Returning to Lister Drive and the possible future of its near derelict library building.
In Part One of our exploration of Lister Drive, between Old Swan and Tuebrook, we found that it once had three buildings by Liverpool’s most celebrated municipal architect, Thomas Shelmerdine, a library, a school and a swimming baths.
The home, for now, of popular local nursery and after school club, Lister Steps.
‘For now?’ Well yes, because the local community have begun organising themselves to save, renovate and move into the other Thomas Shelmerdine building.
And here in Part Two of our exploration we’re going to get inside the old library building to see and hear what the local community have planned.
Lister Drive Library was abandoned nearly ten years ago now. It’s condition being so bad that a librarian here had been injured by the building itself, the City Council closed the library in 2006. Intending at first to repair the building, they soon found the necessary works to be prohibitively expensive and so here the building has sat this past decade, quietly decaying in its secret garden.
Soon after it was closed thieves stripped most of the lead from its roof and caused, well, what we’re about to see.
Jack Parr is from specialist contractors Robinsons Preservation Ltd, who have been taken on by Liverpool City Council to carry out emergency works to stop the Grade II listed building deteriorating any further. And with him is Kerry Massheder-Rigby, Heritage Development Officer for Lister Steps. Taken on by them to help pull together their bid to the Heritage Lottery Fund to restore the building. (More details from the Community themselves here.)
Then the structure will be secure while the Lottery bid is done and matched funding found. But for now let’s have a look back at where we’re standing.
Clearly the place was as much a peaceful place to come and read as it was to borrow books.
In fact it had three separate Reading Rooms here on the ground floor.
Notice too that ‘Ladies’ had their own separate entrance there on the right.
It was one of many public libraries throughout Britain and the rest of the world funded by Scottish-American philanthropist Andrew Carnegie. He would provide the money to build them on condition that the local authority would then take over the running of them.
Then over the years, as Liverpool itself expanded, the Library here ran mobile services to newly developing places.
Back to now, in the General Reading Room.
The roof is going to have to come off and be replaced when the full works are done.
The idea always was that this would be an inspiring place, a place where people would be encouraged to ‘look up’ from their lives. Now, when the money is raised and the works are done the local children and the local community will be able to do just that. Instead of being camped out in those portakabins.
‘Orange Juice’ were a rightly popular group from Glasgow, over 30 years ago. Hope their big hit ‘Rip it up and start again’ doesn’t apply here?
So all the way around I’ve been trying to re-imagine it as something else. Is it right that it should be something other than a library?
Well, a long abandoned library and nearly a lost place altogether? Brought back to life for the children of the place? Where they will learn and play and read and tell their own stories of the lives they’re just beginning? And the rest of the local community will join them there in the writing and telling of stories, in the building and in the garden? A place for everyone to ‘look up’ from their lives and be inspired again?
I think the local people deserve this. I think the building deserves this. And I doubt that Andrew Carnegie or Thomas Shelmerdine would disagree.
So I’ll be back regularly now to see how things progress.
Much, much more on the thinking and details of all this at the Lister Steps website. and big thanks to Kerry Massheder-rigby of Lister Steps for showing me round and sending me the historic photos, most of which originate from the Liverpool Records Office.