Is this the end of the story?

We have to report that it now looks as if our plan to create “Northcote Book Place”, bringing library, bookshop and a café together to make one terrific destination for the community between the commons, is unlikely to happen.

But we would be glad to hear from anyone who can see a way forward, and would like to meet. Contact viv@europe.com

The story so far: As you may remember, in July 2014 just as we were about to launch the community share offer to set up Northcote Books in the library, the Council announced they were thinking of selling the current library site for redevelopment and building a new library and community building on the site of Chatham Hall, on the opposite side of Northcote Road. This was a shock. However we worked with the council and their feasibility study architects to see where Northcote Books could fit in.

It is now clear that because the new site is much narrower than the current one, the only ground floor space that is going to be made available for us would be 35 square metres within the library walls – which is half what we need – and there would be no café.

After a lot of thought, scrutiny of the plans and research the Board feels that within the restricted space on offer there would not be enough room to create a financially sustainable, staffed, professionally run bookshop with adults and children’s sections. There are other factors too which present challenges. However, we have had unstinting support for this project from our local councillors Dawson, Dodd and Johnson, and from our keen supporters including many experts working pro bono over the last three years; the Council awarded us a £4,200 grant back in 2013, and their officers and the architects on the feasibility study have done their best. We are of course pleased that although the spacious 1969 library building will be demolished under the new plans, the library is not being closed down, as is happening in many other local authorities, and that a new library building is planned. Every neighbourhood needs a vibrant library. But we are very disappointed that after three years of work, it looks as if the bookshop is not able to go ahead.

This is the timeline:

The Community Services Overview and Scrutiny committee will discuss a paper about the redevelopment of the library site & Chatham Hall on Monday 21st November.

It will then go to the Executive at a meeting on 28th November for formal approval.

There will be a public consultation and the outcome will be reported back to committee next year.

The scheme to be consulted on has already been supported in principle by the Wandsworth cabinet.

Our councillors have asked to see the final draft of the paper but that probably won’t be available until early November prior to publication in mid-November.

Now, it might be that among our supporters there might be enthusiasts who think they might be able to find a way to make the current offer work, through some design genius, or perhaps with volunteer staff, or they run it themselves. All the legal and financial groundwork is done, and we could hand this non-profit project on to a new Board. If you would like to talk to us or you would like us to convene a meeting for interested people to come to, we can. So do let us know. Email me at viv@europe.com.

It is a pity that we are having to call time just as it is becoming clear that the UK’s love affair with the printed book is far from over. The Publishers’ Association has reported that in 2015, for the first time in four years, the sales figures in the UK for physical books went up. Sales for digital books went down. In 2015 non-fiction/reference books increased their sales by 9%; children’s books increased by 7% in the first quarter of this year! New bookshops are still opening although not, as far as we know, in Wandsworth, where there are still no independent bookshops at all. Ours was going to be a community meeting place and creative hub too, not just a shop.

The Board would like to thank everyone for their support and passion, which I am sure will not be wasted, as this good idea will surely be taken up somewhere else, some other time. We look forward to hearing from you.

Best wishes

Viv Taylor Gee
Chair, Northcote Books Limited