Covingham Library was a long-established local library in the Covingham area of Swindon, dating back to the 1970s. It was a popular local amenity based in St Paul’s Church, which is owned by the Diocese of Bristol.
It closed during the first pandemic lockdown in March 2020. In November 2020, a brief note appeared on the Swindon Borough Council website saying it would be permanently closed.
In 2017, Swindon Borough Council (SBC) had transferred the running of most of its libraries to newly established parish councils or, in the case of Covingham and the neighbouring Liden library, to a newly formed charity – Swindon Community Library Trust.
This trust was to receive funding from SBC and two parish councils: Covingham and Nythe, Eldene & Liden. In turn, the trust would pay back to SBC for library stock, a librarian’s salary and IT services.
The trust was started by a controversial local councillor, Dale Heenan. He was previously an important member of SBC’s Cabinet, but had to resign because he was taken to court for an unpaid council tax bill. (1).
The trust was given seed money by SBC, who made a contribution of £40,000 in 2017-19. (2)
Covingham Library received grants of £3,600 in 2018 and again in 2019 from Covingham parish council. (3)
However, there was one problem: until January 2021, Swindon Community Library Trust did not make public any proper accounts, either to local authorities or via the Charity Commission. In previous years, reports had been submitted slightly late. (4)
After repeated but ignored requests for a breakdown of where its grant money was being spent, Covingham parish council felt they were unable to continue the grant (5).
In April 2020, as the pandemic hit Britain, responsibility for the library was transferred from Swindon Community Library Trust to Friends of Covingham library. The trust had run out of money to run it. (6)
This has not been made clear in the statements that the trust’s head, Dale Heenan, has made. Only by making many Freedom of Information requests and speaking to local stakeholders did I build up a picture of the true events.
The Friends of Covingham library are a long-standing group of residents and library users. They planned to turn the library into a volunteer run community library to reduce costs.
However, given that many of the volunteers in the Friends group are retired and needed to shield during the pandemic, the library has had to close permanently. (7)
Swindon Community Library Trust failed to secure the future of Covingham Library and has sought to blame other parties, such as the Friends, for its closure.
The future of Liden library is now also in doubt, as a similar scenario is unfolding there.
Swindon Community Library Trust is attempting to offload all responsibility for Liden library to Nythe, Eldene & Liden Parish Council (NEL PC). (8)
The transitional money paid to the the trust ran out in the financial year 2019-2020. In total it received £72,278 from SBC in the period 2018-20.(9)
If the parish council take responsibility for the library building, they would have to pay business rates and maintenance costs. This would far exceed the £18,500 the parish currently gives to the library trust. (10)
The parish council has a history of poor accounting and governance since its inception in 2017 (11) and currently does not look after any properties. It has a limited range of functions, such as grass cutting and providing bins for dog waste (12).
In conclusion: Swindon Community Library Trust has failed to generate sufficient income. It has only survived via seed and transitional money from SBC.
Covingham Library has closed, as funds were depleted. Now Liden Library is in danger.
Liden Library needs to be taken back in house. Neither the Library Trust nor the parish council has the resources or expertise to run it.
written by: Liden & Covingham Libraries Campaign
Help support the campaign to Save Liden & Covingham Libraries by signing the petition.
Note : The arguments continue! This is the local paper’s summary of the points made by both sides…
12 Nythe, Eldene & Liden parish council responsibilities