Old Library takes next step in return to former glory

THE revamp of Oldham’s Old Library continues to take shape, with the main scaffolding structure now removed to reveal the stonework and restored roof.

Once complete, the Old Library will house facilities for the community to use; a new Council Chamber; council offices and spaces for public meetings; as well as a new home for Oldham Theatre Workshop.

Careful restoration of the Old Library, in the heart of the town’s cultural quarter, has been ongoing since January 2022 and includes replacing the roof – using the original tiles wherever possible – and cleaning the stone to bring it back to its former glory.

Inside the Old Library

Oldham Council and contractors Tilbury Douglas came together to mark the significant milestone on Tuesday, August 1, the 140th anniversary of when the building officially opened to the public in 1883.

During the event, Council Leader Councillor Arooj Shah and Oldham Council Chief Executive Harry Catherall toured the building and also signed a steel beam within the structure.

Cllr Shah said: “It’s great to see how far the restoration of the Old Library has come, and I look forward to this fantastic heritage building being brought back into use for all the community.

“The Old Library has a special place in the hearts of many Oldhamers, just as it does to me. I have fond memories of coming here with my parents and siblings when I was younger, so it’s exciting to see the historic features being preserved and the building brought back to life for future generations to use and enjoy.

“Moving Council offices and the Council chamber to the Old Library and the Spindles also frees up the Civic Centre for redevelopment by our partner Muse, who are set to create new homes, a park and beautiful new public spaces right in the heart of Oldham.

“The restoration of the Old Library is an important piece in the jigsaw of our all-new town centre; and it’s so exciting to see how the plans are becoming a reality.”

Preserving key historical features has been at the centre of the Old Library’s restoration, including relief sculptures, which are carved structures or writing in the stonework. The east and west walls of the building feature a collection of carved stone heads, including inventor Samuel Crompton, playwright William Shakespeare, poet John Milton, composer George Frideric Handel, painter Raphael and naturalist Charles Darwin.

The Lady Wrigley statue also sits atop of the historic building, proudly holding a wreath in one hand and a book in the other. She was named as a snub to Colonel Thomas Wrigley, who campaigned to stop Oldham building a library and art gallery in the 1880s.

Oldha Council leader, Cllr Arooj Shah

Cllr Shah added: “As we create a town centre fit for the future, it’s also crucial that we preserve Oldham’s proud history.

“That’s why it’s so important that we sympathetically restore buildings such as the Old Library wherever we can, keeping the original features while still transforming it into a space suitable for people to use here and now – right in the heart of our Cultural Quarter.”

The first phase of the restoration of the Old Library is set to be complete next month, while the second phase, involving the internal fit out, will be starting soon.

We spoke to Sharmaine, a Visual Journalist from Oldham, who joined the tour of the building and has been taking images of the progress over the past 18 months.

Sharmaine said: “It’s been amazing watching the building transform and it’s incredible seeing it go from what it was, to what it is now. I feel like it’s going to massively benefit the town and community.”

The Old Library is set out over a number of floors, and as part of its redevelopment, the whole building will be made accessible to all users.

The social value that the project has already achieved for Oldham is estimated to be around £3.6 million – meaning local people have benefitted directly from the project. This includes the creation of new jobs, training and volunteering opportunities for residents and more opportunities for local businesses.

Phil Shaw, Divisional Director at Tilbury Douglas, said: “Being able to transform such a historic site into a cultural hub, which will add so much to the community, has been a real honour for the Tilbury Douglas team.

“Everyone including our supply chain partners has gone above & beyond to maximise every opportunity to give back to the local community.”

The Cultural Quarter, when complete, will include an extended community gallery space and home for Oldham Theatre Workshop at the restored Old Library; the brand-new theatre; Gallery Oldham and Oldham Library, with events including the popular live@thelibrary programme.

This milestone comes after a number of recent announcements and milestones in our ongoing regeneration programme, including the opening of Hilton Square, a new open-air arts and events space, and the ongoing revamp of the Spindles.

To find out more about the work taking place, visit: www.oldham.gov.uk/regen

One Reply to “Old Library takes next step in return to former glory”

  1. It’s certainly very fine old building and arguably one of the very few actually still worth preserving; so of course OMBC have completely neglected it and allowed it to go to wrack and ruin over the 2 decades or so since it was closed.

    I’ve never really understood the rational for extending the art gallery, (which was the original plan,) which is almost always empty or filled with stuff that looks as if it’s been purchased as job lot from IKEA, (the tacky Goddess Flora stuff for example.)

    I think this has more to do with creating more lucrative work for OMBC’s various commercial, “partners,” than it’s about meeting any real need, (seriously yet another performance space how many does Oldham really need,) or aspiration.

    Frankly I tend to take the whole thing with a very large pinch of salt ?

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