Sunderland library occupation ends peacefully

Campaigners trying to keep Southwick Branch Library open.
Campaigners trying to keep Southwick Branch Library open.
Have your say

CAMPAIGNERS staged a protest sit-in at a city library as it closed for the last time.

Southwick Library was due to shut its doors at 5pm, but it was gone six by the time protesters from the Hands Off Sunderland Libraries group left the building.

Library demo campaigner Helmut Izaks at Southwick Library

Library demo campaigner Helmut Izaks at Southwick Library

Organiser Gary Duncan said: “We have achieved what we set out to do and kept the library open beyond the scheduled closure time.

“Children and elderly residents could not use the toilet, so we had a meeting to determine what to do, and the consensus was that we should walk out in a dignified manner.

“The campaign is not over, it goes on from here. We are going to reopen the library.”

At one point, 60-year-old Helmut Izaks handcuffed himself to a library security scanner.

“I have been part of the campaign against the closures from the very beginning,” he said.

“I just don’t think it’s right to shut libraries when they are spending money on other things that are not necessary.”

Mary Snowball, 71, from Ryhope, said: “The branch libraries should have been kept open, even on reduced hours.

“I know it’s not a perfect solution, but it is better than closure.

“Once these places are closed, they won’t reopen as libraries.”

Peter Thompson, 34, of Southwick, who had brought sons Kieran, eight, and Reece, four, to the sit-in, added: “I’m absolutely disgusted with Sunderland Council, hiding behind the veil of the financial crisis.

“It does not wash. They wasted millions on the bridge that was never going to happen.

“Every time my lad comes down here, he gets 24 books out at a time and reads the lot.”

Southwick Library is one of nine to be axed by Sunderland City Council in modernisation plans which will save an estimated £850,000.

A campaign was launched by Hands Off Sunderland Libraries, which lobbied councillors in a bid to change their minds, but the decision was rubber-stamped by the council’s cabinet last month.

Yesterday was the final session at Southwick, as well as others in Doxford Park, Easington Lane, East Herrington, Fence Houses, Hendon, Monkwearmouth, Silksworth, and Washington Green.

The group’s action last night was staged following a series of demonstrations since the council unveiled proposals to close the venues, with a 3,000-plus name petition also handed in.

Their efforts were backed by a number of high-profile people, including authors Mary Talbot and Sheila Quigley, and Michael McKnight from Frankie & The Heartstrings.

The council has said it would not have faced making the closures if it were not for the £110million savings it must make as a result of cuts by the Government.

Members said it was a difficult decision to make, but believe the changes will make the service more flexible and will reach a wider range of places across their wards.