Planners approve West Library revamp as £1.5m We Are Cally project moves forward

Islington’s West Library. Photograph: Wikicommons

A youth employment hub will be created in an Edwardian library for the next stage of the £1.5m We Are Cally project to create a “brighter future” for the area.

An empty first floor reading room at the Grade II-listed West Library will be transformed into a youth and employment hub, and a lift will be put in, as well as accessible toilets.

The library in Bridgeman Road receives 100,000 visits a year.

Ward councillor Sara Hyde said the community “cherish this library” and there were no objections to the plans.

She said it would “fundamentally improve the prospect of young people in our neighbourhood”.

Cllr Hyde and her fellow ward councillors were at the planning meeting to support the scheme.

She added: “It is a small but perfectly formed library as it is. We want to see it full of books, not full of lift.”

She explained that it would see the reading room return to its original purpose. It was once an area where people could read job adverts and a plaque in the foyer pays testament to that.

The employment hub would be another part of the We Are Cally transformation, which includes work at the Jean Stopes  Community Centre at Carnoustie Drive on the Bemerton estate.

Islington Council’s planning committee approved the scheme after looking at three different options for the lift as they wanted to make sure the installation works causes as little harm as possible to the building.

It had deferred the decision in July to consider other ways of doing the work.

Planning officer Claire Sutton said the preferred option would see the loss of some panelling and changes to the ceiling and flooring on the ground floor.

She said it was impossible to put in a lift in without causing some “negative impact” on the historic building.

It also means the adult library and upper floor could stay open while the work is done.

Another option they considered required sound-proofing and would have meant “breaking through the marble floor twice”, along with a loss of  panelling and an original 1912 bookcase which “are part of the listing”. The work would have cost an extra £100,000.

A third option could have seen a  “potential revenue loss” because of issues around separating rooms.

Committee member Cllr John Woolf said for him a red flag would be loss of adult library space, which would have been a part of two of the options.

He said: “This is such an exciting proposal, it’s clearly got the support of residents and the councillors.”

Cllr Martin Klute said he was concerned that the “visual impact of the lift is seriously seriously damaging to the significance of the building”.

He preferred one of the other options, as did his colleague Cllr Tricia Clarke.

Committee chair Cllr Roulin Khondoker said she liked two options, but was concerned about losing library space with one of them so cast her vote for the less instrusive option, which was agreed.

“We want to preserve the heritage and we want to support jobs,” she said.