Book lovers turn over new leaf at Sheffield library and garden

Plans are taking shape to redevelop one of Sheffield's most popular libraries and bring a magical garden back to life.

Tuesday, 8th January 2019, 10:25 am
Updated Wednesday, 9th January 2019, 12:53 pm
Broomhill Library volunteers (l-r) Sara Chinchen, Anna Lambert, Cathy Cameron, Ruth Groves, David Chinchen

Broomhill Library is a beautiful Victorian villa which was a privately owned home before opening as a library in 1957.

While the library is much loved, the building itself is dated and has been in need of some TLC for a number of years. One of the ongoing problems are the steps leading to the main entrance and the internal staircase to the first floor children's section.

Over the years there were a number of discussions about closing the building completely and transferring in the library to new premises but in 2014, it was taken over by a community group. Broomhill was one of 16 libraries which became volunteer-led after Sheffield Council said it no longer had the budget to run every one.

Plans are now underway to develop the Taptonville Road library and the associated Percy Cane Heritage Garden into a community hub

The library recently received a grant of almost £8,000 from the Big Lottery Fund to develop plans for the heritage garden.

Proposals include a new extension which would be created to the right of the building. There will be discussions about the best place for a main entrance and a staircase and lift will provide access to all floors.

The lower ground floor, which was previously a kitchen when it was a home, would be transformed into a community space.

Broomhill Community Library and Broomhill Community Trust says the plans are still at a feasibility stage and are some way off a planning application and formal consultation but the Trust is keen to get people's views on emerging design ideas.

David Chinchen, chairman of trustees, said: 'After more than four years, during which the library has been run entirely by volunteers, securing a sustainable future remains the key objective.

'To secure this future we are determined to address the problems of space and access through a development plan that makes use of the unused space in the building and the heritage garden.'

In the summer of 2015 architecture students from the University of Sheffield helped to conduct a range of consultation exercises

David said: 'In summary, people wanted more than the library had been to date. They wanted to see flexible space to support a range of activities that brought people together.

'From these exercises and further work, the future library as a community hub for the area has been placed as a key element within the emerging Neighbourhood Plan.

'The gardens at the library, notably at the rear, offer a real opportunity of creating some new public green space.

'We have worked with both local garden experts and students from the University of Sheffield Department of Archaeology to clear foliage and progressively undercover the original garden design.

'We are now about to commission a feasibility study and ultimately produce a new garden design. It is vital that this design work reflects all that the community wish to see happening in and around their future library.'

David says design options 'remain fluid' and its hoped an integrated design will be ready soon. When this is completed, there will be further consultation before a comprehensive plan with drawings is unveiled.


Restoring the magical garden for future generations

Along with the library building, there are also proposals to restore the heritage garden.

Jill Sinclair, landscape historian with the library, explained: 'The National Lottery grant recognises how much the library matters to the local community.

'It will pay for work to investigate what remains of the old garden, and for landscape architects to explore how to combine the best elements of the heritage garden with the local community's wishes for the space.

'Numerous community discussions have enabled local people to say what they want from the garden.'

Suggestions have included a sheltered space to sit outside and read or play games; a venue for outdoor reading and storytelling; more of a hub for all ages to mingle; a welcoming space with a visible link between the library and garden and somewhere encouraging biodiversity with flowers and edible planting.

Jill added: 'Interviews conducted by volunteers have revealed fond memories of the library garden before it was abandoned 15 years ago as a 'magical place.'

'People remember bringing their children here and want their grandchildren and great-grandchildren to be able to do the same. It is clear that this is a place that matters to the local community.

'The work so far to reclaim the garden has drawn together library volunteers, users, students and local residents in clearing the overgrown site, while primary school children have worked alongside a local charity on an archaeological dig to trace the history of the garden.

'The grant from Awards for All means we can work together to re-establish it as a thriving public garden.'


Start of a new chapter

There have been many discussions about the best way to redevelop the library and proposals have included a cafe, toilets, book shop, exhibition area and space for community activities and meetings.

Trustees are keen to encourage a natural flow into the heritage garden at the rear.

Initial proposals include a central island for reception with ergonomically designed shelves and staff offices. There would be a designated area for computer users and an area for quieter activities.

The children's library would remain in the first floor with improved facilities for activities. The second floor would be used for storage and as a space to rent.