Former library to reopen as co-working space and accommodation 

A former Carnegie Library in Kirkwall, Orkney will find new life as a co-working space.

Former library to reopen as co-working space and accommodation in Orkney LDRS

A former local library is set to reopen as a co-working space and accommodation in Orkney.

A former Carnegie Library in Kirkwall, Orkney, is set to find new life as a co-working space and accommodation this spring.

The project is being led by Kirkwall resident Calvin Cooper and his business advisory firm, CRC.

Mr Cooper has been transforming the beloved building – referred to by most as “the old library” – into a home for his business; larger, rentable offices, meeting spaces; and a co-working space where people can rent a desk for short periods.

Inside Old Library in Kirkwall.

In its new form, the Old Library will also feature accommodation so businesses from outside Orkney can visit and use it as a hub for extended periods.

Mr Cooper says he is looking to tap into the potential the county offers as a destination for remote working.

He said: “Remote working represents a huge opportunity for Orkney’s economy.

“Living on an island used to mean that business opportunities were limited, compared to mainland-based businesses.

“However, since lockdown, it’s been proven that this is no longer the case.

‘Remote working presents huge opportunity for isles’ says old library developer
“In fact, many of our own clients are outside Orkney, as are some of our team.

“With a huge rise in work-from-home employees and remote workers, we wanted to create a space that could bring people together.

“We hope this project will spark up new working relationships, and new opportunities for those based within the space.”

Kirkwall’s Carnegie Library first opened its doors in 1909 and served as the town’s library until a new one was built and opened in 2003.

After that, the building served several purposes but nothing permanent.

This was until local developer and businessman, Neil Stevenson, took it on.

He re-developed the space to become the home of his business, Grooves Records.

However, Grooves moved on to new premises in 2021, leaving the building empty once again.

Mr Stevenson spent two years trying to find a new use for the building and eventually sought planning permission to turn it into flats.

While this did become an option, he was still trying to find another use for the building.

This was where Mr Cooper entered the picture with his idea of offices and the co-working space – which he had already been attempting to make a reality at different premises within town.

Kirkwall’s old library was earmarked for flats until co-working idea
Mr Cooper is himself a lifelong resident of Kirkwall, having grown up and gone on to found his business there.

He says he’s well aware of the Old Library’s significance to Kirkwallians. Like many, he spent plenty of time there as a youngster.

Mr Cooper said: “It’s always a building I’ve been fond of.

“And being able to keep this beautiful old building in public use felt like an important thing to do for our local community.

“By installing a modern underfloor heating system, insulation, and enhanced tech behind the scenes, the building will provide all the comfort and features users would expect of a modern office.

“But on the surface, we’re taking care to ensure these enhancements are installed sensitively.

“We will be retaining the traditional features which people know and love – and ensure they’re preserved for a long time to come.

“Old buildings do have a habit of throwing you some surprises – and this one has been no different!

“Thankfully though, we’ve not found anything so far that couldn’t be sorted – and we look forward to opening later this Spring.”

Kirkwall’s street ‘most vibrant I can remember’ says local councillor
Further highlighting the presence the Old Library plays for Orcadians, local councilor Leslie Manson said he also spent plenty of time there in his youth.

He later gained a new connection to the building when it fell under his remit as the local council’s director of education – a role he retired from in 2014.

“I would say the library is pretty iconic”, he said.

“Certainly, it was a place I frequented when I was a kid more than 60 years ago.

“When I was director of education the library was part of my responsibility and we used it in a whole lot of different ways.

“So, I’ve been a patron of that building for a long, long time.

“I would suggest it means a lot to the people of Kirkwall and wider afield.”

Mr Manson went on to highlight the current strength of Kirkwall’s town centre.

Just a stone’s throw away, Mr Stevenson has his own major development underway.

Work is well under way turning the Gardens Buildings on Bridge Street into a multi-use venue.

The development will feature a bowling alley, nightclub, restaurant, and more.

Kirkwall library co-working space and multi-use gardens buildings to join thriving high street
The councillors said: “I travel a lot in the north of Scotland. I’m familiar with all the small towns from around Inverness and north from there.

“For me, Kirkwall is far and away the most vibrant small town in the north of Scotland. At the moment, it’s probably the most vibrant I can remember.

“In many small towns elsewhere, right down to the central belt, it’s all charity shops and bookies.

“That’s not the dominant feature in Kirkwall at all. The dominant feature here is really high-quality shops.

“And there are a lot of far-sighted, energetic, entrepreneurial individuals who have made our town centre that way.”

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