this.
Other longstanding tenants in the building are also suffering from this onslaught by Southwark Council. GHARWEG Advice, Training & Careers Centre, which provides vital services for Southwark residents, was given notice of repossession of its lease on 9th February. Like all community organisations, GHARWEG has faced financial constraints recently, and so has been unable to afford market rent. They have been locked out of their offices and their services are being severely affected. This is also ironic, as GHARWEG was an early tenant of the building, which was originally donated by the Greater London Council to Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic community groups.
As part of its campaign, the Feminist Library is launching a petition to ask Southwark Council to reconsider its stance.
Minna Haukka, local resident, said: ‘As a Southwark resident I’ve been devastated to hear that we might be soon losing this unique cultural organisation. The Feminist Library is just what we need to hold on to in the Elephant and Castle area right now; a place that brings together women from all backgrounds and of all ages. It’s not only a valuable historical archive – it’s a very much alive and passionate community that Southwark should support and be proud of.’
Dr Laura Schwartz, Associate Professor of Modern British History, University of Warwick, said: ‘The Feminist Library is a wonderful cultural resource that needs to be defended at all costs. Generations of my students have used it for their academic research […] If the Feminist Library is evicted from its current premises, Southwark Council will not only be guilty of cultural vandalism but also of silencing women.
For further information, for pictures of the Feminist Library and its activities, and of the plaque commemorating the donation of the building to BAME groups, please contact Emma Jennings on firstname.lastname@example.org