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New Walworth library and heritage centre tells story of Southwark

20 May 2021

A new library and heritage centre on Walworth Road dedicated to telling the story of Southwark and its people celebrated its opening chapter with a launch event on Wednesday (19 May).

In line with COVID-19 restrictions, the opening was attended by a limited number of guests that included Southwark Pensioners, Walworth Society and Dawes Tenants and Residents Association. This event comes ahead of a wider community celebration planned for the summer when restrictions have lifted.

Delivered by Southwark Council in partnership with Lendlease, as part of the regeneration of Elephant and Castle, the brand new building is home to Southwark Heritage Centre and Walworth Library.

The multi-use civic and community space combines library and heritage services to offer people unique access to Southwark’s archive and heritage collections.

By incorporating innovative display and event space, the new facility explores different ways of presenting information. For example, visitors can browse 20,000 new books in the children’s and adults library, and find inspiration from around 300 historical artefacts and artworks displayed in embedded heritage exhibits carefully chosen to match the book subject areas.

Local residents, community groups, the council and the architects, AOC Architecture, came together through workshops, drop-in sessions and an online consultation to shape plans for a welcoming, modern facility that meets the needs of Southwark’s diverse communities, reflects the unique character of the area, and offers a place to connect with other residents and the borough’s rich and varied history.

The centre’s permanent exhibition, The Story of Southwark, delves into themes of Place, People, Work and Play. Beginning with a traditional look at the borough’s history, it features many local objects from Southwark’s past including the only known souvenir of long-gone Victorian Surrey Zoological Gardens, Walworth. Over time the exhibition will be further developed in collaboration with local residents and groups to form a current and inclusive story of the borough.

Alongside an event space with seating for around 50 people, public PCs for adults and children, and 22 designated quiet study spaces, the centre provides:

  • a temporary exhibition space opening with Myth Making by artists Wignall and Moore who worked with the local community to create new myths for Southwark through writing, poems, paintings and sculpture alongside artefacts from the Cuming Collection
  • a permanent World Wall celebrating world cultures and showcasing the centre’s rarer historic objects from across the globe
  • the experiential Faraday Room, inspired by local inventor Michael Faraday and the concept of the ‘Faraday cage’, where visitors can book meetings or study sessions in a digitally silent space.

Some services are currently restricted due to COVID-19. For more information on what is on offer, visit www.southwark.gov.uk/libraries/southwark-heritage-centre-and-walworth-library

Cllr Kieron Williams, Leader of Southwark Council, said: “I’m so proud to be unveiling this fantastic new library and heritage centre, where there is something for everyone. Whether it’s losing yourself in one of the new books, making free use of the computers, or holding your next community event, please come visit and take inspiration from unrestricted access to artefacts from Southwark’s layered past. The centre is all about telling the story of Southwark so truly belongs to every resident from Walworth and across the borough, past, present and future.”

Cllr Alice Macdonald, Cabinet Member for Communities, Equalities and Neighbourhoods, said: “In the last decade, Southwark has become one of London’s most vibrant and innovative locations for culture and events activity. I’m delighted that our new library and heritage centre builds on this legacy, unlocking the huge potential of libraries to bring communities together so that local people benefit from culture across a range of disciplines. It’s been fantastic to see residents engage with each stage of the centre’s design to create a community hub with a real sense of belonging for all.”

Cllr Rebecca Lury, Cabinet Member for Finance, Business and Jobs, said: “Southwark Heritage Centre and Walworth Library is an open and welcoming new addition to Walworth’s historic neighbourhood. I’d encourage everyone to visit this unique place to access the state-of-the-art library, learn about the borough’s fascinating history, and connect with others by sharing your own stories of Southwark.”

Kristy Lansdown, Project Director at Elephant Park, Lendlease, said: “Throughout the delivery of Elephant Park, we are committed to creating a diverse mix of spaces that are inclusive and where everyone feels welcome. Having this fantastic, new local resource for the community as part of our neighbourhood brings further opportunities for people to meet, relax, read and learn, whilst celebrating Southwark’s rich and vibrant history.”

Opening hours are temporarily reduced due to lockdown restrictions from 10am to 6pm Monday to Friday, and 10am to 5pm on Saturday. The centre is currently closed on Sundays. Once restrictions lift, the library will be open as normal from 10am to 8pm Monday to Friday, 10am to 5pm Saturday and 12pm to 4pm Sunday.

Page last updated: 20 May 2021