Ulverston Library pop-up service ‘phase two’ opens

A second phase of a temporary pop-up library service in Ulverston has opened this week.

The library service now occupies three units in Ulverston Market Hall on New Market Street, a short distance from the pop-up library facility already opened in the Ante Room at The Coro.

The Market Hall units provide space for more stock for borrowing as well as areas that can be used for community groups, meetings and events.

The facilities in the Ante Room have been up and running for several weeks and provide a reception desk, selection of books for borrowing and public access laptops and printers.

The Ante Room is hired from The Coro and is only able to open in line with The Coro’s current opening hours, but the new Market Hall units will be open 9am to 5pm Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday and from  9.30am to 1pm Saturday. Both the Ante Room and Market Hall will have library service staff on hand to assist with customer enquiries.

Ulverston’s library building on King’s Road was closed following the discovery of issues with the building’s electrics during routine statutory checks.

Further investigations have revealed that the issues with the electrics are extensive and Westmorland and Furness Council is carrying out an appraisal to carefully consider all options for providing a permanent, long-term library service in Ulverston to achieve the most effective and best value solution for the local community.

Options being looked at include the full repair and refurbishment of the existing library building on King’s Road – to include repairing the electrics, upgrading the heating system, interior layout changes and any other building works required – as well as examining opportunities to re-locate to alternative premises or co-locate within other facilities in town.

The council has repeatedly stressed that the current pop-up arrangements are temporary and the long-term library solution would involve a far more extensive provision, whether that is back in a refurbished King’s Road or another location, and that the options work is looking at opportunities to expand and enhance service, particularly to develop its community facilities.

More answers to questions on Ulverston Library, the options being considered and next steps, can be found in our Ulverston Library Questions and Answers

Councillor Virginia Taylor, Westmorland and Furness Council’s Cabinet member for Sustainable Communities and Localities, said: “When we discovered the problem with the electrics at King’s Road and had to take the decision to close the building, our immediate priority was to get at least a partial library service back up and running in Ulverston.

“So I am delighted that we’re now able to open the second phase of our temporary pop-up in the Market Hall, which will complement the facilities in the Ante Room.

“Libraries are in my portfolio and I think they are more important than ever, for young people to make discoveries about themselves and about the world, to educate, to entertain, to educate, to bring people together.

“The Council is working hard to ensure that we can achieve the very best long-term outcome for the town and its library service. We are considering all the available options to get the best future for the library and library services in Ulverston – including looking at opportunities to expand and modernise the service and make it even more accessible to more of the local community.

“We recognise there has been much speculation and discussion about Ulverston Library, but whatever happens next will likely require significant investment. It is therefore right and proper that we weigh up all options carefully, taking into account a number of factors, before committing to that level of investment to make sure that it really delivers for Ulverston, not just for now but into the future.

“We should be in a position to be able to announce the outcome of that appraisal work soon, and in the meantime we hope people will take the time to read our extensive Ulverston Library Questions and Answers document which addresses in more detail many of the questions that have been raised.

“I would also remind that, as the library is a statutory function, we’re required to consult on any changes, including any relocation of the library, so the local community will have the opportunity to comment on proposals and public views will be taken into account as part of the process.’’

In addition to the pop-up services at The Coro and Market Hall, customers can also find full library services at nearby libraries at Grange and Barrow, with Library Links in Dalton and Broughton-in-Furness.

The council also has a digital library services on offer.

Ulverston Library service – your questions answered

The outside of Ulverston Library

Q: What is the current situation with the Ulverston Library building on King’s Road?

A: The building is currently not safe to be used due to the discovery of issues with the building’s electrics during routine statutory checks earlier this year.

We have now made a thorough check of the building and have taken steps to isolate the power supply to make the main electrics safe but have ensured that security systems continue to have power.

This means the building is secure, but it cannot be opened to the public as the main supply powering lights/heating is not operational. It also cannot be used as a workplace for our staff for the same health and safety reasons. Stock is in the process of being transferred to secure storage in another building in the town to keep it protected during the colder winter months and so that staff can safely access it.

Our first priority after having to shut the building on King’s Road was to try to get some form of library service back up and running as soon as we were able.

That resulted in the opening of the temporary pop-up service in the Ante Room at The Coro, which includes book borrowing and public access laptops and printers.

A second phase of the temporary provision is opening this week at Ulverston Market Hall, to include more stock for borrowing as well as space for community groups, meetings and events.

We are now looking at options for reinstating a permanent library service in Ulverston. This options appraisal will include looking at what would be involved in re-opening King’s Road, whether there are other premises in town that could accommodate the library or whether we could look at co-locating the service in shared premises, such as at The Coro.

We anticipate being able to say more about the outcome of this options appraisal in the coming weeks.

 

Q: So what are the electrical issues with the building?

A: It’s a pretty long list. The checks have shown the issues with the electrics are extensive and run throughout the building.

Detailed repair cost estimates are still being finalised, but our current understanding is that the building would likely require a full re-wire to fully resolve the problems.

We are also aware that the current heating system requires upgrading. As any re-wire would mean extensive disruption to the fabric of the building it would be sensible to also cost in the heating system upgrade at the same time, as well as any interior layout changes to ensure that, if it is decided to repair the existing library building, we can tackle all works at the same time to deliver the most cost-effective long-term solution and make the library fit-for-purpose going forward.

That level of work wouldn’t be cheap and we expect that, to complete the re-wire, heating system upgrade, interior layout changes and any other works required to bring the library building up to standard and sustain the current services, would be at least a significant six-figure sum.

 

Q: Why can’t the electrics just be fixed so the building can re-open?

A: Doing a fix on the immediate electrical issues would likely only be a temporary solution at best.

We know that other issues with the building are likely to require attention in the longer term – heating system, roof, interior decoration and general maintenance – so even if the electrics can be made safe for now and we were able to re-open, we know that at some point we would need to close the building again to sort out other emerging problems.

This could ultimately end up being more costly and more disruptive in the long-run, so we are taking this opportunity to consider all options and how the service can be best managed, both for now and in the longer-term.

So we could carry out a fix that could enable us to re-open the building in the short-term, and that is still an option being considered, but as we are spending public money we are quite rightly obliged to ensure that whatever we do achieves best value for the taxpayer and that we are making best use of our assets.

Our view is that, now these issues have forced the closure, the responsible thing to do is to  carefully look at all options – including the merits or otherwise of investing in a fix of the immediate electrical issues, balanced against all other considerations.

Certainly we need to consider all these options before making any long-term decisions, requiring significant investment, to ensure we achieve the best outcome for that investment in the best long-term interests of Ulverston.

 

Q: What else is wrong with the building? Isn’t this just a result of a lack of maintenance?

A: We already know that the heating system requires upgrading and the general fabric of the building will also require attention before long.

Anyone who is familiar with the building will also know that some areas have not been used (including the upstairs rooms) for some time because they are not currently suitable for public use and are not Disability Discrimination Act (DDA) compliant.

So it has been known for some time that the building – which was opened in 1961 and so is now more than 60 years old – wasn’t being fully utilised and had various emerging issues.

Regular maintenance has been carried out to ensure the areas of the building used by the public continued to be safe, but it was also clear that at some point King’s Road would require significant investment to bring it up to the standards we’d expect from a modern library service, not only in terms of the fabric of the building but also digital connectivity, more flexible spaces for community use etc.

This is part of an ongoing programme of improvements to our libraries and we have been through similar processes with our libraries in Barrow and Kendal, where we have also been careful to determine the most effective way to invest in those services to deliver the best outcome for library users.

The electrical issues identified this year that have forced the closure of King’s Road – and we regret that it has caused disruption to the service – have hastened that discussion about how that investment would be best spent to meet Ulverston’s needs.

 

Q: Why does the pop-up library in the Coro have such limited opening hours?

A: At the moment we have an agreement to hire the Ante Room in The Coro from the current operator. The opening hours of the pop-up library are therefore in line with the current opening hours of The Coro, which are determined by The Coro.

As many people will know, from 1 January 2024 the council will be taking over the management of The Coro from the current operator.

That means from that point the council will be able to review the operating hours of the venue, and therefore the opening hours of the pop-up library service.

 

Q: What about people with mobility issues or who are nervous about coming to a different building?

A: Both temporary pop-ups, in The Coro and the second location in the market hall, are on the ground floor and fully accessible for people with mobility issues and both will have library staff on hand to help customers to access library services.

Both locations are also on the ‘town’ side of the A590, which we are hoping will make it easier and more convenient for the majority of people to access. We know from speaking to our regular customers that having to cross the busy A590 to get to King’s Road was always one of its disadvantages, especially for people with mobility issues.

We also offer a home delivery service and have added extra resource in this area to support people to access lending services while the library building is closed. Anyone unable to visit the pop-up libraries during opening hours and who wants to find out more about  this service can call 01539 713524 to talk to library staff about being added to the home delivery.

 

Q: Isn’t this just an excuse to reduce library services in Ulverston to save money?

A: No, absolutely not. We fully recognise the library’s importance to Ulverston. We have been clear that the council considers the library service in Ulverston to be one of our most important in the new council area.

It is not only a popular library, but also provides a home to community group meetings and community-based services, with more than 2,800 members and an average 4,000 footfall each month. It is a model of the sort of vital community-focused service that this council values highly.

We recognise its importance to the town and we are fully committed to retaining and delivering a library service in Ulverston that maintains that community-centred approach.

Far from reducing services, we are looking for opportunities to expand and enhance the library offer in Ulverston, so we can build on the great work of the current library building but want to consider if we can do even better, offer even more and we want to look at how that could be achieved.

 

Q: What about all the community groups that use the current library – what will happen to them?

A: As previously stated, we know that Ulverston is one of our most active and popular libraries, both with users of the service and the many community groups, organisations and individuals who use the building, for everything from being a place to get out of the cold during the winter months as one of our ‘Warm Spots’, to access to public PCs and printers and a place to meet and socialise.

The first phase of the temporary pop-up library service in the Ante Room at the Coro already has public access laptops and printers available and the second phase of the pop-up service in the market hall will include space for regular activities such as community group meetings to partially address that need and we are working with other market facilities – such as the café – to offer users of the pop-up library access to food and drink.

We understand most of the community groups that use King’s Road have now found alternative spaces while the building is out of action and will happily talk to them to see if the new pop-up facilities would suit their needs, and an alternative warm space is available at another council facility at Ulverston Leisure Centre, through our contractor GLL.

Whatever happens in the future, we fully intend that the long-term plan for Ulverston library services will continue to include provision for community groups and organisations.

A modern library is about much more than borrowing books and we see this community-focused offer as the lifeblood of the library.

It is also precisely why we are considering all our options for the future location so that we can look to maximise that community benefit, creating a flexible, accessible community space where we can even expand and develop that side of the service.

 

Q: Won’t the pop-up library’s use of the Ante Room in The Coro mean some big events there next year – that use all the rooms – be compromised?

A: The council only agreed to take back management of The Coro on 14 November and has started the process with the current operator of transferring operations ready for 1 January 2024.

This includes getting an understanding of the bookings taken by the current operator and the requirements of these organisers for their events.

The council has repeatedly said it will honour all confirmed bookings from community groups and will work with all promoters to ensure events are not impacted, either by the change in management or the use of the Ante Room for the pop-up library.

 

Q: If one option is to move the library to The Coro, wouldn’t that compromise both the library and the Coro?

There are plenty of examples of arts and cultural venues that successfully co-locate with other attractions or services, from launderettes to libraries.

We are taking the opportunity to consider whether this option could work for Ulverston – in the best long-term interests of both The Coro and the library.

A co-located model could potentially benefit both; meaning The Coro becomes a more accessible, community-centred building offering library services and even better community meeting spaces and – with investment in flexible design – could still revert to an arts and cultural venue for shows, exhibitions and events.

This type of flexible community and cultural space could improve not only the library service but also the long-term sustainability of The Coro, opening it up even more to benefit Ulverston.

This is one idea being looked at as part of the options appraisal work, alongside options to fully refurbish the King’s Road library building and examining if any other suitable premises in town could house the library service.

 

Q: Will you consult the Ulverston community on long-term plans for the library service?

A: Yes. The council has repeatedly stressed that whatever happens next will require considerable investment and that it wants to ensure that the community is fully involved in the discussion before any commitment is made to that sort of expenditure.

We want to make sure we get this right in the long-term best interests of Ulverston and we don’t want to rush decisions without considering the community’s views.

As libraries are a statutory function, we’re required to consult on any changes, including any permanent relocation of a library, so the local community was always going to have the opportunity to comment on any proposals that come out of this options appraisal work, and the views of Ulverston residents, service users, elected members and all interested parties will be taken into account as part of any decision-making process.

 


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