SUBSTANTIAL progress has been made with Warrington’s libraries modernisation programme launched in 2017 – but it has been hit Covid-19.
Lockdown has forced the closure of libraries and impacted on staffing capacities at both LiveWire – who had been forced to place many staff on furlough – and the borough council, who had diverted to staff to work on Covid related matters.
It was difficult to predict the long-term impact of the pandemic on user levels and engagement, but there was a risk footfall numbers will not recover to the level they were pre-Covid.
Footfall had been falling before Covid, even with the measures put in place and additional opening hours – although there had been some success in slowing down the rate of decline.
This is revealed in a report to be presented to the borough council’s cabinet on Monday by Cllr Tony Higgins, cabinet member for leisure and community.
The report reveals there has been a strong commitment by both LiveWire and the council to maintaining and improving the town’s libraries. The council had invested £150,000 in book-stock, which LiveWire had used to purchase a wide range of books to support reading for pleasure, early literacy, health, information and to support those with additional needs.
Stockton Heath Library had been remodelled and improved and generated new income.
Burtonwood Library had benefitted from increased footfall as a result of the Post Office moving into the building, with book issues also increasing.
Lymm Library made use of under-used space to accommodate community and small business use. Footfall increased and book issues were maintained.
At Padgate Library, local users worked hard to devel0p new activities but there had been an issue with anti-social activity resulting in earlier closing times.
A lack of capacity to increase car parking was holding up proposals at Birchwood Library but a feasibility study for relocating the library to a new Hub at Birchwood Leisure and Tennis Centre was being carried out.
Long term improvements at planned at Penketh Library, with a focus on repairing external fascias, glazing, general decor and improved accessibility.
Culcheth Library was found to need considerable repair work. A case for a new library building could not be made, but a budget of £250,000 had been allocated for repairs and refurbishment.
Westbrook Library is the only one in the borough not owned by the council and there has been concern for its long term sustainability. But a business case is currently be developed for a new model library and community centre.
A range of improvements have been introduced at Warrington Central Library to help forge closer links with the museum and art gallery, delivering an integrated new hub of creativity and learning.
The report makes it clear Covid has impacted on the library improvement programme but says since March last year, LiveWire has increased its online library presence, undertaken a range of online activites and activities from home and offered an order and collect service.