PEOPLE power has won and libraries in Essex have been saved, for now.

Campaign group Save Our Libraries Essex (Sole) welcomed the news mass closures of libraries across the county would be postponed.

Southend Standard:

Campaigner - Megan Hemmings, from Hockley, created a petition to keep Hockley library open, which received 8,024 signatures

However the group who have campaigned to keep all libraries open, fully staffed and fully funded by Essex County Council since the beginning of the consultation, believe that “volunteer-led and community-run libraries will not work”.

Sole spokesman Andy Abbott said: “We’re obviously very pleased with the news, it’s a vindication for all of the thousands of people from across the county who said ‘no’ to losing our libraries.

“However we remain vigilant. Essex County Council are still talking about an unsustainable plan which will see community groups run our libraries, with no paid staff.

“Volunteer-led and community-run libraries will not work. We can see from the very limited opening hours at Finchingfield Library to the problems Springfield Library has had in finding enough volunteers, this is already a model that is failing.

“For this reason, we urge the parish councils and community volunteers who have offered to help run these community libraries to withdraw their offer. Make Essex County Council run these libraries.

“We will continue to fight for what the people want, there’s no doubt that they’re the reason the council has made this u-turn.”

UNISON Eastern regional organiser Natalie Platts added: “It’s the overwhelming strength of feeling against the council’s ransacking of our culture and our communities that’s forced this climb-down.

“But even if some community group can be found to take over, volunteer-run libraries just aren’t good enough. Anyone who thinks volunteers can reliably deliver all the services our highly-skilled library staff provide has spent too long in the fiction section.

“Well done to the thousands who have made the council think again, but we need to push on.”

Famous faces, including children’s authors David Walliams and Jacqueline Wilson, took to social media to show their support, holding signs saying “Save Essex Libraries”.

Megan Hemmings, from Hockley, created a petition to keep Hockley library open, which received 8,024 signatures. The 34-year-old said: “I’m over the moon, this means libraries will remain open which is amazing.

“It’s definitely a step in the right direction and I’m looking forward to seeing more details.”

Earlier this year, students from the Basildon Upper Academy marched through Basildon in protest of cuts to Vange and Fryerns libraries.

Antonia Listrat, 17, who took part in the march, said: “I use the library every week to revise for school so was concerned when it was announced they could close, they’re an important part of our culture. This is amazing, it’s great to see our protest made an impact.”

Tim Sneller, who campaigned for Castle Point libraries, organised a march from Great Tarpots Library to South Benfleet Library to rally support.

He said: “This is fantastic news, the council has really recognised that our libraries are needed and it’s a tribute to the hundreds who took part in our marches, who signed petitions and who made their voices heard.”

How it all happened

LIBRARIES across the county have been saved from closure after Essex County Council reversed its plans to close dozens.

The council U-turn came after a consultation with 21,000 responses and tens of thousands more in petitions.

During a full council meeting, leader David Finch announced that instead of closing the libraries which were under threat, the council will be working with and supporting community groups or other partners to set up community-run libraries, hoping to ensure a library service is retained in every current location.

The public consultation, which ran from November 2018 until January this year, proposed that 25 out of the 74 could potentially close, with libraries including Vange, Fryerns, Great Wakering and Hullbridge expected to close.

Another 19 were also at risk of closure, including Hockley, Great Tarpots, Hadleigh and South Benfleet, providing they couldn’t be run by the community or other partners with support from the council.

On Monday Essex County Council will publish it’s final libraries strategy.

Councillor Susan Barker, cabinet member for culture, said: “Our future libraries strategy has changed drastically due to what the people of Essex told us.

I am delighted the consultation ignited such passion for keeping the service alive.

“We assured everyone that their feedback would be taken into account, and it has - all our libraries now have a future.”

Mark Francois, Rayleigh and Wickford MP, said: “I would like to congratulate those residents and councillors, who campaigned successfully in my constituency to defend the library service, which means so much to all of them.

“Essex County Council has clearly listened and common sense has fortunately prevailed.”

Rebecca Harris, Castle Point MP, added: “I’m delighted that our libraries have their futures’ secured and will continue to serve residents whilst modernising their provision. “It’s good to see resident’s voices being listened to heard and am grateful to everyone who took part in the consultation and offered their support.”