Nearly twenty residents have signed up as volunteers to keep West Barnes Library open on Mondays after Merton Council announced a reduction in its opening days to save costs.

One-day-a-week closures were planned at West Barnes and Donald Hope (Colliers Wood) libraries from April because of budget cuts - but this month Merton Council said they would be postponed to allow time for volunteers to step into the breach.

At West Barnes Library on Tuesday evening, March 22, nearly 60 residents attended a meeting to recruit volunteers and set up a ‘Friends of West Barnes Library’ committee.

Concerns about security

Councillor Gilli Lewis-Lavender, councillor for West Barnes ward, said volunteers should be allowed to help out at the library on any day of the week they wanted, not just when the council chose to use them.

Coun Lewis-Lavender said: “We would get more volunteers if it was any of the day that they could help.

“Perhaps that would allow staff to come during the week and we wouldn’t have to make closures to the library.

“Nor is it clear whether there would any security staff working alongside the volunteers. It is a big responsibility for people who are giving up their time in this way.”

Merton has "excellent volunteers"

Councillor Martin Whelton, cabinet member for communities, said he was really pleased with the outcome of the meeting and said some volunteers with positions of responsibility would need to have criminal record background (CRB) checks.

But, he added, all volunteers would be given the necessary training by library staff.

Coun Whelton said: “About 20 people said they wanted to volunteer, so we’ve had a very constructive start and the community clearly was actively engaged and wanted to be involved.

“We have got an excellent volunteer service in Merton and the play a hugely valuable role.”

Coun Whelton has previous stated using volunteers was a test of David Cameron’s ‘Big Society’ project, but residents groups have criticised the plans.

Volunteer plan is "unrealistic"

A similar meeting with be held at Donald Hope library on Tuesday evening to recruit potential volunteers, with dozens of people already registering their interest in joining, according to Keith Spears, chairman of the Colliers Wood Residents Association.

But Mr Spears said earlier this month: “I think it’s unrealistic. I see volunteers as supplementing paid staff, not replacing them. It’s not just a matter of principle but of practicalities.”

The next meeting for the Friends of West Barnes Library will be held at the library on Tuesday, April 5.

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