Oldpark Carnegie Library, Belfast

What's so special about this place?

Oldpark Library was the first of three libraries built by Belfast Corporation following a donation from Andrew Carnegie, the Scottish-American steel magnate and philanthropist who funded libraries, schools and universities throughout the USA, UK, Ireland and Europe. Built in 1906 to the designs of the local architectural practice Watt and Tulloch, it served as a library for over 100 years, finally closing in 2008. Today, only one of Belfast’s Carnegie libraries (on Falls Road) remains in use as a library. A second, on Donegall Road, was restored in 1998 and is now let out to small businesses. The latter is home to the Northern Ireland Foundation, which is leading the project to develop a ‘third sector’ use for Oldpark Library. 

Project: Oldpark Carnegie Library, Belfast

Client: The Northern Ireland Foundation

Category B listed building, on Belfast City Council’s ‘at risk’ register.

New use:  Community / social enterprise

Find out more at: https://northernireland.foundation/projects/carnegieoldpark

Other project funding:
HLF Start-up grant    £9,200

Why was the building under threat?

The local community, led by Lower Oldpark Community Association, had campaigned to keep the library open but to no avail. Following the failure of a proposed community asset transfer, the building remained empty, slowly decaying. It was put up for sale at public auction in December 2015. 

How was it saved?

In a philanthropic gesture which echoed some of the original intentions of Andrew Carnegie over 100 years earlier, a local benefactor with a passion for Carnegie libraries acquired the building at auction on behalf of the community. The building will be leased to the Northern Ireland Foundation, an independent charity which develops programmes to support a shared future in Northern Ireland, local community activism and the exchange of international best practices.

How is the building used now?

The building is currently empty while viable use options are explored, although it opened its doors for European Heritage Open Days and some ‘meanwhile uses’ are planned. The plan is to develop commercial revenue streams via office rental upstairs, enabling ground floor rooms to be used by all communities for education and training, arts and cultural activities. By bringing the building back into use to serve the local community as well as providing space for businesses, it is hoped that the project will make a real contribution to the regeneration of north Belfast, in parallel with other developments in the area, including the recently reopened Crumlin Road Gaol. The Foundation will work in partnership with the Lower Oldpark Community Association, which will run the facility. 

How did the AHF help?

An AHF Project Viability Grant, matched with a Start-up grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund, will enable the Foundation to test the viability of its proposals and complete a condition survey of the building.