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Disabled woman's fear as axe hovers over 'lifeline' libraries

Gail Newell, of Rough Lee Home in Accrington, visits Accrington Library every week

Gail Newell wrote to the Accrington Observer upset about the closures of the local libraries in her area and the impact of introducing library fines for disabled people as she goes to Accrington Library weekly and takes great enjoyment from her visits

A disabled regular library user has spoken of her fears over proposed budget cuts to the ‘lifeline’ service.

Lancashire County Council has opened a consultation into cost-cutting proposals, which could see 40 libraries across the county axed - five in Hyndburn, including Accrington Library. Late-return charge exemptions for pensioners and people with long term health conditions have also now been scrapped.

Gail Newell, who lives at Rough Lee Home for adults with disabilities, says she has visited Accrington Library ‘almost every week’ over the last seven years.

The 56-year-old suffers with a cleft palate and has mobility problems, but manages to overcome these by walking the half mile journey to the library in a leg brace.

Gail, who has been disabled her whole life and has been using libraries in Lancashire since she was a little girl, said the removal of exemptions on fines for the vulnerable was ‘very unfair’.

Under previous rules, there were exemptions to library fines for the over-65s, people with disabilities and long-term health conditions, but under new rules introduced by LCC this year, these groups are no longer exempt.

Gail said: “I have now been told that if my books are overdue I will have to pay a fine. I feel this is very unfair for a person who is disabled.

“I tend to go on a regular basis, it’s something I really enjoy - especially reading travel books, sometimes novels as well as getting DVDs.

“I have always been a regular user of the library and would be devastated if the library closed and it would be a great loss to the community.”

Andrea Buckley, Gail’s care home manager, said the library is her ‘lifeline’ and that getting to an alternative library if necessary would be very hard for her.

Andrea said: “It’s going to be difficult, I don’t know how we’ll manage to get Gail to another library. She’s really struggled going anywhere at all.

“We’ll have to cross that bridge when we come to it.”

Oswaldtwistle councillor Peter Britcliffe condemned the introduction of library charges for “vulnerable” people.

He said: “To impose fines on the elderly and disabled people is just cruel. We need to recognise that there are people like Gail who need certain exemptions. I think everything should be done, not only to keep open the libraries, but to discontinue these despicable fines.”

He added: “These cuts won’t save enough money to heat one library in Lancashire for an hour.”

County Councillor Marcus Johnstone, LCC’s cabinet member for cultural services, said: “We have to prioritise vital services for the most vulnerable, particularly social care, which means we have to face up to very difficult decisions.

“I have no desire to close libraries or increase charges but this is the reality of our situation.

“However, we have just embarked on our consultation process and no decisions have yet been made on which of our libraries will close.”

He added: “I’d encourage anyone with ideas on how we can lessen the impact of savings to visit our website and have their say.”



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