Last week's occupation of Friern Barnet Library by local residents took place on the day the building was due to shut its doors forever, after 78 years of history as a much loved focal point of the local community. The council had planned to shut earlier than announced, so as to pre empt any demonstration by residents: they were outwitted by the strategy of determined campaigners.
By coincidence, last week marked the anniversary of another closure. Despite widespread protest, the Church Farmhouse Museum, a central part of our borough's heritage and cultural life for nearly sixty years was shut, cleared and now stands empty, awaiting sale and development, just as Friern Barnet Library is now awaiting sale and development.
A third property, the Barnet Museum, founded in 1938, is now also poised for closure, sale, and development.
Barnet Museum and its archivist, Dr Gilllian Gear
It was reported that at a meeting for business owners in North Finchley last year, council leader Richard Cornelius assured the audience that the Barnet Museum 'had been saved'. This is completely untrue.
Over the last year, negotiations between the council and the volunteer body which runs the museum have focused, pretty much as they did over Friern Barnet Library, on a prolonged courtship of flattery and whispered promises - a one sided, abusive relationship, which will end in tragedy - a violent assault, and the loss of honour on both sides.
The real prize is, in all these cases, the seizure of property: forget all the pretence at encouraging Big Society style voluntary schemes to run these museums and libraries - this is simply a load of cant. They want to get their hands on the buildings, because they want the cash from the sale of these buildings. They do not give a damn about the value to the borough in any other sense: there is no value in any other sense, for the Tory councillors of Broken Barnet. Leader Cornelius himself dismissed the significance of the contents of the Church Farmhouse Museum as being of no worth. Social history, the heritage of our borough: no worth, no value - throw it in a skip. Some of it actually was thrown in a skip, we hear.
The only reason Barnet Museum is still open is due partly to the tenacity, and naivete, perhaps, of the dedicated volunteers who run it, but most of all because of an unfortunate problem - for our grasping Tory councillors. That problem is that the council has not yet established legal ownership of the listed Georgian building in which the Museum is housed. You can be sure that if and when they do, the For Sale sign will be up outside the very next day. Barnet is pretending that they are encouraging the Museum to find alternative funding to enable it to carry it on, but of course this is impossible when they have no security of tenure, and the council is insisting on extracting a commercial rent from a community body.
Mrs Angry has heard that one Tory councillor has been telling people that the Museum can easily be substituted by - get this - a mobile museum in a van, visiting schools with our historic artefacts in tupperware boxes. The story, unfortunately, has a horrible ring of truth: think of Robert Rams, who wanted to get rid of all reference books in libraries because he thinks all residents now have google on their iphones, or tweeting, idiotically, to ask if we knew more Mills & Boon romances were 'published' as e books than in hardcover? They don't do culture, or heritage, in Broken Barnet. Has Rams ever read a book? Apart from Mills & Boon, that is. Does he know anything about the history of this borough? (History: that means anything that happened before the day before yesterday, Robert ...)
The philistine councillors who dominate the policy making of Barnet Council are typical of their type: jumped up working class Tories with a latent sense of inferiority that makes them averse to any reverence for culture, the arts, matters of heritage and local history. And as with all dictatorial administrations, they are determined to stop the clock at year zero, and start again, and value nothing that happened, well - before the day before yesterday. A cultural revolution, but with no culture.
In the days when we cherished the rich and diverse history of our borough, the Church Farmhouse museum and its long succession of fascinating exhibitions was brilliantly managed by a curator, Gerrard Roots - below, right.
Gerrard worked at the Museum for thirty two years, and was - and is - appalled by its closure. As he wrote in an open letter this week:
"Last Sunday, aptly April Fool's Day, marked the first anniversary of the closure of Church Farmhouse Museum.The house and its grounds are now up for sale.
Just as this dismal anniversary approached, the Conservative Secretary of State for Education, Michael Gove, called on schools across the country to concentrate more on their local heritage- especially old buildings- in the teaching of history. How ironic then that Barnet's schoolchildren should be denied access to that important gateway to their area's rich and fascinating past, Church Farmhouse Museum, by Barnet's Conservative council.
The savings made by shutting the Museum, despite much pharisaical flannel from Tory councillors about diverting limited resources to 'protect the vulnerable', are paltry. The fate of Museum's collection, largely consisting of local historical material generously given free by local residents, is undecided. A fine building stands mouldering in its neglected, litter-strewn garden, making a mockery of the 'conservation area' status of Church End, Hendon. (The Grade II* listing of the house makes it very hard to sell, but even if it is sold, it will never re-open as a public space, freely available to all.) Barnet residents, especially children, have lost a much loved and valued resource. Barnet council has aroused the contempt of thousands of ordinary people- within and without the borough - with an interest in, and an understanding of the importance of, history. What a splendid achievement!
Church Farmhouse Museum: fifty seven years. Barnet Museum: seventy four years. Friern Barnet Library: seventy eight years. More than two hundred years of service to the local community, and of irreplaceable value: but measured by the timescale of Broken Barnet, it is all meaningless - and of no worth.
Welcome to Year Zero.
Well, not quite, maybe.
The occupation this week of Friern Barnet Library was both a symbolic reclamation of a community resource, and a declaration of intent by the people of this borough.
We are no longer going to sit back, Tory councillors of Broken Barnet, and let you rob us of everything we have without a bloody good fight.
Don't say you haven't been warned.