More for Mereside?

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Chloe White, age eight, of Mereside, moved from central Blackpool a month ago and already likes it. “A lot.”

There are “nice kids” at her new school, and Mereside branch library has just reopened.

As a regular at Revoe Library for homework, books and computers, Chloe needed her local library to stay open. Mum Joanne Kirkwood did too. “I need it for my CV,” she admits.

It’s shut, and shuttered, when the pair drop by, but that’s no longer permanent. The new Labour-led Blackpool Council overturned the former Tory administration’s decision to close Mereside and Grange Park branch libraries.

There’s a Bit of a Do, as organisers advertise it, at the City Learning Centre, Grange Park, on Saturday, to celebrate, among other things, the reopening of Boundary Library.

There is no such “do”, for Mereside’s library, on the junction of Langdale Road and Crummock Place, the librarian brought back from the brink of redundancy. The shutters will be back up, albeit with revised hours, yet to be promoted online by Blackpool Council.

The library is no longer set to join the town’s other “ghost” libraries, eerily empty since the last round of closures.

But it would be nice, says mum Michelle Davenport, who grew up on Mereside, if there was a “bit of a do” for Mereside too. “For the sake of the kids.”

Children helped save both libraries. In Grange Park, with some usually vocal adult campaigners silent on the issue, kid power triumphed.

One plucky lad, a 10-year-old called Jack, even skipped school (don’t tell) to glower down on councillors , from the public gallery, at the budget-setting meeting which sealed Boundary’s fate (pre-election), and protested he wanted a “proper library run by a proper librarian” rather than well-meaning amateurs from big society ranks.

Others register support in subtle ways. I drop by at Boundary, to hear a smart, well-spoken lady, who generally uses uber-invested Palatine Library, take out 10 books as part of her “direct action” to keep this branch open.

At some at-risk libraries borrowers have been urged to take their full quota home, to clear the shelves, and show others what they could be missing if libraries close. Bookworms are closet anarchists.

While JK Rowling may have gone to the dark side, readers downloading e-books direct from her website, to the horror of traditional publishers, Roald Dahl fans Sammy Garner-Jones, nine, sister Courtney, eight, Natasha Riedel, eight, Kiera Davis, 10 (Jacqueline Wilson reader), and Jack Singleton, six (who likes Julia Donaldson’s Day Monkey Night Monkey) prefer “proper books”. They use Boundary for books, homework and computers. Sammy adds: “Lots of old people go there too. We shouldn’t close libraries.”

On Mereside, Chloe (favourite book Where’s Wally) agrees. “I hope it’s safe now,” she adds.

The estate has similar issues to Grange Park, albeit with less visible investment, and not so much of a sprawl of housing. It has a sense of community, a sociable spirit, refreshing after the transience, and tourism, which defines our town centre.

It’s all the more apparent in the signs in the post office window, next block to the library, on Langdale Road. Knitting nanas, pensioners’ groups, kids’ activities, all advertised here.

Step within, and just below The Gazettes on sale is a collection point, with one of our articles, for local toddler Arvie-James Toth, who has flat head syndrome. “People look out for each other here,” says Lorraine Marshall who’s run the post office since her Pedders Lane, Marton, branch closed five years ago.

Most customers filled in the petition to save the library. “One old lady told me she had to take her books to Revoe, as Mereside had closed. It was horrible. The library’s a lifeline.”

Heidi Tooth, who works at the post office, has lived at Mereside for 11 years. “There’s a real sense of community here. The post office is a centre, too. You get all the banter, the problems. People were very upset about the library.”

Neighbouring baker Deborah Harvey has lived on Mereside 30 years, and raised her two boys here, says the library’s “crucial”. “Older people go there, for a natter. Closing the library would rip the heart out the community.” Fellow workers Joanna Barker and Zoe Bronwyn-Hughes agree.

Linda McEvilly, who distributes aid to Mereside’s needy through her Care and Share scheme, run from her Bowness Avenue home, says: “Cutbacks are killing. They’re turning the clock back to the ’50s, National Assistance days when my mam was told to sell her piano before she could get help.

“We’re closing libraries and police stations, losing housing support workers, cutting grants, yet spending billions in foreign aid? Charity starts at home. Saving our library is a step in the right direction but we’ve got a long way to go on Mereside.”