HEARTBROKEN residents came together to mark the end of an era last week, as four community libraries were closed by the council.

With St Helens Council aiming to cut costs and transform library facilities into a "modern forward-thinking service", the decision to axe the number of libraries across the borough from 13 to 7 has proved immensely controversial.

Although a public consultation highlighted that a "significant majority of respondents disagreed with the proposed closures", the council pushed ahead with its plans and libraries in Garswood, Rainhill, Rainford, and Parr closed their doors for the final time on Friday, January 26.

This added to the libraries that had previously closed in Peter Street and Billinge, and gutted and disgruntled residents came out to say a final farewell to the closing libraries and staff last week.

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'Libraries are a lifeline to people'

St Helens Star: Sheila, Mavis and Jim at the final 'Brew and Browse' event in GarswoodSheila, Mavis and Jim at the final 'Brew and Browse' event in Garswood (Image: Derek Wainwright)
On Friday, the final 'Brew and Browse' took place at Garswood library, a 16th century building that was been used as a library since since 1972 and operated as a warm hub and social space in recent years.

As the final 'Brew and Browse' brought together residents and regular library users, Garswood resident Derek Wainwright said that there was a "lovely atmosphere" at the event, but also an air of sadness and frustration that this "may never happen again".

St Helens Star: Derek said the Garswood event brought the community togetherDerek said the Garswood event brought the community together (Image: Derek Wainwright)
Speaking about the library's final event and its closure, Derek said: "There was a really lovely atmosphere at the 'Brew and Browse' event and there were a lot of elderly residents there who use the library as a social space.

"That's why the library is so much more than just borrowing books, because it brings people together and gives people a reason to get out of the house.

"The council's own figures state that it only costs £39,000 to run Garswood library, so compared with some of the other things it spends money on, this is a drop in the ocean.

"At the end of the day, the library is a part of the community and it is a community asset that is being axed although it costs very, very little to run."

St Helens Star: The library is said to be a lifeline for many of those that used itThe library is said to be a lifeline for many of those that used it (Image: Derek Wainwright)
Shelia Tulley, who has been running the Garswood 'Brew and Browse' events for the past three years, added: "We have so many people coming to our events who are isolated, have lost loved ones, or are suffering with things like dementia.

"So the library is not just about the books, they are a lifeline to these people. They are so helpful in getting people out of the house and it's just heartbreaking that they now have no where else to go.

"The library has been here for 50 years and it's been used by families, children, and elderly people. Now, it's another service taken away from them and I think it's diabolical that they are closing."

'The end of our library as we know it'

St Helens Star: A final event was arranged to thank librarians in RainhillA final event was arranged to thank librarians in Rainhill (Image: Rainhill Civic Society)
There were similar frustrations across the areas having their library closed down, with librarians visited and thanked for their service in Rainhill, Rainford, and Parr.

Speaking about their library closure, the Rainhill Together community group said: "It was so sad to see the closure of Rainhill library and I hope those responsible for this are proud of what they have done.

"Libraries are much more than just books. They’re a special place where there are no limits and anything is possible. A place that allows you to escape the present and to be able to dream of a better, brighter tomorrow.

"For those who have never dreamed and have no imagination they will never understand that what we see is more than just a book that rests on a stand."

Adding to this, Rainhill independent councillor Donna Greaves said: "Today is the end of our library as we know it, but like all things in Rainhill, we never stand still and where there's a will...there's the Rainhill way."

St Helens Star: Councillor John Case visiting Rainford library before its closure Councillor John Case visiting Rainford library before its closure (Image: St Helens Star)
After visiting Rainford library before its closure, Conservative councillor John Case had similar views, adding: "​At the outset we opposed the notion of any library closures throughout the borough and it is a sad day when libraries close for all our residents.

"However, this is by no means the end we are working with the council in the hope that we can reopen Rainford as a Community Managed Library and Hub as libraries are not all about books."

Closures set to save £338k per year

St Helens Star: Garswood library was one of four closed on Friday, January 26Garswood library was one of four closed on Friday, January 26 (Image: Contributed)
As part of the council's library strategy plans, the closed venues do have the potential to be taken over as 'Community Managed Libraries', where community groups or volunteers take control of the facility and run a library service.

While this has been discussed by residents and councillors in areas where the library has closed, it is understood that no concrete plans have been agreed as yet, and this will need to go through a formal community asset transfer.

The council's new strategy also includes a home delivery and click-and-collect service for library users to gain access to books, with a book loan service to care settings also a touted suggestion.

There has also been a commitment to provide an outreach offer targeting schools and community settings that serve communities affected by library closures.

Anticipating that the library closures will achieve savings of £338,000 a year, the council has confirmed that it will continue to invest in the assets it still has, with Haydock Library set to undergo a £275,000 refurbishment with internal works still ongoing in The Gamble Building.