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A report to Stockport Council’s Cabinet has recommended moving library services from Central Library to a new multi-million pound learning hub in Merseyway, following extensive public consultation.
The new Learning and Discovery Hub, provisionally named Stockroom, will repurpose disused retail units in the Merseyway Shopping Centre and is being funded following a successful bid for £14.5 million from the Future High Streets Fund. Following public consultation on potential facilities at the building, it has been proposed that moving library services should be moved from Stockport’s Central Library. Bringing the services to a more central location in the main shopping district aims to reverse declining book-borrowing and inspire more young Stopfordians to embrace reading and learning. The new space will also offer greater shelf-space for books, and improve accessibility.
In light of public concern for the future of access to the existing Central Library building, the council is set to explore possible future uses for the site, in-keeping with the spirit of industrialist Andrew Carnegie, who originally gifted the funds for the library’s construction in 1914. The council’s preferred future use for the building would be the ‘Continuing Education Service’: the service works across the borough, supporting and developing learning opportunities in communities to promote economic well-being and social inclusion.
Stockport Council’s cabinet will next meet on 7th December, where they will decide whether to go ahead with recommendations to move library services into Merseyway.
It is believed that creating a new, 21st Century library, cafe and learning space in Merseyway will breathe new life into vacant retail units and will bring thousands of visitors back to Stockport town centre as other, similar developments up and down the country have done.
After opening in 2017, Chester Storyhouse received one million visits in its first year. Four-fifths of these visits – almost 800,000 – were for the library, café, and community facilities and the remaining fifth for the cinema and theatre. Children’s book loans increased by 50% as Storyhouse helped to inspire a love of reading in children and young people.
In contrast visitor numbers to the current Central Library building have fallen by almost half (42%) from April 2012 to March 2020. Book loans have also dropped significantly, particularly amongst young people aged 15-19 who are taking out 61% fewer loans than in 2017.
Stockroom will be a place that brings communities together, celebrates Stockport’s unique heritage and supports the people of Stockport to achieve their ambitions.
Stockroom will be five times larger than the existing Central Library building enabling the council to expand the library service, improving the stock of books held as well as delivering a new café, performance area, ‘best in class’, high quality toilets, new parent and child facilities, and a sensory room as part of plans to make Stockroom one of the most accessible buildings in the Greater Manchester.
The development of Stockroom will form another stage in the regeneration and transformation that is ongoing across the whole Town Centre and has already seen successes in Stockport Exchange, Redrock, the Markets and Underbanks and the emerging work at Stockport Interchange and of the Mayoral Development Corporation.
Cllr David Sedgwick, Cabinet Member for Citizen Focus & Engagement said:
We are interested to note the recommendations of this report and will now engage with the Council’s scrutiny panels to inform the final decision.
“As it stands we cannot ignore the huge decline in usage of the current Central Library building which has seen visitor numbers almost halve in eight years.
“At the same time new, modern, accessible libraries across the country are attracting hundreds of thousands of much-needed visitors to town and city centres and inspiring a life-long love of learning in children and adults.
“We owe it to our children and young people to give them the opportunity to have the best possible start in life. Giving our young people a modern 21st century library will ignite their imaginations, inspire them to learn, and raise the aspirations so that they will grow up believing they can achieve their ambitions.
“This is a once in a lifetime opportunity to spend £14.5 m of Government money improving our town centre with new public facilities to support our growing population, breathing new life into vacant retail units and supporting our local businesses by creating a learning and cultural space for the whole borough, which will attract thousands of much needed visitors back to Stockport town centre.”