COUNTY Hall has pledged £18,000 to volunteer groups who step up to run libraries after it U-turned on plans to shut dozens of centres.

Last week Essex County Council said it would not be shutting any libraries after thousands of people campaigned against the plans.

Had they gone ahead 25 libraries could have closed and of the 49 staying open, 19 could have been staffed by community groups.

Under the revised plans the council will not close any libraries in the next five years.

It has instead promised to invest millions of pounds in bringing the centres into the 21st century.

As part of the new strategy, announced yesterday, they will offer volunteers and community groups a grant of £18,000 across three years, an initial donation of books and training for staff.

The £18,000 will be split across £8,000 in the first year, a further £7,000 in year two and the final £3,000 in the third year.

There is no timescale for when this would start or which libraries are included, however the council said it had received 80 expressions of interest by groups willing to take on 39 libraries across the county.

But at the time of the U-turn last week campaigners said they would not back plans for community-run libraries.

A report set to go before cabinet said: “The updated strategy doesn’t take a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach, recognising that different communities may want different things. It aims to transform the service to make it more relevant to the way we live now and fit for the future.”

The council will also invest in the libraries it runs by refurbishing buildings, updating computer systems and upskilling staff.

Opening hours was highlighted in the consultation and the council will explore introducing self-service access using smart library technology.

But County Hall said it would not make any changes to opening hours in council-run libraries for the first year.

Susan Barker, the council’s culture boss, said: “I am pleased to share with everyone our plans for future of the library service in more detail.

"What is clear since we launched the public consultation is local libraries are important to residents, not just as places to get books or use a computer, but as spaces for people to meet, learn and exchange ideas."

Cabinet will vote on the plans next week.