Sheffield library gets set for café culture

Anita Hollinshead. Picture: Jenny Owen
Anita Hollinshead. Picture: Jenny Owen

A conservation expert has been hired to steer a £1.3 million bid that will help turn a Grade II-listed Sheffield library into a shared venue with a café bar.

Anita Hollinshead, who has previously held leading roles with museums in Derbyshire and North Norfolk, will co-ordinate a submission to the Heritage Lottery Fund to renovate Walkley Carnegie Library.

The HLF approved an initial £67,000 development grant last year, and if the full application is successful the work could be complete by August 2020.

As part of the complex bid, a programme of outreach activities will need to be drawn up to prove the scheme will benefit the community, and lottery decision-makers also have to be satisfied the repairs will be carried out to a high standard.

"I'm really very excited about the project," said Anita. "It's making sure the library has a future as such an important building and a focus for the area."

Sheffield's True North Brew Co, which runs 10 local pubs, holds the lease, and a planning application for alterations and an extension was approved in 2016. But the venture became dependent on financial support when costs spiralled.

Walkley Library, a small but striking building with a curved entrance supported by columns on the corner of South Road, was one of 15 city libraries handed to volunteers by the council in 2014. Once the café bar is open there is an intention to extend the lending service's opening hours, and True North has promised to invest in the launch and annual maintenance afterwards.

The facility was set up in the Edwardian era using money from the Scottish-American philanthropist Andrew Carnegie, and is registered as an asset of community value.

When the idea of a shared venue was first discussed five years ago, there was opposition from some quarters with campaigns mounted and petitions launched. But Anita said people needed time to adjust. "Libraries have changed a lot in recent years but having that café as well is a real extra asset. It makes it economically sustainable and completes the project."

A heritage training and learning consultant will be hired to write the activity plan. Ideas suggested so far include giving students the opportunity to take up placements with the site contractors, an oral history project gathering people's memories of the place and creative workshops.

A team of architects will be hired and it is likely a further planning application will be lodged. The current designs envisage a bar against the back wall, with stairs leading to a mezzanine floor on the side facing Walkley Road, offering good views over Loxley and Hillsborough. The library would move into the existing children’s section, with another mezzanine to expand the space.

The interior ceiling will be uncovered to expose an original roof light, Anita said. "At the moment when you're inside the library you've no idea it's there."

The deadline for the HLF bid is March next year, with a verdict expected in July 2019.

Anita lives in Meersbrook and has been working on heritage-related projects for 26 years.

"It's so important that in whatever you're doing, you're actually thinking about the people that benefit from it," she said. "It's such a nice, positive thing to be involved with."