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Kensal Rise Library's victorious re-opening following eight-year battle

PUBLISHED: 08:18 04 October 2019

MPs and councillors come to congratulate Friends of Kensal Rise Library who successfully battled the re-opening of the public space. PIcture: David Nathan

MPs and councillors come to congratulate Friends of Kensal Rise Library who successfully battled the re-opening of the public space. PIcture: David Nathan

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Campaigners re-opened the doors to Kensal Rise Library on Saturday to celebrate a "tremendous victory" by the community that has fought a major battle for eight years to protect the public space.

Actor Tamsin Greig at the re-launch of Kensal Rise Library. Picture: David NathanActor Tamsin Greig at the re-launch of Kensal Rise Library. Picture: David Nathan

Hundreds of wellwishers attended Kensal Rise Community Library, in Bathurst Gardens, for its grand opening ceremony, which coincided with the anniversary of its opening by Mark Twain in 1900.

Actor Tamsin Greig gave a reading of the American author's Pudd'nhead Wilson, there was music from violinist Dmitri van Zwanenberg, and the Kensal Choir sang Moon River in homage to the "Huckleberry" writer.

Political support came from Brent Central's Dawn Butler MP, Hampstead & Kilburn's Tulip Siddiq MP, Brent Council leader Muhammed Butt and a number of other councillors.

The library was closed along with five others by Brent Council in 2011 to save £1million. Since then the community has relentlessly campaigned, fundraised and, finally, refurbished the space.

Waiting for name played at the opening of Kensal Rise Library. PIcture: David NathanWaiting for name played at the opening of Kensal Rise Library. PIcture: David Nathan

The opening marked a final triumph after fights with the council, developers, and even a college at Oxford University.

Central to the celebrations was the return and unveiling of the Mark Twain plaque, which was removed along with books in a night-time raid on the library in 2012.

Margaret Bailey, chair of trustees of the Friends of Kensal Rise Library (FoKRL), said: "What has kept us going for almost 10 years is the constant support from the community and beyond.

"We all feel pretty vindicated - it was right for us to challenge the council, the developer, All Souls College Oxford - our fight means we have saved something that is important to us.

Margaret Bailey, chair of  Friends of Kensal Rise Library. PIcture: David NathanMargaret Bailey, chair of Friends of Kensal Rise Library. PIcture: David Nathan

"What a tremendous victory for a community to have fought the powers ranged against us - fought and won."

FoKRL campaigner Stephanie Schonfield added: "The opening of Kensal Rise Community Library is a profound cause for celebration after such a long, collective struggle.

"The fight has demanded almost 10 years of extraordinary effort by people who have never made a library before.

"The community's stubborn passion has prevailed.

"Let lives be brightened and inspired by Kensal Rise Library. And let that light continue to shine, as future generations take up the torch."

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Huckleberry Finn author Twain opened the original Reading Room on September 27, 1900.

Brent Council, under the leadership of former councillor Ann John OBE, closed the Victorian library handing back the building to its owner, All Souls College.

While the land was owned by the college, the building had been paid for by public subscription and a donation from Andrew Carnegie, the philanthropist.

FoKRL had the building listed as an Asset of Community Value (ACV) in 2012, before it was sold by All Souls College to developer Andrew Gillick.

Further drama ensued when Mr Gillick attempted to sell the building at auction but failed to find a buyer.

In 2014 it was finally sold to to Uplift Properties, which said it would maintain a library within its redevelopment.

Heavyweights who had fought to save the library, including authors Zadie Smith and Alan Bennett, continued to give their support to the huge fundraising drive.

Alan Bennett, who sent a message of support as he was unable to attend the launch, said: "I'm delighted Kensal Rise has kept its library.

"It's a real cause for celebration and generations of readers, parents and children will be in your debt. Alleluia!"

Lady Antonia Fraser, creator of the Jemima Shore detective series, who took part in a Q&A fundraiser in June, said: "I'm delighted that the Kensal Rise Library is once again open, thanks to tremendous local community spirit and a group of wonderful volunteers."

Ms Bailey added: "Libraries are important to people - they provide a civilising thread that strengthens our communities giving them a coherence born out of shared values that respect the written word.

"The world of stories, skills, history, ideas, information, reflection and respect for different points of view.

"Communities know their worth and that is why they fight for them."

Cllr Butt put on social media: "#HumblePie time. We can work with the community to deliver positive outcomes for the everyone.

"Thank you to everyone for their hard work. Hasn't been easy [but] we got there."

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