VOLUNTEERS could be running libraries within a year after more than 100 people put their names forward.

Westcliff and Southchurch libraries could be run by volunteers, with more supporting a limited number of paid staff at Leigh and Kent Elms libraries within 12 months, after scores of people offered their help.

Southend Council also expects to have firm plans for a new fully-staffed library in Delaware Road, Sheobury, to replace Thorpedene and Friars libraries in place in that time.

Campaigners who opposed the council’s revamp of the library service feared too few people would step in to keep branches open.

Nick Harris, the council’s head of culture, said: “The target is to have the hub libraries at Leigh and Kent Elms, and we hope the community libraries in Westcliff and Southchurch, up and running.

“In the east of the town, we hope to be clear what we are doing with the hub library within 12 months.”

More than 120 people offered to help during a consultation on the plans last summer, with another 145 saying theywould be prepared to volunteer alongside paid staff.

Many were in Leigh, but council officers believe they will be prepared to volunteer across the borough, as statistics show people use a variety of branches, such as those near work or relatives.

A series of public information events encouraging people to volunteer will start on Tuesday, but more than 100 people have already replied to express strong interest.

Similar numbers at this stage have led to successful implementation of so-called “community libraries” in other areas, council officers claim.

Mr Harris said: “We can gauge that we have enough interest to implement this policy.

“More than 100 people have expressed an interest.”

Ted Clarke, 70, of Cosgrove Avenue, Leigh, who has volunteered, said: “I want to see libraries stay open. I would prefer for them to be fully-staffed, but if that’s not possible I’m willing to step forward.”

Derek Jarvis, councillor responsible for culture, declined to comment.

The meetings, all at 7pm, are at Southchurch Library on Tuesday, Leigh Library on Monday, February 10, Kent Elms on Tuesday, February 11 and Westcliff on Wednesday, February 12.

For more information about volunteering, e-mail library volunteers@southend.gov.uk or call 01702 215000.