One of the UK's leading community spaces dedicated to women’s liberation may be forced to close after the council announced it could no longer afford to subsidise its rent.
The volunteer-run Feminist Library, the only dedicated one of its kind in London, has been based in premises owned by Southwark Council, in Westminster Bridge Road, south London, for nearly 30 years.
Home to one of the most important collections of feminist material in the country, the library contains thousands of books, periodical titles, archives, pamphlets, papers and posters, and hosts a range of events and exhibitions.
While it currently pays £12,000 a year to cover the costs of using the building’s services, the council is now proposing to charge another £18,000 in rent on top of this – something the library has said seriously threatens its future.
Emma Jennings, spokeswoman for the Feminist Library, told The Independent that it pays a service charge and a “peppercorn rent” to the council through donations and a small amount of grant funding.
She said that, since the council announced the change in December, the library had agreed to pay more for use of the premises, but it has been unwilling to negotiate.
Southwark Council has said it can no longer afford to not charge the library rent due to a £47m slash in Government funding.
“We have been trying hard to increase our funding,” Ms Jennings said.
“In these times of austerity, front-line services are being hit very hard. We do understand the problems.
“Everyone is suffering under this Government.”
An online petition to ‘Save the Feminist Library from Eviction’ has so far attracted 11,000 signatures, and Ms Jennings said the library hopes the council will “work with us to keep it open as a community space”.
The library has also set up a special appeal for supporters to donate to an emergeny fund.
Fiona Colley, a Labour cabinet member on Southwark Council, said: “For the past seven years the Feminist Library hasn't paid any rent for its premises.
“Whilst we recognise and appreciate the work that’s been done by the library, we have a very clear duty to ensure our assets are being managed responsibly, and that we are being fair to other tenants who are paying open market rent,” she said.
“We have offered the Feminist Library a new lease with rent levels that reflect what other organisations in the building are paying.
“We have also given the library the time to find alternative premises.
“At a time when the council's funding from government is being cut by £47m we are simply unable to continue to subsidise their rent.”
Having originally intended to introduce the rent on 1 March, it said it has extended this to 30 April.
Dr Laura Schwartz, associate professor of modern British history at the University of Warwick, said the Feminist Library was now the only archive in the capital where an array of feminist publications are accessible to the general public on open shelves.
“The Feminist Library is a wonderful cultural resource that needs to be defended at all costs,” she said.
“Students have use it for their academic research, as well as informing themselves about the continued oppression of women in our society and how to fight against it.
“It also provides one of the few spaces in central London where women and feminist activists can come together to meet and organise for a better world.
“If the Feminist Library is evicted from its current premises, Southwark Council will not only be guilty of cultural vandalism but also of silencing women.”
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