I love a feisty bird. They come not much feistier than Kate Hoey, the Labour politician and member for Vauxhall since 1989. Not currently an MP, as she hastened to remind we who rendezvous'd this evening at Lambeth's Minet Library to sign petitions, scrawl postcards, make mayhem and voice outrage against the proposed closure of this valuable local resource.
I had dealings with Kate when I worked on Fleet Street. Notable run-ins include a healthy spat with Terry Venables - she'd worked as Educational Advisor for Spurs, Arsenal, QPR, Brentford and Chelsea - and another involving Bill Wyman, but best not not go there. She's a rebel with causes, who often comes across more Tory than Labour - she opposes Labour's stance against foxhunting, for a start.
She's pushing seventy and still up for the fight. And she is determined to keep this facility open.
Fact: Vassall Ward, in which the library stands, is one of the poorest wards in the Borough of Lambeth. Dozens of children come here every day after school to do their homework, because they don't have anywhere else to do it. Of the top fifty books taken out regularly, ten of them are reference books for children. It is not true that 'kids don't use libraries anymore.' They do here.
The library was given to the local community by the Minet family, descended from Huguenots who fled to England from France during the late 1600s to escape religious persecution. William Minet built the original Minet Free Library and the Parochial Hall. The surrounding Myatt's Field park housed a community hospital in huts during WW1. Trenches were dug there to house local residents during the air raids of WW2. In 1979, through the efforts of local residents, the Minet estate became a conservation area. This place, this family bequest, is indelibly linked with the neighbourhood and its dynasties. The fight is not 'just' about books.
This is prime real estate.The council want to knock down the library and build affordable housing, the kind of housing that the locals themselves can't afford. It is immoral to sell off this library for profit. It is not even Lambeth's to sell!
It was a pleasure to share the stage with Gabriel Gbadamosi, the Irish-Nigerian poet, playwright and author of the London novel 'Vauxhall', for which he won the 2011 Tibor Jones Pageturner prize. He read from his book, which, he confessed is really a memoir, stepped back from. I'll have to go to the library and get it now. I read an extract from 'Ride a White Swan: The Lives & Death of Marc Bolan'. It was one of those nights.