The Folkestone Library in Grace Hill is an important community building that is part of our cultural heritage. I want to see it not just survive the current issues it faces over the costs of necessary repairs, but also to thrive in the future. When libraries like this were first created, they were often the only places where many people could access news, information or get hold of a book they wanted to read. The world is very different now, but in this age of the internet, when we have access to the world’s knowledge in the palm of our hands, we also need places where people can come together.
The library is currently shut because of major and costly repairs that are required before it can re-open safely. In April I will be meeting at the library with Cllr Mike Hill, the Cabinet member of Kent County Council responsible for the libraries service to see the work that needs doing, and to discuss how this can be funded. I have also contacted the Libraries Minister, Stephen Parkinson at the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, to ask about what government programmes might be available to help. He has advised me that in April the Arts Council will be opening the third round of the Libraries Improvement Fund, and Kent County Council has also confirmed to me that it will be applying for this.
Cllr Dylan Jeffrey, the County Councillor for Folkestone West, which includes Grace Hill where the library is located, has successfully made the case at County Hall for the library services to continue in Folkestone town centre, even if they need to be temporarily located nearby away from the current building whilst we all explore possibilities about getting the building repaired.
There is then the question of the future of the building itself, which provides not just library services, but also the Sassoon Room exhibition space. I believe that the Grace Hill building has great potential as a culture and heritage centre and is not being fully utilised. When you look at successful libraries elsewhere in the country, they have brought together other activities alongside their lending services, to create vibrant community hubs. I want us to look at what more we could do to improve the use of the Folkestone library, and will be contacting other organisations to see what help they could provide with this.
So in short, our three point plan for the Folkestone library is; a commitment to library services staying in Folkestone town centre; to seek funding to support the Folkestone library; and to create a long term plan for the future of the building in Grace Hill.