CAMPAIGNERS insist libraries should not be “cast off” to volunteer groups after they completed an eight-day protest march.

Members of the Save Our Libraries Essex (Sole) group spent more than a week walking through north Essex to demonstrate their opposition to plans to make some libraries volunteer-led.

Essex County Council proposed the idea after making a U-turn on plans to shut dozens of libraries last year.

Sole members started out at Manningtree Library before heading past others in Brightlingsea, Wivenhoe, Prettygate, Stanway, Tiptree and Coggeshall.

The libraries are the subject of proposals to make them community-led.

Campaigners completed the 75-mile route in eight days and ended up at County Hall in Chelmsford on Saturday, where they staged a socially-distanced demonstration.

Several speeches were made to a large crowd, including from 12-year-old Josefine Bäckman Julif, who said: “I’m so happy to see so many of you library lovers here.

“I’m here today because I think libraries are so important. Books and education go hand in hand. Libraries are not just for borrowing books.”

Josefine also told the crowd around 12 per cent of 11 to 18-year-olds would be unable to access library material online because they don’t have broadband at home.

Sole’s Liz Miles added: “This week’s march for libraries has been historic, a remarkable week for public libraries in Essex.

“Despite these difficult times library users from across the county have come together to say no to Essex County Council’s strategy.

“No to the strategy to cast off our local libraries into the hands of volunteers and other groups.

“This is closure by stealth, no matter how kind and enthusiastic volunteers are - and their assistance in public libraries is important - they cannot be expected to run professional, essential libraries.

“If any group takes over one of our libraries the council will eventually remove funds, books, computers and professional staff and sell off the library building.

“How can volunteers guarantee a lasting library service? They can’t.”

County Hall denies the claims and says it will not close any libraries and will instead invest in them to respond to the diverse ways people access reading material.