The Feminist Library has been threatened with eviction from its Westminster Road premises on the first day of Women’s History Month – after being asked for rent by Southwark Council for the first time in seven years.
A petition, signed by over 13,000 of the library’s supporters, is calling for a “rent increase” to be dropped. However, the council’s finance boss revealed that the library has not paid any rent since moving in, only contributing a service charge.
Councillor Fiona Colley, Southwark Council Cabinet Member for Finance, Performance and Modernisation, explained: “Whilst we recognise and appreciate the work that’s been done by the Library, we have a very clear duty to ensure our assets are being managed responsibly, and that we are being fair to other tenants who are paying open market rent.
“I have personally offered to meet with them to discuss the situation and try to find a way forward that meets both our needs, but at a time when the council’s funding from government is being cut by £47m we are simply unable to continue to subsidise their rent.”
The council is now asking the library for an annual market rent of £18,000 along with its £12,000 annual service charge. As a gesture of goodwill, they have extended the deadline for the library to make a decision until the end of April.
The library were planning to stage a demonstration and deliver the petition to the council’s Tooley Street headquarters as the News went to press on February 24.
Dr Laura Schwartz, Associate Professor of Modern British History, University of Warwick, has said: “The Feminist Library is a wonderful cultural resource that needs to be defended at all costs. The library is now the only archive in London where a wide array of feminist publications are truly accessible to the general public and available on the open shelves. It also provides one of the few spaces in central London where women and feminist activists can come together to meet and organise for a better world.
“If the Feminist Library is evicted from its current premises, Southwark Council will not only be guilty of cultural vandalism but also of silencing women.” Cllr David Noakes, Lib Dem Councillor for Cathedrals, has met with the library several times in the last few weeks. He said: “This is a hugely important archive resource and meeting place for feminists and other women’s groups and that we strongly support their future being secured at either the current site, at a genuinely affordable rent or at another location with the agreement of the Feminist Library.”