Writing a new chapter in story of Sheffield library café

Kane Yeardley, Veronica Hardstaff and Chris Reece looking at the plans for Walkley Carnegie Library
Kane Yeardley, Veronica Hardstaff and Chris Reece looking at the plans for Walkley Carnegie Library
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“It’s an evolution of the concept of a library,” said Kane Yeardley, examining the architects’ blueprints for a plan to unite books, food and drink that has taken a major step towards fruition. “But it’s not been easy. There’s a lot of work to do. And we’ve still got to prove ourselves.”

Kane – director of Sheffield’s True North Brew Co, which runs 10 local pubs – was presenting a united front alongside Chris Reece and Veronica Hardstaff, committee members of volunteer-run Walkley Carnegie Library, which is firmly on the path to becoming a shared venue incorporating a café bar as well as traditional lending facilities.

The proposal for the 1904 building was first mooted four years ago as an imaginative way of providing a sustainable future for the library amid council cuts. True North took on the lease and a planning application for alterations and an extension was approved 12 months ago, but the project became dependent on financial support when costs spiralled.

The Heritage Lottery Fund has now approved a £67,000 development grant to allow more detailed plans to be drawn up. A bid for the full £1.3 million cost of the scheme will be submitted within two years, in the hope that building work can be completed by summer 2019.

Kane said: “The lottery people looked at the fact there was a very organised local voluntary group, who are highly motivated and intelligent, combined with a local operator that has a history of renovation. I think they thought there was a possibility of a winning team here.”

Walkley was one of 15 libraries handed to volunteers by the council in 2014, and there was initial opposition from some quarters to the notion of a café bar.

However, Chris said: “A lot of the people who were against it are seeing it looks like a very feasible idea. There is still quite a lot of action against voluntary libraries in Sheffield altogether, but a lot of the arguments are being disproved.”

There is an intention to run the library six out of seven days, increasing opening from 23 to 38 hours per week, added Chris. The service has its own inventory of 3,000 books. “Not only is it running, but it’s expanding all the time.”

True North – which counts The York in Broomhill and The Forum among its portfolio – will be investing £350,000 in the venture, and has pledged to spend £7,000 annually on maintenance. The firm will set £6,000 a year aside for library activities, and there will be scope to hold cultural and culinary events after hours.

Two food festivals are to be held every year with proceeds going to the library, which was set up in the Edwardian era using funding from the Scottish-American philanthropist Andrew Carnegie.

The building – registered as an asset of community value – is the only Grade II listed one of its kind to still operate as a library in Yorkshire. To fulfil the lottery brief, initiatives will be organised to highlight the place’s history and origins.

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 will move into the existing children’s section, with another mezzanine to expand the space.

To allow the work to go ahead, it is likely that the building will close next year, reopening by March 2019, with the library service continuing in temporary accommodation in the interim.

“We’re very lucky really,” said Kane. “These millions wouldn’t be available for people like us if it wasn’t for people buying lottery tickets.”