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Support calls flood in as council announces U-turn on Bancroft

PUBLISHED: 15:31 14 October 2008 | UPDATED: 13:41 05 October 2010

Tower Hamlets Council s decision to scrap plans to sell off the Bancroft Road library has sparked an overwhelming tide of support calls: Tom Ridge local historian who fought to save the library said: Cllr Lutfur Rahman is to be congratulated on his deci

Tower hamlets Council's decision to scrap plans to sell off the Bancroft Road library has sparked an overwhelming tide of support calls:

Tom Ridge local historian who fought to save the library said: "Cllr Lutfur Rahman is to be congratulated on his decision to keep the local history library and archives at Bancroft Library. This is good news for all concerned, but we have asked for the whole building to be reused as the Tower Hamlets Local History Centre. We therefore hope that the council will make the necessary financial commitment to secure funding from elsewhere."

Clive Bettington, who met council chiefs with Tom Ridge to secure a decision said: "On behalf of the Jewish East End Celebration Society I welcome the Council's decision to save the building and the local history library. It contains important Jewish documents which reflect the fact that Jews have been settled in the area for about 400 years. My society will do everything possible to ensure the requisite funding is raised and that the council honours its obligations."

Shadow Culture Secretary Ed Vaizey MP who was asked to leave Bancroft Road by a council official during his fact-finding visit last month said: "I am delighted the archive appears to have been saved, and congratulate everyone involved in the campaign, particularly Cllr Peter Golds and the East London Advertiser. With luck, next time I come to visit I will find a thriving archive and won't be chucked out! I will be keeping a close eye on the issue and will hold Tower Hamlets to their commitment."

Professor Bill Fishman, former visiting Professor of Political Studies at Queen Mary College said: "I have sent many students to Mr Barr-Hamilton and Mr Lloyd and there have been absolutely first class reports from them. They have been very helpful over the years that I have been teaching and I was of the view that they should be helped over this crisis. I am thankful to those who came to the conclusion that it should be maintained."

Historian Professor Jerry White who has spent many hours researching in the library said: "This is great news for all who love the East End and its history.

"I'm very pleased the council has had a change of heart, and all credit to it for listening to local residents and other users of the library. All efforts now need to be directed to funding a refurbishment of Bancroft Road Library and revenue support to allow it to give greater access to the its wonderful collections."

Poet and musician Benjamin Zephaniah who credits the role Bancroft Road played in his education said: "In this country we spend a lot of time criticising the press, and so we should, it's good for democracy, it keeps the press and the public awake; but when the press and the people are united anything is possible.

Our victory in saving the Bancroft Library shows just how a local newspaper such as the East London Advertiser can connect and work for the good of local people. We must look forward, we must progress, but we must protect our heritage. Well done east London."

Bethnal Green and Bow MP George Galloway was behind an Early Day Motion supporting the archives. He has also used it to introduce It Girl Lady Victoria Hervey to working class history for a tv show.

He commented: "Perhaps there's something in the water in the East End, but our community has proved once again that we will stand up for what we value... and will win.

"The Bancroft library campaign, led by the East London Advertiser, has forced the New Labour council to listen, at least on this issue. The lesson is clear: a vigorous high profile campaign gets results.

"I am proud to have been associated with the campaign, in parliament, in the local media, at meetings and on the streets.

"But this not the beginning of the end, it's just the end of the beginning. What the Bancroft needs now is the investment to bring the archive and library up to scratch. That investment will pay off, with more researchers using the facilities and our children having an opportunity to learn more about the place they live in.

"The Bancroft should be a magnet attracting interest in the East End from all over the world. With poverty, sadly, not simply a matter of Victorian history, but a blight on children's lives today, and with a chill wind setting in from the City down the Whitechapel Road, we need every spotlight turned to our borough to highlight its needs, but also the achievements of its people."

Writer Gilda O' Neill who has written novels and memoirs about growing up in Bethnal Green said: "It is a wonderful decision for everyone - and a credit to our council - that the archives and local history library will remain at Bancroft. Now is the perfect opportunity to restore that very special building and to use it fully as the Tower Hamlets Local History Centre, making it a real asset to our community as a place of future and continued research, scholarship and learning."

East London History Society chairman Philip Mernick said: "It appears to be good news. The only caveat is it depends on raising funds - that's always the problem anywhere.

"The building needs more money and we need a rather more definite plan.

"Tower Hamlets needs some sort of museum. An awful lot more could be done to promote the library. They have got space upstairs and we would like to see it expanded and to see investment."

Sarah Wise, who used Bancroft to research her books about Bethnal Green The Italian Boy and The Blackest Streets: The Life and Death of A Victorian Slum commented: "I'm so thrilled that the treasure house that is Tower Hamlets Local Studies Library and Archive is to stay in its natural home - Bancroft Road. In the course of my work I use many archives and libraries, and consider that Chris Lloyd and Malcolm Barr-Hamilton are two of the most dedicated and expert archivists I have ever come across.

"What's more, the collection is astonishing in its range, and is currently catalogued and arranged in a manner that allows the researcher to move seamlessly from printed book, to original document, to photograph to microfilm. I was very concerned that any move or rearrangement of the collection would disrupt the smooth flow and tight turnaround of delivery that is currently offered.

"As I have sat in the reading room, I have watched as the world has come to Bancroft Road: the East End has a global diaspora, and the descendants of Eastenders come from far and wide to research their ancestry. This truly is a collection of international clout. It's wonderful that the council has come to see it in this way too."

Restaurateur and historian Faruque Ahmed used the library to help him research the history of the Bengali press in Britain and Random Memories about the experiences of Tasadduq Ahmed in Britain and Bangladesh. He is currently writing a book about Bengali politics in the UK.

He said: "Thank you to the East London Advertiser and Tom Ridge for playing a strong role. I think we will continue to campaign to reach our goal to modernise the building. All the archives should be on a digital system and we should work together."

Ed Glinert, historian whose books include The London Compendium said: "It's great news that Tower Hamlets say they want to save the place.

"I am sure that they can find the funds when they want to."

Andrew Holden, the head of advocacy and campaigns for MLA London (Museums, Libraries and Archives London) said: "MLA London welcomes the resolution of the short-term future of the archive and local studies library at Bancroft Road. The campaign highlighted the huge importance local people put on their heritage, and the world-wide reputation which the archive holds.

"This is a real opportunity for the archive service to begin to flourish. Archives contribute in many ways to core council priorities around learning and community cohesion in particular and we aim to highlight this so the council understands that investment in the archive is money well spent.

"The Bancroft Road library building has suffered from severe underinvestment over a long period, and the council faced very difficult choices about how to take care of the archive. We are pleased it has decided to accept co-location of the archive and local studies library in the same building, which ensures a more reliable and efficient service for users.

"We are also pleased the council will be investing in the short-term improvement of access to the collection and facilities at Bancroft Road. In the long-term we look forward to supporting every effort to develop the service more fully."

Liberal Democrat leader Councillor Stephanie Eaton, Bethnal Green North, said: "I am delighted that, at long last, the Leader of the Council has listened to the views of local people and agreed to retain the Bancroft Library and archive in its present location. I am still worried about the long term future of the library as the plans for Wood Wharf on the Isle of Dogs state that there will be an Idea Store with the local history library and archive placed in it. Will we need to revive the "Save Bancroft Library" campaign in 10 years time when Wood Wharf is ready?"

Councillor Peter Golds who represents Blackwall and Cubitt Town for the Conservatives and invited Shadow Culture minister Ed Vaizey to the library said: "I am delighted that the administration has listened to the voices of people from Tower Hamlets and indeed all over the world to save our superb historic library and Borough archives. This has been a remarkable campaign that has bought together a coalition of people from every possible political standpoint, creed and origin. Now, having secured the future of the archive in Bancroft, is the time to ensure that all the facilities are bought up to an appropriate standard."

Jeremy Moody, development officer of the Whitechapel Society added: "We are absolutely delighted at the result. Our organisation was one of the first to organise a petition. Many of our members have researched there. A fantastic job was done to get the petition to Downing Street.

"We are absolutely thrilled to bits about it. It's a resource which needs to be saved for future generations. The number of our members from overseas who go to Bancroft Road to do some research when they come over to our meetings.

"I would like to see more people using it and I would like to see the place advertise itself a little bit better.

"Anything that can enhance the enjoyment of the people using it should be looked at."

Dr Mike Berlin, lecturer in history, Birkbeck College said: "Congratulations to all, and especially to the Advertiser. You've done a great service to preserving East London History."

Jeremy Corbyn, Labour MP for Islington North said: "This is good news but the issue must be resolved permanently.

"The collection is a priceless asset and it is the duty of public services to preserve our heritage for future generations."

David Mander, chairman of Archives for London said: "We thought what they were trying to do was totally retrograde.

"There is not enough space for group working on the site and the building is not disability discrimination act compliant.

"We are hoping to continue to provide future service and consultation. If they come to us we would be happy to provide that."

He said the council's plan to divide the service was unique in London and he would like to see more investment.

"My impression is that money is not an issue for Tower Hamlets council."

Councillor Ahmed Hussain, who represents Mile End East, who was asked by a council official to leave the library along with Ed Vaizey said: "I am delighted to know that the Bancroft Library is saved, thank you to all that has campaigned to save it specially ELA and our group leader Cllr Peter Golds who kept the pressure on the Labour group in Town Hall. This is a great victory for the heritage and the library itself. I am happy to be reassured that the information of Bangladeshi migration to the East end and all the articles related to the 1971 independence war has now been saved."

Eve Hostettler of Island history said: "Well done Ted and many thanks on behalf of all the many members of Island History scattered round the UK and overseas."

Councillor Denise Jones, Tower Hamlets heritage champion said: "We never said we were going to close it.

"I want more conversations about it. There are a lot of people who are interested in it who is not come forward on that consultation day (last year)."

She added: "I would like to open it up to exhibitions to make it better fro younger people.

"It's a fantastic resource. In the longer term I think we need to have it in digital form as well.

Anthony Spiro, chairman of the Wiener Library said: "We are extremely disappointed not only for ourselves but also for Queen Mary who I am sure would have made splendid use of that building for the benefit of the borough.

"It's also disappointing that a building which is really quite run down and would have been restored to quite a high standard will continue in a pretty poor state.

"The first time that we saw the building with Tower Hamlets officials they explained to us that relocation of the local history library is really not a problem, especially as they had so few visitors. Location was not an issue and clearly Tower Hamlets have moved the goalposts by telling us and Queen Mary that they were extremely keen that the building would change hands and finding a home for the library was not a problem for them, they have changed their position 180 degrees."

He added: "I think the biggest loser in it is the residents of Tower Hamlets."

A spokeswoman for Queen Mary, University of London said:

"This is a matter for the Council. We were happy to make an offer for the purchase of the building, but equally knew that a purchase might not be possible in the end. We very much hope that this important listed building will be restored to a good condition.

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