CHILDREN'S parties could be held inside Essex's libraries in a bid to increase visitor numbers.

Essex County Council is set to trial hosting the events at four locations across the county; Witham, Walton, Basildon and Great Parndon.

If this trial is successful the scheme could be rolled out to facilities across Essex in the near future.

Four party themes have been developed - a rhyme party, an interactive story party, a pirate party and enchanted forest event.

The council hopes the plans will draw more people in to libraries as well as add an additional revenue stream.

A County Hall report states: "The idea of hosting birthday parties in libraries is not new, but it is uncommon particularly in local authority libraries.

"Officers are not aware of any authorities in England offering any of their libraries as a birthday party venue currently but is aware of one in Scotland and one in New Zealand.

"The trial will seek to develop the delivery format by gathering wider market intelligence.

"The results from this trial will help to shape future plans on how the programme is developed and extended to more libraries."

The trial period will be used to "ascertain the level of demand" for the scheme across the county.

Essex County Council has been developing a new library strategy in response to falling usage figures.

It had proposed closing as many as 25 libraries and of the remaining 49, up to 19 could have been staffed by community groups.

But following widespread backlash, the county council reversed plans and said it will not close any libraries in the next five years.

Volunteers and community groups have instead been offered a grant of £18,000 across three years, an initial donation of books and training for staff to run libraries.

Campaign group, Save Our Libraries Essex (Sole), has labelled the proposals "closure by stealth" and called for voluntary groups to withdraw expressions of interest.

Andy Abbott, of Sole, said running children's parties at libraries was not the way forward.

"We would be concerned the county council are looking to use quite gimmicky methods in order to try and increase library usage," he said.

"The best way to get more people to use libraries is to invest in them by increasing the opening hours and the stock."

The party themes are set out for three different age groups - up to three, three to five and five to seven.

Prices will range from £6.50 per child to £12 per child depending on the options selected and groups of up to 20 can be accommodated.

More detail of the proposals can be found at