London : Friern Barnet Library saved by Squatters,Occupy activists and Local Library Campaign groups.2 year lease to be given.

On Tuesday 5th February, at midday, exactly five months since the occupation began, the community will take possession of the Friern Barnet Library. The local community – represented by the trustees of the library – are on the verge of agreeing a two-year lease with Barnet Council (LBB) to run the library with some funding from the council.

At the ceremony, squatters and supporters of the Occupy movemnet, who have been keeping the building open and enabling the local community to run a book lending service and community centre in the building, will hand it over to the trustees of the newly formed Friern Barnet Community Library (FBCL). They have now received a licence from LBB to be in the library for two weeks with the promise of renewal of the licence if necessary to negotiate a lease and other matters (eg, who pays the utilities insurance and ongoing future repairs). LBB has shown a willingness to amend the licence to their satisfaction.

“This is a triumph for the local community,” said, one of the trustees of the new community library. “Our library was closed in April. And we were told the building would be ‘marketed’. Now we have our library back, with council financial support. We achieved this through constant campaigning, lobbying, and building a broad alliance including squatters, activists, supporters of the Occupy movement, local residents and library campaign groups.

Housing and Squatting activist  Phoenix, stated: “This campaign definitely shows the success of direct action and  squatting. This is a seed of change. The whole country will soon be facing 80% of the rest of the cuts. They can take some inspiration from this direct action. We have collectively helped to save this library from the bulldozer and being sold off for development.We would like to see more arrangements between owners of the 1.4 million empty buildings in the UK and squatter/homeless and community groups ,rather than the criminalisation being carried out by this government under the new law.
A law we feel strongly is unjust,undemocratic and arbitry.”

“We want to make it clear that, the activists support  the National Libraries Campaign and that putting in place a paid librarian is a priority. I believe consensus has been reached with the community on this point. As it stands, the funding offered by the council does not cover a full time librarian, but as the two year lease is negotiated and plans go forward, this will be kept at the front of the conversation. The activists would like to say that we are strongly opposed to austerity and all the cuts, especially to the library service.”

“We are also heavily opposed to criminalising the homeless/squatters. The extreme right of the conservative party is seeking to make squatting non-residential building also illegal. This, if it was successful, would affect all our rights to protest by occupying/squatting space, and would make successful community squat occupations such as the library campaign ILLEGAL, thus further removing our rights to shelter and protest.”

The Friern Barnet Community Library (Ltd) has been legally incorporated in the last
fortnight in response to the opportunity to negotiate a  lease with the council.

The library was closed by the Council in April 2012. Community activist squatters reopened it on 3 September, as a campaign to save the library and also as a protest against the new criminalisation of the homeless and squatters by the LASPO Act 2012 (enacted on 1 September). NB squatting in non residential buildings is still legal.

For more on the threat to squatters rights by criminalising Commercial squatting.:

The Squatters Action For Secure Homes have just launched a campaign
and rapidly growing petition to repeal the LASPO Act 2012. please sign and support.

It was the Direct Action by  the squatting community and supporters of Occupy  on Sept 5th 2012 that re-ignited the campaign to keep the library open. Despite a two year campaign LBB had refused to negotiate.
However at the second  Possession hearing on Dec18th .
Judge Pearl ordered that LBB should try and negotiate some form of licence to keep the library open, in order to protect the rights of the protesters under Articles 10 and 11 of the Human Rights Act and to preserve ‘proportionality’ between the rights of the protesters and the rights of the council.
It was this Direct Action combined with the placing of the building on the register as a community asset by local residents that in the end forced the council to negotiate. The supporters of Occupy also acted as caretakers looking after the building and ennabling a wide variety of events to take place in co-operation with the local community.
They helped to strengthen the bonds emerging between different sections of the community so that at the meeting on Jan 29th many residents from different local groups stepped forward to thank the squatters and occupiers for their crucial help.
One local  resident Maureen Ivens  Chairwoman of the Save Friern Barnet Library group, said of all the different groups that had come together “We are here as one”.
Occupy London is against the cuts and continues to support the National LIbraries Campaign and the local community in their determination to install a professional librarian. This action by the local community in no way replaces or diminishes the responsibilty of the council and government to carry out its responsibilities under the 1964 Libraries Act.
However as a result of all the work done  by an alliance of local residents, squatters,occupiers and legal advisers, the The Friern Barnet Community Library (Ltd) trustees will be handed over the keys by the council for a temporary  licence allowing then to keep the Friern
Barnet library building open until a full two year lease is signed by both parties.

Photo documentary of the occupation

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