People power triumph as Bancroft library saved

PUBLISHED: 12:23 10 October 2008 | UPDATED: 13:41 05 October 2010

EXCLUSIVE By Ted Jeory TOWER Hamlets council leader Lutfur Rahman has handed campaigners a momentous victory by agreeing to keep the borough s history library and world famous archives in Bancroft Road. The Labour politician s decision comes four month


TOWER Hamlets council leader Lutfur Rahman has handed campaigners a momentous victory by agreeing to keep the borough's history library and world famous archives in Bancroft Road.

The Labour politician's decision comes four months after a campaign launched by the East London Advertiser aimed at blocking the council's proposed sale of Bancroft Library to Queen Mary College.

Cllr Rahman announced today that the services would be staying put and called on campaigners to now help him lobby for external funding to upgrade the Grade II listed former Vestry Hall off Mile End Road.

The decision will be greeted with glee by the almost 5,000 people who had signed two petitions calling for a halt to the £1.2million sale.

It also marks a stunning victory for the four-month campaigns run by the Advertiser and dogged historian Tom Ridge.

Support had flooded in at both grass roots level and from across the world.

Among those backing our campaign were poet Benjamin Zephaniah, actor Sir Ian McKellen and writers Rachel Lichenstein, Gilda O'Neill, Sir Arnold Wesker and Bernard Kops.

We were also deluged with support from dozens of academics, including historians Professor Jerry White, Prof Bill Fishman and Queen Mary College's own world-leading art historian Emeritus Professor Nigel Glendinning.

Politicians from all parties also signed up including former Labour MP Stan Newens, Labour activist Dan McCurry, Respect MP George Galloway, Lib Dem group leader Stephanie Eaton and Tower Hamlets Tory boss Peter Golds.

It was all those voices, and more, which persuaded Cllr Rahman to drop the proposed sale.

When he came to office in May, he promised a "fresh change" in Tower Hamlets and his decision today is being seen by campaigners that he has listened to common sense and recognised the importance of the East End's heritage-and the symbolic and crucial role played in that by Bancroft and its brilliant staff members.

He congratulating the Advertiser for a "very effective campaign" and went on to explain his decision.

He said: "As someone whose grandfather first arrived in the East End in the 1940s and who has spent most of my life here, I am convinced that our common history can be a force to bring together people with different cultural backgrounds.

"That is why, when I became Leader of Tower Hamlets Council a couple of months back, I promised the East London Advertiser's readers that I would do everything I could to ensure that we cherish the East End's unique heritage.

"Not long after that, I discovered that Queen Mary College had offered to buy our Bancroft Library.

"This proposal involved a multi million pound renovation of the historic Vestry Hall to house the internationally acclaimed Wiener Library.

"Having the Wiener Library in Tower Hamlets would really help our work to make sure today's generation understand the tragedy that befell the Jewish people the last time anti-Semitism was allowed to go unchecked.

"So I took the view that the offer required further investigation to see whether we could combine it with our own desire to make the Local History Library and Archive more accessible to the public.

"Our enquiries have now been completed and it is time for a decision. After receiving expert advice, it is clear to me that the archive cannot easily be separated from the Local History Library itself.

"It is also clear that the council does not, at present, have any other building capable of housing both the archive and library, let alone providing the quiet space researchers usually need.

"I have therefore decided that the Council will retain Bancroft for the Local History Library and archive.

"The challenge now is to secure the funding needed to complete the urgent repairs and bring the Vestry Hall back to its former glory.

"Having just committed the Council to invest £5 million in the long-overdue restoration of Victoria Park, I cannot at this stage commit a similar sum to the Bancroft.

"I have therefore instructed council officers to try to identify external sources of funding to help finance those works.

"In the meantime, we will be looking at how we can improve conditions in the History Library and increase public access.

"Our shared history is not something to be locked away or reserved for the few.

"It is something to be shared and celebrated by the many.

"That is very hard in the current cramped space, so I am seeing if more can be made available.

"My lead councillor for culture, Rofique Uddin Ahmed, will be coming forward with further details in the next few weeks.

"Finally, I would like to take this opportunity to thank the Advertiser and its readers for highlighting just how valuable a resource the Local History Library and Archive are to local people.

"I hope your campaign will not stop here, but will now get behind our efforts to persuade other public bodies to help finance the restoration of the Vestry Hall and give the Local History Library and Archive the home it deserves.

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