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Bury St Edmunds: Older residents are affected by loss of mobile library service

14:00 25 January 2013

Suffolk

Suffolk's Libraries IPS' new general manager Alison Wheeler

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PEOPLE who relied on a mobile library service say they have been left without a lifeline after it was axed on their estate.

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Alison Hempstead, a volunteer with the Alzheimer’s Society, said the mobile library used to come every month to the Horringer Court estate in Bury St Edmunds, but now users had been told their stop had been cut.

Suffolk Libraries Industrial and Provident Society (IPS) took over control of Suffolk’s libraries from Suffolk County Council last August but the service is still funded by the county council.

Alison Wheeler, general manager of Suffolk Libraries IPS, said the county council had made the decision in November 2011 adding the fleet had dropped from six vehicles to three.

Miss Hempstead, 40, of Whitby Road, used the mobile library as did her mother Verna, 69.

She said it was a reason for older people to get out the house and it was a place where they could socialise, as well as a service for borrowing books.

She said one man, aged 89 and who has mobility problems, started getting ready for his trip out at 11am as he looked forward to it so much.

Miss Hempstead said: “They come down and have a chat, ‘what have you been doing this week.’ For them they cannot get to the main library [in Bury town centre] and I just feel for them.”

She said she did not think the council realised what a “valuable service” it is.

“I understand about funding and everything, but I think it’s the social aspect for these people who are very isolated, especially in the winter time when they don’t go out. They cannot afford a lot, but they know once a month there’s somewhere they can go to.”

Her mother said the mobile library was “definitely” a lifeline for elderly people.

“I’m not happy about it, I’m really not,” she said. “I cannot see it costs a tremendous amount for once a month for perhaps 20 minutes.”

Craig Dearden-Phillips, who is county councillor for the area, said the amount of money saved by axing such a service was out of proportion with the social impact it had cost.

“As councillor for the area I would be happy to pay for the library, for that thing to stop once a month, out of my locality budget. It’s an important service giving that community and people a reason to get together and help each other out.”

He said he would contact the county council about the issue.

Ms Wheeler said the county council had decided to reduce the frequency of mobile library visits and also to reduce mobile stops from communities in the town or parish boundary where there was a library building.

She said: “We as a provider are carrying it out. We as a provider are always willing to talk to the community and stakeholders about the library service and if there is an opportunity for funding it we are happy to have that dialogue.”

She added half the money for the mobile service had been taken away.

She said the At Home Library Service, which brings a library service to people’s homes, is available for anyone who is not able to get to their library. E-mail help@suffolklibraries.co.uk or call 01473 584563.

Suffolk County Council was contacted for a comment, but had not responded by the time the paper went to press.

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