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Image: The Leeds Library.
Image: The Leeds Library.

A new chapter for historic libraries

9 August 2022

For Book Lovers Day, people across the world are encouraged to pick up a book and celebrate literature and reading - historically, there is no better place to do so than at a library. Today, we are celebrating a number of beautiful historic libraries that the Architectural Heritage Fund (AHF) has supported recently. These include projects to expand the services provided at libraries by creating additional community and cultural facilities.

You can learn more about three of these projects below.



Image: Exterior of Liskeard Library in Cornwall. 

Liskeard Library

Liskeard, Cornwall, England – Real Ideas Organisation

Dating back to 1896, Liskeard Library is a Grade II-listed, purpose-built John Passmore Edwards library, constructed to reflect the beliefs that everyone should have access to knowledge and learning. Over the years, however, partitions and sub-divisions have been added to the building to create a complex set of rooms, most of which are now inaccessible and unused.  

Real Ideas Organisation is working to renovate Liskeard Library into a high-quality, contemporary space. Key changes include amending the floors to ensure level access through the building, removing interior walls to create flexible, multi-purpose spaces, and opening the entrance to make the building more welcoming. The ground floor will incorporate books, sofas, chairs, tables and a kitchen for food and drink, creating a comfortable place to read and learn. In the evening, the area can also accommodate book clubs, music events or a pop-up cinema. Additionally, disused office space will be removed to create a courtyard for small-scale performances and visual art. Upstairs, co-working spaces and meeting rooms will support creative businesses and social entrepreneurs. Each of these alterations and new facilities will help to increase the numbers and diversity of people who use the library.

In 2018, the AHF awarded Real Ideas Organisation a Project Development Grant to support the development of architects’ plans. Following this, a Transformational Project Grant was awarded towards capital redevelopment costs.

Liskeard Library | Real Ideas Organisation



Images: The exterior and interior of Bothwell Library in Lanarkshire. Photos courtesy of Bothwell Futures. 

Bothwell Library

Bothwell, Lanarkshire, Scotland – Bothwell Futures

Bothwell Library was built in 1908 by James Donald, a local philanthropist who wished to provide reading rooms for the local community. In 1966, the single-story, three-bay asymmetrical building was transferred to the local authority to be operated as a library and community facility. Currently, however, the library service is the only regular occupant, and the building has been threatened with closure and redevelopment as housing.

Bothwell Futures aims to acquire and restore the building as a multi-functional community hub, retaining the library service while also creating a meeting space for young people, rooms for community clubs and activities, hot desk rental spaces for home workers, a clinic in collaboration with the local authority and NHS Lanarkshire, and two fully serviced offices to let. The conserved community hub will also provide business support for start-up businesses. With the addition of these new facilities, Bothwell Futures hope not only to save their beloved community library, but also to encourage an increased and broader range of people to use the space.

This year, the AHF awarded Bothwell Futures a Project Development Grant towards specialist VAT advice on repair and operational costs, plus legal advice pertaining to the lease back of library space to the local authority.



Image: Exterior of The Leeds Library. Photo courtesy of The Leeds Library. 

15 Commercial Street

Leeds, West Yorkshire, England – The Leeds Library

As the oldest surviving private subscription library in the UK, The Leeds Library holds an impressive collection of over 140,000 books, as well as audio books, DVDs, CDs, online courses and journals.

The Leeds Library has occupied the Grade II*-listed building on Commercial Street, in the centre of Leeds, since 1808. Earlier this year, the AHF awarded the Library a Heritage Impact Fund loan to acquire the neighbouring property of 15 Commercial Street.

The acquisition of the adjacent 19th-century former shop building will allow the expansion of The Leeds Library, enabling its entire collection to be brought back into one space, and will also create room for a newly accessible hub for culture, arts, and educational activities, increasing public engagement. The ground floor of the new building will comprise a leased retail unit, additional study and social space, new welfare facilities and a lift that will make the whole site fully accessible for the first time. Event space will also be made available on the upper floors connected to the current library building, while new collection storage will be developed in the basement.

The Leeds Library - Homepage | The Leeds Library


These three projects are among the historic libraries that the AHF funds each year, nearly all of which are led by community groups seeking to preserve the original function of these grand buildings, while also bringing in new audiences and diversifying income streams. We’re sure that – like us – you can’t wait to tuck into a great book at one of these beautiful sites soon!

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