Leeds Library set to expand for first time in 143 years as part of new £1.2 million investment

In an investment totalling over £1.2 million, Leeds Library is set to expand for the first time in 143 years following the acquisition of number 15, Commercial Street.

By Alex Grant
Thursday, 10th March 2022, 12:50 pm

The additional space will make the Library fully accessible for the first time; unite its collection of over 140,000 books under one roof; and create a new hub for culture, the arts, education, and learning in the heart of the city centre.

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Number 15 Commercial Street is next door to the Leeds Library, and acquisition of the four-storey building is being made possible with the support of the Architectural Heritage Fund and the Ecology Building Society, who are providing financial support alongside the Library’s own investment in the project.

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The library is the oldest surviving private subscription library in the UK. Picture: James Hardisty.

“The purchase of 15 Commercial Street opens a new chapter in the Library's 250-year story and secures its future for generations to come. The additional space the new building provides will make the Library more accessible, will allow us to broaden the range of activities and events we support, and will enable us to bring our collections together in one place." said, Martin Staniforth, Chair of the Leeds Library.

"By doing so it will reinforce the Library's position as a cultural hub for the city. I am grateful to all those who have helped bring this about, and particularly the Ecology Building Society and the Architectural Heritage Fund for their commitment to the project.”

The library is the oldest surviving private subscription library in the UK. Founded in 1768, it has occupied its current Grade II* Listed Building on Commercial Street, Leeds, since 1808.

Opening in 2023, the expansion will coincide with the largest programme of cultural events in the city’s history to-date, plans are being devised to link the new building with the Library’s existing premises to provide a retail unit, a study and social space, new welfare facilities and lift, and an event space accommodating up to 100 people.

Chief Executive of the Leeds Library, Carl Hutton, said: “The last two years have been challenging for everyone, including the Leeds Library; but it also showed us how much Library members and the public value our books, our building, and the programme of events we run. Expansion into next door will secure the future of the Leeds Library, and reinforce its position at the heart of the city and at the heart of the city’s culture and arts.”

Number 15 Commercial Street will play host to creative learning workshops, literary events, education visits, research, and private bookings.

As well as housing an historic collection dating back to the Library’s foundation (including rare and unique books), the Library is a contemporary library offering members access to online courses, audio books, DVDs and CDs, an eBook library, and a wide range of academic journal articles.

Jon Lee, Business Development Manager at Ecology Building Society, said: “We’re delighted to support the exciting expansion of the Leeds Library. Ecology specialises in supporting projects which deliver community gain. The growth of the Library helps secure the long-term future of this historic building and provides a valuable shop front to raise the visibility and accessibility of an iconic cultural resource.”

Matthew Mckeague, CEO of the Architectural Heritage Fund, said: “We are very pleased to be awarding The Leeds Library a Heritage Impact Fund loan towards the acquisition of 15 Commercial Street. Not only will this new space expand the Library’s premises, but it will also help to repurpose a 19th-century building in the heart of the city and enhance public engagement through a range of cultural and literary events and educational activities.”

The Leeds Library also hosts an exciting programme of events throughout the year, both in-person and online, nurturing a love of reading and the next generation of Leeds writers.

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