Number of users at Basingstoke’s closure-threatened libraries go up

Number of users at Basingstoke's closure-threatened libraries go up
School children reading in library
Pupils at Great Binfield Primary School, close to Chineham library, have wrote to local MP Maria Miller regarding the potential closures

More people are using Basingstoke’s closure-threatened libraries than they were five years ago, new data has revealed.

More than 120,000 people used Chineham or South Ham libraries between April 1, 2018 and March 31, 2019.

This is up from 118,000 in 2015-16.

This two per cent rise bucks a trend across the rest of the Hampshire, which saw an eight per cent decrease over four years and a 15 per cent decrease since 2017-18.

Chineham saw more than 78,000 people use its library last year, making it the busiest of the ten at risk of closure and 21st in total.

That is “brilliant news” in the campaign to save the facility, according to ward councillor Laura Edwards.

“I think that is great news and it shows that the campaign isn’t just jumping into the libraries because we want it but that we use it all year round.

“Why is it on the list if it is so highly used? I know they have to cut budgets but they have also got to provide a service to the residents. Maybe we need to be listened to more.

“We need that library and they are looking at the costs of the building rather than the number of people that use it. That is not right.”

Meanwhile, Odiham, also threatened with closure, has seen a nine per cent increase over the last four years, from 17,317 in 2015-16 to 18,930 in 2018-19.

Ken Crookes, Hart District Councillor for Odiham, told the Gazette that the village’s library is “a well-used little hub”.

“My view is that it is valued and we’ll have to ask the County Council how much it is used.”

However, all three libraries threatened with closure have seen significant decreases over the last two years.

It comes as pupils from one Chineham school joined the fight to help save the library from closure, writing to Maria Miller to express their disappointment.

Pupils at Great Binfields Primary School, who are just a short walk from the library and visit many times a year, were helped, if they wanted to, in writing their letters to the town’s MP, campaigning for the library to remain open.

Speaking about why the site is important, one pupil, Talulah, said: “It is so very important for children to learn to read and write. These skills help people learn all they need to know to get a good career.”

Ivy added: “I was really upset because I used to go to the library when I was young, and I go there now, and it calms me down when I am having a stressful day.”

Charlotte said: “It is making me really sad because I have gone there for a while and you can do lots of different things there.”

Freya, who also appeared on Meridian when ITV News featured the campaign, said: “I think the library is important because it is not just us but it is a lot of older people as well. People that can’t buy books can borrow them.”

Owain said: “You can go and study and get lots of books out. There are a lot of things for older and younger people to do.”

Matthew added: “It would make me really sad because I usually go there to get lots of books out so I can read.”

Basingstoke Discovery Centre, in Festival Place, has also seen an increase over the last four years, with 236,472 visitors, up 12.5 per cent.

The library with the most visitors in the county was Winchester, with almost 600,000 users, up 12 per cent in the last four years.

Of the ten libraries that make up the list that Hampshire County Council could close after the consultation is finished, three have actually recorded an increase in visitors since 2015. Chineham and Odiham are two of these.

More than 82,000 people used Chineham library in 2016-17, its highest year, whilst more than 51,000 people used South Ham library in 2017-18.

Chineham is ranked 45th out of the 48, “making it one of the poorest performers”.

Estimations from Hampshire County Council suggest that closing the hub will save £133,000. Their “rationale” behind putting it on the list is that it has a higher than average cost per open hour, at £124 compared to the Hampshire average of £118.

The report says that younger residents specifically can have their library needs met through digital services or nearby libraries, something that Cllr Edwards says she “strongly disagrees with”.

There is no mention of the needs of older residents.

South Ham ranks 43rd out of the 48 libraries, with a “below average performance for visits, computer use and items issued per open hour”.

The council’s document says: “There is a need to support educational attainment and the higher than average number of younger people within the local population, through the development of reading and digital literacy in the catchment.”

Netley, Romsey, Basingstoke, Winchester and Odiham made up the top five in terms of biggest growth since 2015, whilst Blackfield, Eastleigh, Fair Oak, Andover and Lockswood have seen the biggest fall in users over that time. Of those, only Blackfield and Fair Oak are on the shortlist.

News from The Basingstoke Gazette

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