I love a feisty bird, and 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 generally voice outrage against the proposed closure of this wonderful local resource.
I had dealings a-plenty with Kate when I toiled on Fleet Street. Notable run-ins included a marvelous spat with Terry Venables - she'd worked as Educational Advisor for Spurs, Arsenal, QPR, Brentford and Chelsea - and another involving Bill Wyman, but we had better not go there. She's a rebel with plenty of causes, who often comes across more Tory than Labour - she opposes Labour's stance against foxhunting, for a start.
She's pushing 70 and still up for the fight. And she is determined to keep this valuable facility open. Atta girl.
Fact: Vassall Ward, in which the library stands, is one of the poorest wards in the Borough of Lambeth. Dozens of children come to this library every day after school to do their homework - because they don't have anywhere else to do it. Of the top 50 books taken out regularly,10 of them are reference books for children. It is simply 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, that again. 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, and 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 family dynasties. The fight is not 'just' about books.
This is prime real estate. There be the rub. 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 completely immoral to sell off this library for profit. It is not even Lambeth's to sell!
It was a real 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. What a good bloke. He read from his book - which, he confessed, is really a memoir, stepped back from a bit. 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.