CAMPAIGNERS fear people power is insufficient to run a well-used library – after only four residents answered the first call for volunteers.

Southchurch and Westcliff libraries are meant to be handed to volunteers to run as “community libraries” within a year.

But Southend Council officers outnumbered the public at the first meeting to drum up support.

Council officers at the public meeting at Southchurch Library, in Lifstan Way, on Tuesday explained the plan to replace paid librarians with volunteers.

Three of the people who attended were interested in giving their time.

But the potential recruits were concerned about the lack of numbers coming forward.

Sue Smith, 54, of Woodgrange Drive, Southchurch, said: “We thought there would be more volunteers. I thought we would be making a list and asking what hours we could do.”

Sheila Thornton, of Thorpe Hall Close, Thorpe Bay, said: “We thought it was already in hand and the council was looking for people who were willing to help and we were here – all four of us!”

Councillor Anne Jones, who helped organise a petition last summer calling for Southchurch Library to be kept fully-staffed, fears libraries will go if enough people don’t come forward.

She said: “There is a risk we might lose this community resource.”

Despite the low turnout, the council remains confident volunteers can run Southchurch and Westcliff libraries, as more than 100 people have already expressed an interest in volunteering. But the council admitted more publicity was needed for the meeting, which no Southchurch ward councillors attended.

Nick Harris, Southend Council’s head of culture, said: “This was our first meeting.

There will be further opportunities to come along. We didn’t give as much notice as we could.

“The timing was difficult on a cold February night.

“Hopefully, all the people there will make a positive contribution to the library’s future.”

But Mr Harris said the plans, designed to save £378,000 over three years and redesign the library service for the next 15 years, would keep the libraries open.

He said: “Staff will not be leaving the organisation until we have a fit-for-purpose group to step in. We don’t have any intention to close libraries.”

Under the shake-up, Kent Elms and Leigh libraries would keep fewer paid staff, supported by more volunteers.