Balloch Library should be spared the Labour council axe, according to these protesters who turned up at a meeting of West Dunbartonshire Council on Wednesday.

By Bill Heaney

Balloch, Jamestown, Haldane and Levenvale residents turned out in force once again this week in a bid to persuade West Dunbartonshire Council to save the community library in Carrochan Road.

But the protesters, nearly all of them women, were disgracefully snubbed by the elected members after taking their plea to keep their library open to a meeting in the council’s headquarters in Church Street, Dumbarton, on Wednesday evening.

They were utterly dismayed to hear the meeting chairman, Labour Provost Douglas McAllister, who is the prospective Labour candidate for West Dunbartonshire for the upcoming Westminster election, announce that they would not be granted a hearing.

And astounded that SNP opposition councillors, who had brazenly taken part in the placard-carrying protest outside and the photo opportunity that went with it, refused to second Community Party councillor Jim Bollan’s motion that they should be heard.

Cllr Bollan, left, of the Community Party,  was the only councillor at the meeting who supported the women.

He said later: “The Labour Council made 45 cuts to services which were included in the £21 million cut they made in the Council budget.

“These are Tory cuts which originated from Westminster, yet were still applied by Labour.

“Balloch Library closure was one of these dreadful cuts which is opposed by a huge number of local people evidenced by a packed public gallery at the Council Meeting on Wednesday.

“Yet the Labour chair, Cllr Douglas McAllister, who is the Provost, refused them a hearing which was a cowardly act.

“Labour say there is no money but are spending £20.3 million on the heavily contaminated land at the old Esso site in Bowling. Enough is enough.

“Balloch Library could be the red line we have been waiting for.”

Hannah Redford, chairperson of the local Parent Council, had in order to be heard to shout from the public gallery before the protesters walked out in anger.  She told me: “I can’t believe this. It’s ridiculous to treat us this way. Some of the people here today have gone to a great deal of trouble to get here. These councillors are supposed to be representing us. That’s what we voted them in for, and now this. They appear to be representing only themselves.”

The town clock striking four o’clock on the steeple of  Riverside Church across the street may have been sounding the death knell for local democracy in Dunbartonshire.

The protesters had brought with them placards on small pieces of wood signalling that a petition to save the village library from closure had attracted more than 1,000 signatures of support.

They were ordered to take the wood off their  placards and to have in their possession specially printed VISITOR cards before they were allowed in to the public gallery where the numbers are limited.

The community has stepped up its fight against West Dunbartonshire Council’s plans to move the library to Balloch Campus, which currently accommodates Balloch and St Kessog’s Primary schools as well as an early learning and childcare centre.

Christine Fraser, who is currently on crutches and struggled to get to the meeting, said she had lived in the Haldane area all her life and had been a teacher for 30 years and had always been listened to and treated with respect by her local councillor, Margaret McGregor.

She was dismayed by what had happened on Wednesday – “The SNP councillors all came into the line up for the photographs that were taken for the press but then refused to second Cllr Jim Bollan’s motion that the council should listen to what we had to say. They even held up our posters, but they were lying to us.

“Our library here is not just a library. It doesn’t just lend out books. People looking for jobs come in here to use the computers to make applications for work. That would not happen in the school campus where there is only about a third of the space we currently have at the library.

“Mothers bring their children to the library for baby massages and other services. There are sessions for toddlers to start them reading. It’s a place where the mothers feel they can meet safely. “

The women said there are also security aspects to this. That “men in dirty raincoats” could come into the campus – “We don’t think there are pedophiles in our community. We wouldn’t like to think there are, but you never know and you can’t be too careful or put small children at risk.”

The protesters said that even the staff at the library were deeply concerned about what might transpire if they were forced to move the library to the school campus. They could even lose their jobs.

“If Labour said they were against the cuts and blamed them all on the SNP then why are they implementing them now,” one woman said.

The CHANGE petition form states that  Balloch Library is “cornerstone of our community in Haldane and Balloch” – and questions the logic behind closing it, just six years after a £100,000 refurbishment.

Margaret Croft, who set up the petition, said: “This cherished institution is scheduled to be closed by the local authority, a decision that will affect us all – from our youngest members to those seeking employment, and the elderly.

“For many pre-school children in our community, Balloch Library is their first introduction to the world of books and reading.

“The Book Bug and Storytelling sessions held at the library are not just educational resources; they are lifelines for young mothers who bring their children here. These gatherings provide an opportunity for mothers to meet new friends and avoid isolation.

“The closure of Balloch Library would be more than just losing a building; it would mean losing a vital resource that supports learning, fosters community spirit, and combats social isolation across all age groups in Haldane and Balloch.

Balloch Campus schools
Balloch Campus would be home to the library under the plans. 

“We urge the local authority to reconsider this decision. The value that our library brings to our community far outweighs any potential savings from its closure.”

Margaret added: “The massive overhaul of the library in 2017 cost £100,000 and saw it become the first library outside Glasgow to offer free use of 12 computers to residents as well as complimentary wi-fi.

“Local job seekers use this facility, where staff are on hand, as an important setting for job searches. Author visits and community meetings make Balloch Library the very essence of what a community library should be.”

Margaret said: “Another deeply unsettling decision by our local councillors has seen the bizarre decision to move the library across the road to the Balloch Campus of our local schools.

“Schools have a duty to safeguard and protect their pupils, difficult to do with a public library within the building.

“There is no extra space within the school to establish a library. There is very little space in a campus where at least two schools already share the assembly, gym and dinner halls. Car parking would also be impossible.”

Bernadette Boyd said: “It is one of the best examples of a community library there could be. Relocating to the primary school campus is a ridiculous and short-sighted idea. Shame on councillors in this area if this goes ahead.”

GV of Balloch Library
The facility was hailed by one resident as “the perfect example of a community library.” 

One man, Hugh McCourt, told a reporter: “This much loved local library has served adults and children alike for many years, with access to different kinds of book, that have enhanced the learning of local children and provided escapism through its books to adults. It is inexcusable that the council would close this place of learning and entertainment just to save a few pennies.”

And Emma Truscott added: “I live in Balloch. The library is very important to me. I have mobility issues and getting to the library in Alexandria would be difficult.  This library is well used and I often see children doing their homework there.

“I come from a single parent family and the library was instrumental in me getting the grades I needed to go to university. Depriving other children of a quiet, warm space to study is undemocratic and harms social mobility.”

Council leader Martin Rooney said visitors to the library will have no access to any areas within the school. Like other cuts ordered by the SNP government, the new Labour administration had no choice but to implement them. There was a £20 million deficit in the Council accounts when Labour took over.

He added: “Everyone knows that the council has a significant funding gap and doesn’t receive sufficient funding from the Scottish Government to support our existing services. This means that we have to increase income and reduce our costs.

“The re-location of the library to Balloch Campus ensures the continuation of local library provision in the area and helps to protect library staff jobs.”

West Dunbartonshire’s branch of Unison held an open meeting for staff and locals to discuss the proposals.

You can view and sign the petition at www.change.org/p/prevent-the-closure-of-balloch-library-by-local-authority.

There will be another protest by local people outside the Balloch Campus on Monday evening at 6.15pm. Your support will be greatly appreciated.

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