Reading Proust

On Saturday 11th November at 3.30 pm at the library all were  invited to join an event backed by HLAG: reading aloud as a group the beginning of Proust’s Remembrance of Things Past. This event provided a way of getting into this wonderful book, which perhaps more people have heard of than have read. The event was also on  There were around 20 people present.We will now press on with meetings monthly from January aiming to finish the book in March.

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The feasibility study on Highgate Library’s potential relocation to Jacksons Lane Arts Centre has now been completed, with the results formally announced yesterday – and the outcome is “No”.

To cut a long story short, it comes down to cost. The sums which would be required to cover a relocation would be too great (even with the potential sale of the original library site) and the impact on Jacksons Lane’s existing work and cash turnover too negative. In other words, too much would be lost in exchange for too little return.

In all honesty, the idea was always something of a long shot. There was always the risk that the two endeavours might not fit together; and various practical objections were raised at the start of, and during the course of, the study. However, HLAG always believed that whatever the outcome, it was worth investigating the idea; and although discussions, negotiations and manoeuvres outside the process were often fraught, unpleasant and compromised, we’re pleased that the study itself proceeded smoothly and honestly.

Despite the difficult times and sore feelings, there has been a positive outcome from all of this in that the long and close contact which HLAG developed with the Jacksons Lane group will provide us with a further dimension for Highgate Library activity. Even though the two organisations will remain separate, we’ll be renting our upstairs rooms to the Arts Centre both during and after their reconstruction work, bringing in valuable revenue for the building. We also aim to develop further arts and literary programs to work on together.

For the foreseeable future, then, Highgate Library remains on Shepherds Hill. Since we do love our old building, this is a satisfactory outcome, although not one without ongoing challenges. Fine as the building is, it remains a little decrepit and sorely in need of investment and repair work (not least for its leaky roof). There also remains the matter of Haringey Council’s underhanded and premature move, in advance of the study conclusions, to place the site on its list of saleable assets. This was shameful, and will be fought. The Cabinet decision needs to be rescinded.

There are also questions regarding the potential “Highgate Station corridor” which includes the woodland green space to the side of the library linking Shepherds Hill to Priory Gardens. Although the Highgate Neighbourhood Scheme concluded that this area should not be redeveloped for housing but be preserved as it is (with some tidying up and improvements), and although they made the same strong recommendations to Haringey Council, achieving this much-desired outcome will rely very much on the Council’s good will and their respect for the neighbourhood. Judging by their recent form, we’ll need to watch them like hawks.

For now, though, our task and our pleasure will be to build up the library on Shepherds Hill, increase the visitors, offer support to the staff and think up new ideas to make it a real community hub for Highgate. Now is also the time to mend, repair and remedy some of the frustrations and indignations which emerged during the heated discussions on the potential move. We hope that all who have the interests of the library at heart will join to work together on this important journey.

(For those interested, Jacksons Lane will now proceed with redevelopment plans which don’t include the library. A formal community meeting to discuss them will be held at the Centre on Monday 18th September  at 6:30- more here.)

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News-sheet on June 22nd meetings re Jacksons Lane Co-Location Feasibility Study (plus updates and additional comment)

We’ve issued a news-sheet this week, covering the outcome of last week’s public meetings re the Feasibility Study for the potential Jacksons Lane Co-Location. You will find excepts below and a full text on a pdf.

HLAG involvement

Let’s be plain about this – HLAG has never wanted to move the library from Shepherds Hill. However, we felt that it was vital to be involved in discussions in order to keep library users briefed and in full understanding of what was happening. The project was one which raised crucial questions about the perception, future and survival of the library: it would have been wrong not to have been involved in the discussion. We have continued to speak for the library at these meetings. When the dust has settled we will be here still; working for the library.

We made sure from the start that basic requirements for any library in the Jacksons Lane building were clearly stated and adhered to: the equal amount of floor space, ground floor location, the separate entrance, the meeting rooms, natural light, disabled access if on upper level. We also stressed legal aspects regarding the lease.”

“The Study is now nearing its end, but several facts are still required before it can be concluded. HLAG has demanded two clear financial statements: (1) the actual costs of altering the building to include a library and (2) the viability of whether Jacksons Lane Arts Centre could continue with a diminished hireable space (having ceded part of it to the proposed library premises).

The vexed question of Public Consultation

 “One thing we’ve been queried on is why HLAG did not appear to back an immediate Public Consultation. The reason for this is that both Jacksons Lane Arts Centre and Haringey Council thought that these public meetings do constitute a public consultation. HLAG noted that previous Council papers and online surveys on libraries had been dismissed as badly-worded and unobjective; and thought that the local residents would reject a council paper consultation.

If there should be a need for a Public Consultation after the Feasibility study, it would need to be:  carefully worded, geographically restricted, , paper and online format, timed and adequately supervised .

Detailed Plans

There will be plans and comment papers available in the library, in Jacksons Lane and online from 10th July . Reactions to these will give the architect a clearer impression of which is the favoured option, if any.

“Once an option has been chosen, the project architect Katy Marks will be able to present specific costs. Only then will it become clear whether the proposal is feasible, and only after that can any properly informed key choices be made.”

The date is the end of July. There will be a further public meeting at that time.

“Unfortunately, although this process was embarked upon in good faith, it has been damaged by bad feeling and bad faith. Towards the start of the process,Haringey Council announced that they would fund the Jacksons Lane co-location project by an outright sale of the current library building and site. This aroused a great deal of bad feeling among library users and the community. An independent petition to protect the library in its current location was put on and gained many signatures: this in turn led to the formation of a new, independent organisation (Friends of Highgate Library Shepherds Hill) in early June 2017.

On the agenda for the meeting of the Cabinet on 20th June (just two days before the Feasibility Study open consultation day ) there was an “in principle” resolution to sell the library site. Both HLAG and FoHLSH sent deputations to the Council meeting to protest against this resolution in the strongest possible terms. At the meeting , Cllr. Kober announced a concession — if the library could not be accommodated on the Jacksons Lane site, a million pounds worth of “match funding” for the Arts Centre could and would be found without selling the Highgate Library site. Despite this, and with no discussion, there was a exempted part of the meeting at which the resolution was passed. This has left the community feeling betrayed and ignored and vulnerable. Despite our familiarity with Haringey Council’s workings over the years (including some harsh skirmishes), HLAG were deeply disappointed in the bad faith the Council displayed on this occasion, something which will inevitably colour our final conclusions.

Open Public Meeting 22nd July

“On 22nd June, open consultation meetings were held with the community to present the next stage of the Feasibility Study and explain the possible plans. These plans were based on discussions with Jacksons Lane, the Council and HLAG. Each group had presented a basic brief for the architect, Katy Marks. The resulting options were shown and explained, offering an opportunity for local people to comment on the plans. Comment sheets were available. The meetings were tense and combative, reflecting the frustrations, lack of trust and sense of betrayal felt by library users.

“While HLAG did not and has not made a final decision regarding the co-location project, we can report that all of the options presented at the meetings did present an appropriately sized space, a separate entrance and disabled access (at least satisfying some of the initial requirements). However, it was also clear that all of the options would involve huge costs just to make the space suitable; also, the loss of studio space for the Arts Centre may well prove too problematic for them. Katy Marks is only costing one option, and her figures will soon be available.

“At that point, HLAG will be able to state precisely where we stand; and to explain how we intend to move forward to keep our library fit for purpose. The library on Shepherds Hill, has ongoing problems which have not been dealt with. The refurbishment in 2002 was largely cosmetic and did not properly account for problems with the roof or the parquet floor or the need for a lift. If we are to deal properly with them, we will need funding. If there is to be no new modern library, will there be any finance for fixing the old one? Are there other sources for finance? All of these questions will need to be presented to – and negotiated with – Haringey Council.

As ever, we welcome constructive input from our library users, and membership applications from those who want to support our efforts.

For the full text of the original paper news-sheet as a pdf, click below:

Report on Feasibility Survey, 22nd June

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A Vision for Highgate Library

Haringey Council Library Service is presenting their vision for a new library at Jacksons Lane at a meeting on Wendesday, 19th July at Highgate WQood School at 7 pm.

It promises to be an exciting event –don’t miss it.

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Highgate Library Action Group has worked for the library for over twenty-five years – sometimes in line with Haringey Council policy and sometimes against. We have always based our work on the expectation that the library would stay in its wonderful old original building. This position has not changed.

The proposal to move Highgate Library to Jacksons Lane came as a surprise . HLAG was invited to join the feasibility study as an involved representative group of users. We knew that library users felt a strong loyalty to our existing building, and there would be opposition to any move; but if Council policy was to locate a new modern library in the Jacksons Lane building, it would clearly be vital to know what such a move would involve (specifically, and in detail). HLAG decided to hold back on making any outright “pro-” or “anti-” statement until discussions took place. Since then, we have met with the Haringey Council Library Service, the Trustees and the Chief Executive of Jacksons Lane, and the proposed project architect in both open and closed meetings. Throughout these meetings, our role has been to question the plans from a practical point of view. Some of these questions are listed below.

  • Would it be possible to recreate a similar-sized library within the Jacksons Lane building, without compromising the financial viability of the Centre?
  • What would such a library look like, and what advantages would there be for the users?
  • Who would have overall responsibility for the library, and who would fund it?
  • Would this move be best for the library?
  • What does the future hold for our library in the present building? and will there be any money for repainting or running repairs?
  • What other future plans do Haringey Council have for their branch libraries?

To speed discussion, HLAG quickly produced accurate floor areas of the library and outline of use. We asked Haringey Council for statements on the present and future funding of the library space. We also took firm positions on the subjects of space-sharing, on the siting and arrangement of appropriate entrances, and on the future integrity of the space (should Council policy on branch libraries change).

The results of the feasibility study to date, following initial discussions, are being presented to the public on June 22nd , and will consist of several suggested plans by the architect. At this point, there will be the opportunity for further constructive feedback from the public regarding whether the plan is workable, and (if so) which amendments may be required.

Until this point, HLAG is reserving judgement on the Jacksons Lane proposal. The onus is very much on the architect and Jacksons Lane to demonstrate that a relocation would both work and be beneficial to the library, without a deterioration in quality. We’ve avoided making much use of social media to comment on the project, since this can and often does lead to misunderstandings and unnecessary conflict. However, we can state unequivocably that HLAG is committed to maintaining Highgate Library as a quality branch library. As a group, HLAG has invested a great deal of personal time and effort in preserving and improving the existing building, and has a powerful emotional and practical attachment to it.


22nd JUNE 11am and 6:30 pm

at Jacksons Lane and then at Highgate Library

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Sue Chinn



This is a personal note on the Chair of the Highgate Library Action Group, Sue Chinn, by Michael O’Callaghan, A HLAG committee member.

In Sue Chinn we have a remarkably effective and dedicated community activist, who has been protecting amenities and boosting public services around Highgate  for nearly fifty years.

Highgate is peppered with the results of her activities, with examples such as Parkland Walk, Jackson’s Lane and of course, Highgate Library.

Sue started small. In 1969 she joined the Miltons Neighbourhood Improvement Campaign and became Chair a few years later. Then, as a part of the ARC 73 protest movement she resisted the rebuilding and expansion of Archway Road.

Gradually Sue built up her network of stakeholders and opinion formers who came to trust her, even when an apparently opposing sides. Her influence spread via MPs and the local authority. She learned not only campaigning as an individual but also how to form structures and involve others.

In 1975 she joined the committee to keep housing off Parkland Walk, which operated with remarkable success.

Sue was part of the original committee planning Jacksons Lane

In 1995 Sue joined the Highgate Library Action Group and notably in 1998 fought council plans to cut the number of libraries in Haringey down to just three big ones. She also became Chair of HLAG round about that time. However, she is not the longest serving member of the HLAG committee – that honour goes to Sarah Wrighton who has been on the committee since 1988 – nearly 30 years – and is Sue’s trusted partner in running the committee.

As Sue’s experience as a social activist grew, so did her ability to form more complex organisations. Sue in 1995 created  Libraries for Life for Londoners (LLL) and this has separate Camden and Islington groups. Sue was co-Chair of this until 2015.

Sue has also worked with groups at a national level. As a member of the national “The Library Campaign” Sue marched on Parliament to support libraries.

In 1999 Sue, with Mary Hoffman, formed Friends of Reading and Education (FORE )in Haringey. This was a new type of organisation that existed to drive and foster other organisations, enabling Sue’s influence, and the influence of like-minded activists to be projected ever wider.

It supports all library Friends groups (plus pensioners, librarians etc.) fighting major council cuts in library provision.

Through HLAG Sue continues to support Highgate Library, contributing her keen understanding of public policy issues, her ethical approach and trademark gentle and effective persuasion.

In my opinion she is the library’s most dedicated friend and supporter, and has been for many years. I find the depth and breadth of her overall influence as an activist quite remarkable. I do wonder if there are any other cases of individuals who as volunteers have been so effective at persuasion and organization.

I particularly wanted to write this down because Sue’s modesty means that her story is little known.





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Lively AGM

The Chairman’s Report by Susan Chinn was presented in two parts:

Part 1:

HLAG’s main job is supporting the library. In 2016-7 we have done this two ways.First: we have ensured a new generation of library users by supporting activities for children –Sing and Rhyme, the Pumpkin Party, and the Garden Party –-and by donating books and requesting them.

Second: we joined the other library Friends groups in FORE (Friends of Reading and Education) to fight — successfully — against the proposed £150,000 of cuts to the library service.

We have committed ourselves to supporting the staff in whatever they do and we praise them for keeping a steady feeling of calm and welcome in the face of changes in status and service.

Many thanks to our committee, whose members often have other commitments of family and work, have given time and energy to our projects.

Part 2

A discussion of the Future

At the end of March –just 8 weeks ago—Sarah Wrightson and I were called to a meeting at Jacksons Lane Arts Centre. We were then told of the idea of moving the library across the road to join the theatre and cultural activities in the Jacksons Lane building.

At that point we had three choices:

  • to declare that we would be totally opposed
  • to let Jacksons Lane and Haringey meet and discuss without us
  • to join in discussions about the feasibility of the project

We decided to talk.

In the subsequent publicity announcement from Haringey, HLAG was presented as one of the three groups behind this project, and this has meant that many people think we originated it. This is not true. The idea came from the Jacksons Lane Trustees who presented it to the Council (owners of the building) who thought it was a great idea and enthusiastically agreed. However they knew, because of HLAG’s long history of interference in anything speculative or perilous to do with the library, that we had to be included in the discussions. So, sensibly, we were invited.

It was explained to us that this opportunity to create “an exciting new community arts and culture hub…with new and upgraded library services..” came about because of the need for Haringey to contribute to the capital refurbishment of the Centre. The eventual sale of the library site would provide the funding needed.

From this intital suggestion onwards, HLAG has been taking a full part in all meetings and discussions, putting the library and the needs of the Library Service (as well as those of Jacksons Lane) into place. We used the abilities of our committee members (architects and surveyors) to make initial measurements of our space and suggested research into what might exist as lost space under the building . We provided a wide approach to the proposition, asking how a free public service could work in a commercial space.

This does NOT mean that we have automatically supported the proposal. This does NOT mean that we have wanted to lose our beloved building. This does NOT mean we have made it easy for anyone. It means that we have ALWAYS asked if the aim of matching the library space in this building in Jacksons Lane could be achieved. It means that we have facilitated the most wide-ranging approach to the project .

We have also considered the problem of where- -and in what state– the library will be in five years. In a time of increasing threats to library funding, staffing, premises, even existence, it is always best to carefully and constructively consider all strategic options.

In doing so we have always had in mind the unique position of Haringey in North London (and indeed in the country as a whole) as a council that has kept all its libraries. But with each passing year in this austerity cycle, the financial support for the Library Service has dropped until it is nearly at unsustainable levels. In the next few years the branch libraries may be forced to close. The sale of Highgate Library might then become inevitable in the eyes of the council’s Finance Director. Should we be taking this into consideration as supporters of the library? If our library is to survive, is it to be an all-or-nothing scenario of this library in this building?

Following this speech, there was a full and frank open discussion about many of the complex issues surrounding this proposed joint enterprise. Cllr Claire Kober, leader of the Council spoke on the council’s point of view (noting that the two organisations would have separate funding) as did Cllr. Jason Arthur and Trustees of Jacksons Lane. The Architect for the feasibility study, Katy Marks of the Citizens Design Bureau, explained the reasoning behind it, the difficulties and the possible solutions.

There were many objections both in principle and in method to the project and to the way in which the feasibility study had been arranged. Leaders behind the petition against the project spoke forcefully of their view that the library should remain intact and on site. Financial constraints were a major concern and the position of public services (especially libraries ) under future auterity restrictions.

At the conclusion of the meeting, a show of hands supported the proposition that the meeting had been informative and useful and that the decision to continue to be part of the discussions was correct.

The next public meeting of the feasibility study would be held on 22nd June all day at the library and in the afternoon at Jacksons Lane for tours of the space. All were urged to come and present their views.

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HLAG AGM is on Wednesday 24th May at 7:30. Come and hear all points of view and express yours.  History and consideration of the future of public libraries under review. Nothing is settled, nothing is secretly planned.

First part of the meeting from 7pm is for HLAG members.

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Breaking news! Could Highgate Library join forces with Jacksons Lane Centre?

Would it be possible to embed the library within Jacksons Lane Arts Centre (when it is refurbished and repaired) to make a new cultural hub in Highgate?

Meetings are now underway to determine if this idea is at all feasible. Important considerations include

  • Whether or not the amount of space needed for a library would take too much rentable space to be an economic possibility for Jacksons Lane.
  • What is the future for libraries nationwide as well as in Haringey?
  • What do people want from a library in 2020 that could happen in a mixed-use space?

There will be discussions and workshops on these subjects at the library on the 17th May, led by the architect Katy Marks.

Everyone will be welcomed to share in this important exercise, whether or not they use the library at the moment.

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Cakes and Music and Poetry

The library hosted two new ventures in January, February and March –two Cake Club meetings and the other a celebration of poetry on World Poetry Day –and the participants munched and listened and enjoyed!

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