Old Manor Park Library, a new hub for creatives

posted in: Destinations | 6

This week a neighbour sent me a link to an Open Studio day at the Old Manor Park Library, London, UK.  I thought mmmm, that looks interesting and wanting to get more involved with Arts projects in my neighbourhood of East London I thought, why not, lets go.

Having passed the building a few times in the past I had always thought, wow, what a beautiful exterior.  It was built in 1904 from red brick and is today a grade 2 listed building.  It was funded by the philanthropist Andrew Carnegie who was born in Scotland, moved to America and made his fortune in the steel industry.  Referred to as one of the richest men in America, he is more famous for his philanthropy than his wealth.  During the last 18 years of his life he donated about 90% of his fortune to charities, foundations and universities enabling around 3000 libraries to be built.  Carnegie Hall in New York is probably his most famous building.  Anyway, back to the Old Manor Park Library…

The Old Manor Park Library had been vacant for 3 years until Create London and Bow Arts got together to transform the space into studios for artists and other creatives.  With an, open to the public, front of house area there is an emphasis on community participation and education.

The interior has now been beautifully restored.  Layers and layers of wallpaper and paint had to be stripped off to restore this gem to its former glory.  The walls and ceilings are crisp white and the carpets have been lifted to expose the wooden parquet flooring.  The ornate stucco ceilings draw your eyes upwards as you try to take it all in.

Natural light pours in from the very large windows which in turn  are decorated with leaded stained glass.  The stained glass detail throughout the building from the windows to the doors are a striking feature.

With an upstairs, a downstairs and several corridors leading to yet more spaces, exploring was a fun voyage of discovery.  Every available space has been utilised as a space to create, from large expansive spaces, to shared communal hubs to small intimate studios.  Spaces with large windows are defined by white prefab walls and spaces lacking external light are cleverly defined by glass screens around a central meeting table creating a sense openness yet togetherness.

I met and spoke with several of the artists/creatives present getting a small insight into their worlds.  I am always fascinated by peoples stories of their past, their present and their future aspirations.  Personally I always feel encouraged and inspired when listening to peoples creative journeys.  There were creatives originating from various countries who had made East London their home.  The one thing I noticed that came across strongly was how privileged they all felt being able to call such a beautiful building their creative home.

It is always a shame if a library is closed but having it brought back to life as a creative hub does go a long way to, in some way, replace what was lost.  With the focus still on community interaction and the sharing of knowledge with free books to read I am sure the  philanthropist Andrew Carnegie would approve.  To all who have worked so hard to achieve this I say well done, thank you and may this creative hub that is the Old Manor Park Library prosper and inspire many more creative minds.

To follow is a small selection of artworks that were on display:


6 Responses

  1. Hi Martin, Thank’s for this optimistic post. I like it too when space gets re occupied by art. Too often art gets not the social position that I think it should. This looks like a really nice old building. Wonderful, that it doesn’t just get torn down for more profit.

    • I agree, it is important not to underestimate the value that artists bring to a community and that they are supported as most artists do not make a lot of money.

  2. How interesting this piece was, Martin. Thank you so much for giving us all this information and, not just information but inspiration and encouragement to look at the buildings around us.
    i totally agree with you and with the comment from Stefan above about how great it is when a building is given a new lease of life and not in a commercial way. I shall hop along and see it for myself now. Some of the artworks looked really interesting. Thank you.

    • Hi Mavis, yes I too was so surprised when I started to do a bit of research on the building and learnt so many interesting facts about its history. And yes we must encourage old beauties like this building to be preserved and not just knocked down and replaced with blandness…

  3. While reading your post, I imagined that I was actually standing in the building, looking up to the roof and admiring the ceilings.

    It is truly wonderful that they have restored the building. We have gotten so commercialized these days that all old buildings have to give way t Malls and other money making facilities.
    Thanks for giving us a touch of London.
    Good Read

    • Hi Luna, glad to hear you got the feel of the place. Sometimes photos are not able to fully describe the impact a place can have on you so words help to try to create the feelings a place can evoke. And yes glad it was preserved for future generations

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