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THIS WEEK ** BREAKING: Eastbourne Herald put up for sale

COMMUNITY The One and Only Tom Fitzpatrick is Back: Ocean View, Pevensey Bay

LETTERS Christine Fenner and Jo Belcher: Support us and the pond and the village of Westham

5 January 2018

Tonight, 5 January 2018, will see the most important meeting that has been held in the Parish in living memory.

Six electors in the parish have convened a meeting to be held at the Baptist church in Pevensey Bay. This is a parish meeting, quite distinct from a parish council meeting, because the meeting will involve everyone who lives here in the parish.

What happens following the meeting may set the benchmark for future affairs of the parish.

The Manchester Free Library opened on 5 September 1852. It was the first to be set up under the provisions of the Public Libraries Act oof 1850, which allowed local authorities to impose a local tax of one penny to pay for the service. At least two-thirds had to vote in favour. There were 4,000 eligible voters. Only 40 voters opposed the plan for a public library.

The library was so busy during the first week that a police officer was assigned to control the crowd around the borrowing desk.

Wind the clocks forward to 2018 and we arrive at the Age of Anxiety.

In the 1830s, at the height of the Chartist movement, there was a move towards great reform in the United Kingdom. New legislation was passed, such as the Parliamentary Reform Act of 1832 and the first instance of a Government grant for education. Some of these social reforms led to us being seen as a beacon of light across Europe. The time also marked the birth of the Conservative Party in this country.

Libraries have inspired learning, education, enlightenment. The world of fiction and fact in libaries opened the world to us all.

In 2018 a public library is one of the hubs that holds us together as rural communities, like churches and schools and the village hall.

At the time of the Corn Laws in the early nineteenth century the country was in a deeply fragmented state. The country is in a deeply fragmented state again.

Without our library we would be bereft. If you close a local library, in the process, you close the doors and the pages to a world of imagination and richness that guides our lives.

Pevensey Bay Library will not close because the people of Pevensey and Pevensey Bay will not let that happen.

The Library is our library and we will be the first small coastal community in Sussex to generate our own community led library that will be a beacon to the local world of education, sharing, participation and engagement.

A shelf of local history books is our Google algorithm. The order of the books is the work of the Dewey Decimal system established in 1876, understood and handed down to us by generations of librarian.

Distilled, condensed and presented to us in the 200 year process through which the shelf has reached us, very time we reach for a book from the shelf, we witness the power and glory and gift of the Libraries Act of 1850.

Our libary is our own cathedral of knowledge and the light that comes from that shelf is undimmed.

Every library, like every library book, is a shared experience in which the community can thread and bind the body of their experience in a single volume that is testament to their lives and the communities in which they live.

The funding of the libraries since 1850 in this country has been a public enterprise. The funding of the community led Pevensey Bay Library will continue to be a public enterprise.

The Localism Act of 2011 has enabled communities in principle to take control of many of their own affairs. A local library is prime example.

Parish, district and county councils and the infrastructure of our rural communities is going through the most radical change we have seen in over 100 years.

The meeting tonight has the potential to change the future direction of our community.

In the discussion about our local library, we have the social reformers of the early nineteenth and the chartists to thank for the opportunity.

A meeting of this description has not happened in the parish in living memory.

The Chartists campaigned for national and local reform. the People’s Charter of 1838 and was more than a national protest movement. They called for a vote for every man twenty-one years of age, and a secret ballot to protect the elector in the exercise of his vote. They campaigned for the introduction of free education, local free libraries. Their arguments were of a kind we had never seen in this country and they won their arguments.

In 2018 we are seeing again fragmentation at every level of community and the binds that hold us together like glue, seem to be coming apart. But in the huge changes are benchmarks for the next generation.

These changes are taking place all around us. There were huge shifts in how people saw their communities and society in the Great General Election of 2017. We may see the tectonic plates move further again this year.

Locally we are connected to all these changes because the fissures are deep.

The meeting tonight will form part of the history of the locality

Chartists from 1835 who might have passed through Pevensey Bay on their way on horseback to Lewes to sit on the Tom Paine bench, would have understood the significance of the note pinned to the Wallsend Road by six electors of the parish with regard to our library and the meeting convened by six electors.

Keith Richards, lead and rhythm guitarist of the Rolling Stones said “When you are growing up there are two institutional places that affect you most powerfully: the church, which belongs to God, and the public library, which belongs to you”.

It will have escaped no-one’s attention that the meeting tonight is being held in a church, something that might bring a wry smile to the face of Keith Richards.  Perhaps in my father’s House there are many mansions and one of then is a library.

The meeting is not just about the future of the library and building a library fit for the 21st century here in Pevensey Bay that will make us the pride and joy of Sussex, but about our future as a community and the way in which the affairs of the parish are to be managed for the next generation.

Whether or not, as with the opening of the first public library in the country in Manchester on 5 September 1852, we will see the emergence of a local tax of one penny to pay for the service will be seen. Whether or not we will see this parish vote overwhelming for the library will be seen.

The Friends of Pevensey Bay Library with their two year campaign to save the library, along with the local Womens Institute have shown us the light and the way.

The people will decide tonight whether we are about to see a local library fit for the 21st century.

That will leave only one question from history unanswered.

The week commencing 5 September 1852 in Manchester was so busy that a police officer was assigned to control the crowd around the borrowing desk.

Perhaps our future in the history of libraries in Sussex will be reserved for us tonight by a librarian.

If only we had a police officer of some rank in control of proceedings tonight, our place in the history of the brave new world of community led libraries here in the hidden jewels of the crown of Sussex would be complete.

Simon Montgomery
editor, Bay Life