SOUTHEND’S libraries will remain open after enough people volunteered to help run them for free.

The council is confident it has enough support to take over Westcliff and Southchurch libraries and to help a skeleton staff of paid librarians run Kent Elms and Leigh libraries.

So far, 66 people have expressed an interest in volunteering in the new “community libraries”, which will save the authority £378,000 over three years.

The first informal interviews with candidates were held on Friday.

Nick Harris, the council’s head of culture, said: “We have had a great response with 66 people completing and returning expression of interest forms – of which, 17 have also indicated they would be willing to volunteer in more than one branch.

“We are confident this is a good number and will enable us to continue running the service. However, we would like as many volunteers as possible.

Campaigners fighting the shake-up of the library service, aimed at modernising it for the next 15 years as well as saving money, feared libraries would close if too few people stepped in to run branches.

Fears were heightened when only four turned up to an information evening aimed at recruiting volunteers at Southchurch Library in February.

But 38 people have now signed up to help run Southchurch and Westcliff libraries, supported by a paid library manager. Another 38 have volunteered for Kent Elms and Leigh.

Kent Elms and Leigh are expected to keep about three or four paid staff, with one on site at any time.

Charity Southend Association of Voluntary Services will hold a second round of interviews for potential volunteers on Thursday, April 10.

Workshops will then take place in early May and the council expects full training to start in May or June.

To volunteer, call 01702 212038, or e-mail library