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Saturday, 11 June 2016

Return of the Library Lab to Willesden Green Library?

It seems something like the Library Lab may return to Willesden Green Library.  Some may recall the Library Lab.  It was a project to try to use part of the old Willesden Green Library Centre to encourage networking among entrepreneurs.  It was very popular, despite being located in the former Cafe GiGi in less than unideal premises, and helped the regeneration of Willesden High Road _ particularly with the shops at the corner of Walm Lane and Willesden Lane. 

Unfortunately the money ran out, so it shut down after ten months.

The new proposal is to finally make use of the Long Room at the new Centre,.  This was originally intended for use by Brent's Revenues and Benefits service who decided their premises at the Civic Centre were adequate.  The Long Room was kept closed for quite a bit, before being opened as extra reading space until a recent incident

The idea is that the room will now be hired out as co-working space.  Brent Council say the aim is "to develop a space that doesn’t just provide a great working environment but also acts as a catalyst for local enterprise. We want to create a place where start-ups, entrepreneur’s freelancers and small businesses can thrive. We want to create a space where the users feel that they are part of a community that networks, innovates, collaborates and supports."

The Council's four aims are described as:

  • Provide demand led business support programme, including services such as signposting, capacity building and opportunities to network (the Council may be able to support the appointed provider with this) 
  • Create a community amongst the businesses, facilitating networking and information sharing between the users of the space 
  • Work with the Council to help identify suitable move on spaces for entrepreneurs who require larger premises to operate from as their business grows
  • To support the creation of a successful, commercially viable co-working space

This last sounds the most tricky.  After help with start up costs and a peppercorn rent for the first year, the new scheme is supposed to be commercially viable.  That means not only breaking even, but yielding a profit, part of which can go to the library's running costs.

Altogether, I think this sounds a really good innovative idea, and in line with some of the work done by the British Library and others, but I have two concerns.  The first is that the scheme may be extended to other parts of the building.  The Board room, at the top, would probably be no great loss as no one seems to use it anyway, but other parts of the building are used for community events and I would not like them to be squeezed out.

The second is the possible effect on opening hours.  Many local people regret that it is not possible to hire the meeting spaces outside library opening hours at an affordable rate.  This is because security guards have to be specially employed.  A scheme like this might allow greater access to the building in the evenins and at weekends, which would improve all the activities at the centre.  I certainly hope that turns out to be the case. 

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