Libraries gave us power, then work came and set us free.

So goes the opening of the Manic Street Preachers’ song A Design for Life, the line “Libraries gave us power” was taken from the inscription above the old Carnegie library in the Pillgwenlly area of my home town – Newport in Gwent. The old Carnegie library is no more and the residents of Pillgwenlly have to make do with a tiny library/resource centre better suited to being a corner shop than a font of learning and education.

I left Newport more than a decade ago, truth be told, I rarely visit. I haven’t returned there for around three or four years. I do still however have a certain pride at coming from Newport. The city is, or maybe was, known for its thriving music scene -mostly thanks to the fantastically grimy TJs venue. It was a place where there was always something creative happening. That was always thanks to the people of Newport though, never the local council.

It seems that the local council have always had an aversion to the arts and to the heritage of the town. When a medieval ship was uncovered on the banks of the mighty River Usk it took a concerted campaign by local people to stop the council from simply building on top of it. Recently the council destroyed a marvellous mural celebrating the people of Newport’s role in the Chartist Uprising of 1839 and the struggle for working class representation in parliament to make way for a new shopping centre. Friends of culture the council are not.

Now, under the guise of austerity, the council are wanting to close the city’s central library, art gallery and the city’s museum. The library was like a second home to me when I was a youngster. I would always spend my Saturday afternoons reading in the library or exploring the museum -which shares a building with the library and the art gallery. When I discovered the reference section of the library at the age of 9 or 10 I was in hog heaven. So many wonderful old books! I could easily lose myself there come rain or sun on a weekend.

The library is about as central to the city of Newport as it’s possible to get. The building stands on John Frost Square, named for the leader of the Chartist Uprising, right in the heart of the city. It is a place that is accessible to all the people of Newport and, so far as I’m concerned, is vital to the essence of the place. A library is a place of collective self education and betterment. That this library shares a building with the art gallery and museum makes it even more of a hub for the heritage and culture of the city.

Added to that Newport library is also the home of the best collection of material by, and related to, the lauded author of the fantastic, Arthur Machen. The library houses rare items donated by family, friends, and fans of Arthur Machen and it is vital that this collection is protected. More than that it is vital that this son of Newport (Caerleon, Machen’s birthplace, is separated from Newport by a couple fields is all) is celebrated by the city.

Machen c.a. 1905 Wikipedia

Machen had an immense effect on the fantastic literature of the 20th, and 21st, Centuries. He has influenced the works of HP Lovecraft, Stephen King, China Mieville, and many, many more. His literary influence has spread beyond the world of literature though and has also been felt in the multi-billion dollar movie industry. Newport City Council should be celebrating this heritage and using it to promote Newport. They should not be slashing and hacking at the services that the people of Newport deserve and stripping future generations of the heritage and culture they too deserve.

So, what can be done?

Well, I’m sure that the people of the ‘port will not be taking this lying down, they can be a feisty lot when their dander is up. However those of us that are in places rather distant from mae hen wlad fy mamau can still show our support and highlight to the council the international significance of the Machen collection.

There is a form on the council website asking for feedback on the proposed cuts. It asks where in Newport you live but you can leave that blank and then tell them that you are from elsewhere in the world on page 2 of the form. You can access the feedback form here.

You could also write to Bob Bright, the current council leader

Bob Bright
Leader of Newport City Council
80 Allt-yr-yn Road
Newport
South Wales, NP20 5EF

or contact him via the council website.

I would also recommend getting in touch with the local media. The local newspaper for Newport and the surrounding area is The South Wales Argus and you can write to them here. the lcoal radio station is Capital, South Wales and you can contact them on 02920 942940(news room) or 02920 949494(studio) or use the email form here. Local television comes from ITV Wales, who can be emailed via wales@itv.com and contacted on Facebook(click), and BBC Wales who can be contacted on 02920 323 255(news room), emailed on newsonline.wales@bbc.co.uk, or via their Facebook page(click).

Newport also has two Members of Parliament, Paul Flynn and Jessica Mordin.

Paul Flynn can be contacted on 01633 262348 / 020 7219 3478 and emailed at paulflynnmp@talk21.com.

Jessica Mordin can be contacted on 01633 841725 and emailed at jessica.morden.mp@parliament.uk

Newport also has two members of the Welsh Assembly, Dame Rosemary Butler and John Griffiths.

Dame Butler can be contacted on  01633 222 523 / 0300 200 7104 and emailed at Rosemary.Butler@assembly.wales

John Griffiths can be contacted on 01633 222 302 / 0300 200 7122 and emailed at John.Griffiths@assembly.wales

(Note: for all phone numbers replace ’01, 02 or 03′ at the beginning with +442 if calling internationally)

Hopefully if enough people, nationally and internationally, kick up a stink it will help those people in Newport who want to stop this happening.

Thanks to the good folks at Wormwoodiana for spreading the word about this.

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