A GROUP of Irish women are fighting to prevent the closure of a 41-year-old institution that houses some of the most important collections of feminist material in Britain.
The London Irish Women’s Network (LIWN) are among the 20 international community groups who use London’s Feminist
Library on Westminster Bridge Road, for meetings, readings, exhibitions and events.
The library, which has been based in the Southwark venue for the past 30 years, is a volunteer-led organisation that now faces the prospect of eviction.
Over 15,500 people have signed a petition for Southwark Council to reconsider its changes to the terms of the library’s current rent agreement; a decision that was made following £47million of British Government council funding cuts.
Sarah O’Mahoney, a trustee at the library, whose father is from Co. Waterford, told The Irish Post that she is deeply concerned about the library’s future.
“It’s an activist space, not just an academic library,’ she said.
The library houses a collection of over 7,000 books and 1,500 periodical titles from around the world.
These include the work by prominent Irish writers Moy McCrory, Edna O’Brien, Julia O’Faolain and biographies such as Daughter of Derry by Margie Bernard.
Currently, the library pays the council an annual service charge of £12,000, following a seven-year rent-free period.
But the council are demanding an additional £18,000 in rent from this year on, bringing the library’s total yearly fee to £30,000.
Before its closure in 2012, the London Irish Women’s Centre had been based in Stoke Newington in north London for 29 years. It was then succeeded by Mind Yourself, an organisation based in Islington working to address health inequalities in the Irish community in London.
Following this, the LIWN was founded to connect Irish women who had moved to Britain over the past several decades, and
they became frequent users of the library venue.
Southwark Council issued the library with a notice that they would be required to pay an annual charge of £30,000 to rent space in the building before Christmas.
The library was given until March 1, the first day of Women’s History Month, to agree the new terms.
On February 24 a group representing the library delivered a petition to the council, which to date has been signed by 15,539 people.
It asked for the notice to evict the library to be withdrawn, and for the council to enter into negotiations to discuss the rent arrangements.
Following a meeting with Cllr Fiona Colley the council have agreed an extension to April 30.
By this time the library must decide whether to sign the new lease or move to an alternative premises.
Ms O’Mahoney added that the venue, which is home to the works of major international feminist writers, provides an extensive collection of historical texts.
“It [also] provides access to texts on a reference basis, and that inspires those that come into the library. There are artifacts and journals, but this is home to community groups who hold meetings here.
“We’re definitely concerned about its closure, with our collection of books we’d need to find somewhere suitable.”
A meeting between the library and council is due to take place next week, by which time it is hoped a resolution will be found.