Have you heard the rather brilliant plans for Gloucestershire’s new, state-of-the-art library? As well as being a very 21st-century environment, it will also reflect the unique character of Stroud’s five valleys

It’s a place where past, present, and future come together. It’s where Socrates, Alice in Wonderland, Sherlock Holmes, Picasso, and kings and queens are of equal value. If you think about it, a town or city’s public library is one of the most exciting, fascinating, inspirational, educational, and informative spaces to be.

But one Gloucestershire town is helping to give the word ‘library’ a brand-new definition.

In one way you could say that Stroud is writing the future story of what libraries can and should be in the 21st century. And it looks nothing like it did for those of us growing up hunting for books on shelves in silence, scared to make a noise in case we were told to ‘shhhhush.’

This is the age of revolution for the library. And it is no longer just about books. It is about more, so much more. It is about 3D-digital printing, it is about film, dance, song, and sound.

Great British Life: How the Young Adults Library part of Stroud Library will lookHow the Young Adults Library part of Stroud Library will look

Stroud has every reason to celebrate. Its library has entered a new chapter, and its brand-new, state-of-the-art building in the Five Valleys Shopping Centre is to be a flagship library, not only for the county but for the country.

These really are exciting times for libraries in general. Not only will Stroud be leading the way in showcasing what an amazing facility a library can be, but libraries in Gloucestershire will be given a fresh injection of cash that will upgrade them and catapult them into the future with new vision, new ventures, and a new capacity to reach all ages.

Thanks to a successful submission to the Arts Council’s National Portfolio Organisation scheme, Gloucestershire libraries were awarded £750,000 over three years to continue their development to provide an ambitious and forward-thinking service for everyone in the county.

Last year, the Arts Council scheme enabled libraries and museums to be included for the first time. The money is a much-needed boost and vote of confidence in what libraries can and should be. It will be instrumental in changing the face of libraries, and Stroud and its sister libraries will no doubt be seen as template examples.

Great British Life: New home for the Stroud Libray (and The Lab) in the Five Valleys Shopping CentreNew home for the Stroud Libray (and The Lab) in the Five Valleys Shopping Centre

An overview

Stroud’s story fits into a bigger story for Gloucestershire. It builds on the fabulous changes that are already happening elsewhere in the county. Last year Stonehouse had a brand-new library, and work is currently going on to create a new Gloucester library at the former Debenhams site in the city centre, which will be a shared space with the University of Gloucestershire’s library. A successful bid to the Arts Council (Library Improvement Fund) has enabled development to take place in Oakley at Clyde Crescent, Cheltenham, to transform it into an Immersive Storytelling Centre. Due to open this month, participators can enjoy a digital experience with 360° projected images so they can touch a wall and interact with images that appear. It is about being present in a non-physical world and enables visitors to go to places and see things they otherwise might not be able to in a fully engaging manner.

Great British Life: Illustration to show the children's sensory wallIllustration to show the children's sensory wall

Stroud’s new bespoke library

So, what does Stroud’s new library look like? In short, it is going to be an exciting place to visit. Having seen proposed plans of the build, I only wish I was small again to be able to nestle into the snug circular alcove seats created for the younger readers. I am personally looking forward to writing future Cotswold Life articles in the quieter section of the library which will be designated for the business community and students working on written assignments.

I was fortunate to be present at a public meeting whereby the leading designer, Nigel Scorer from Contents Design Ltd, listened to local people about what they loved about Stroud to learn more about the town’s character, its history, its diverse and creative make-up. Stroud’s library will have artwork and a colour scheme that reflects the wonderful working town it is. This includes the river and canal, its woollen heritage, its markets, its artistic, welcoming, and homely nature. To help Nigel gain an idea of what the five valleys portray including golfers negotiating cattle on their golf courses, key landmark buildings, the landscape and so on, local photographer Emilie Sandy provided 200 photographs, many depicting locations she felt conveyed a ‘sense of place’ that best represented Stroud.

‘I hope my images will evoke memories and instigate conversations amongst the visiting public who know these places well,’ explains Emilie.

‘I have used the library throughout my life and use it on a regular basis with my own two young children. I think the concept for the new library encompasses a much-needed move towards offering various creative initiatives, and I’m looking forward to utilising what the new library has to offer.’

Emilie’s photos have informed graphic designers who have added a modern twist to create a Pop Art-like feel. Such designs will grace the ends of the bookcases to create a modern yet authentic-to-Stroud look.

The new library’s home is in the former Store 21 unit next to the recently opened medical centre in the Five Valleys Shopping Centre. Visitors will enter at street level and take steps or the lift downstairs to a greeting desk in the newly refurbished area on the lower ground floor.

‘The new site will be more accessible in the heart of the town centre and is likely to attract extra visitors who would be able to benefit from the many services offered by the library,’ says Councillor Dave Norman, cabinet member for libraries. His sentiment is echoed by Jane Everiss, head of Library and Registration Services.

‘This is a very exciting opportunity for Gloucestershire Libraries moving into a brand-new location at the heart of the town centre,’ says Jane.

‘The larger space will enable us to further develop the services we provide, including a dedicated space for children and families, and a new area for younger people which is full of the latest tech kit.’

The Lab Jane refers to is a brilliant facility and demonstrates how libraries are adapting in exciting and innovative ways.

Great British Life: Creations made at the Stroud LabCreations made at the Stroud Lab

Stroud Lab

What is this fabulous Stroud Lab? It is a friendly community space, offering accessible digital skill development for all ages and abilities. This is where imagination and innovation work together and ideas become creations. Aspiring creators can use virtual reality headsets, 3D modelling and printing, as well as the digital design studio with experienced lab technicians on hand to advise, train and encourage them. Stroud’s Lab, which launched in January, is the county’s third such venture. The first Lab opened in Coleford Library in 2019, and Gloucester’s Lab opened last year. There are also now Labs in Tewkesbury, Cheltenham, and Chipping Campden. Each work with schools, businesses, and the community, offering free support with digital skill development and offer access to the full Adobe Creative Cloud.

A membership scheme for individuals, businesses and students also offers dedicated time with the equipment and technical support as well as an opportunity to make connections with other members and be part of a growing creative community.

‘The success of the pilot at Coleford Lab and current engagement with our Gloucester lab really highlights the need for individuals of all ages and abilities to have access to high quality digital technology and skills.

‘Being able to offer this support more widely across the county in our libraries will add real value to the services we provide and have a hugely positive impact on our local communities,’ says Jane Everiss.

Stroud mum Hannah Bermingham says that the Lab club has been a massive asset in her 12-year-old son Henry’s life.

‘He has thoroughly enjoyed going, learns so much and his confidence has been boosted. He has enjoyed learning new skills, going with friends, and using the equipment that he wouldn’t normally have access to.’

Sam O’Brien, who is mum to Violet and Eric, says going to The Lab is now a key part of their weekends.

‘The Lab at the library has transformed our Saturday mornings! The children have been completely enthralled to learn about new technology in such a hands-on way, and the atmosphere is so friendly and inclusive. My mum, who is 80, came for a visit and loved it, too.’

Over the past few months, I have written many words in the area where Stroud’s Lab has taken place in its long-standing library in Lansdown. On the shelves are evidence of all the wonderful work young inventors and designers have made, such as sustainable book stands which will act as displays for books, jewellery designs, boxes, photo frames, coasters made on the laser cutter, and numerous exciting 3-D models using the 3-D printer. Artists have used it to create mini prototypes to show clients. The Labs in our Gloucestershire libraries are certainly places where anything is possible as thoughts and ideas become amazing things.

Great British Life: Stroud Library in Edwardian times. (c) Stroud Local History SocietyStroud Library in Edwardian times. (c) Stroud Local History Society

Stroud Library history

Years ago, who would have thought about having a lab in a library? I am proud to say I was made in Stroud and, as a child of the 1970s, the local library was where I, like many of my peers, escaped into another world, relished looking for new books and devoured the wonderful illustrations that accompanied the words. As we look at this new definition of a library, it is perhaps a good point to consider the journey the library has been on. This is Stroud Library’s personal story. It was back in 1888 that Stroud’s Free Library began in the former Stroud Grammar School in Lansdown, which was built in 1873. In 1888, the building was bought by local clothier, J. Strachan, who gave it to the town as a library. This iconic building alone holds memories for many local people. All my children went here for nursery, and I fondly remember having guitar lessons on a Saturday morning. Early reports of how the library service worked in the 19th century has interesting parallels with how it was forced to operate during the 2020 pandemic.

During lockdown, when restrictions were in place, readers weren’t allowed inside Stroud Library and had to collect pre-ordered books from the foyer. It was a throwback to the very early library days in 1888 when readers chose their books from a catalogue. There was no browsing first, and the librarian fetched it.

‘No persons were allowed to pass within the enclosure of the library or take any book from the shelves. Only one book at a time could be borrowed, and the fine was 1d per week for overdue books,’ states Pauline Stevens from Stroud Local History Society.

The library remained in the old Grammar School building until 1968, when a new library was built by the County Council on the adjoining site of the former vicarage. It opened to the public on October 5, 1968.

Vicki Walker from Stonehouse History Group shares her memories of going to the library when it was in the former Grammar School building.

‘I joined Stroud Library in 1957 at the age of five. The old building in Lansdown was quite imposing and serious, with high ceilings. The rules were observed strictly. I remember choosing a Little Grey Rabbit book and reading it in the car while my mother went shopping. I went back into the library to change it but wasn’t allowed to return a book on the same day it had been borrowed! But I loved the library and the range of books it had,’ she recalls.

‘When I started work in the ‘new’ library in the 1970s, everything was quite different. The library was really busy and lively. I was children’s librarian, and we had school classes in for stories every afternoon. We had author visits and holiday activities, and I set up a teenage area. We had professional librarians working in the library dealing with readers’ enquiries and research... Information had to be found in books then, in the days before the internet.

‘The old issue system with borrowers’ tickets and book cards was laborious and time consuming, but it did mean we talked to borrowers face to face and got to know which books they liked.’

For many of us who have grown up in Stroud, the library in Lansdown is all we have known. Fiona Parker, senior library assistant (deputy manager) for Stroud and Stonehouse libraries, shares her own personal memories.

‘This is such an exciting time for Stroud Library. I remember visiting as a small child, especially the smell of the polished wooden floor and how the light bounced off the surface onto the shelves of brightly-coloured books. We were only allowed to borrow three books at a time with little tickets inside that had to be removed and added to a long wooden index by the librarian. Although things have changed a bit since then, having a library card still feels very special,’ says Fiona.

‘I never imagined back then that I would spend much of my adult life working here and now helping manage it, too! Being part of this new phase is a real privilege. We can truly showcase that public libraries are at the heart of the community, and have so much to offer everyone.’

Great British Life: Team Leader (library manager) for Stroud and Stonehouse Libraries Lucy Yarham with Archie Woolls and senior library assistant (deputy manager) for Stroud and Stonehouse librariesTeam Leader (library manager) for Stroud and Stonehouse Libraries Lucy Yarham with Archie Woolls and senior library assistant (deputy manager) for Stroud and Stonehouse libraries


For those who regularly use the library, it has been a lifeline for many. During the winter months, Stroud, like many other libraries, was a designated warm space where folk could come and read or work in comfort and have free tea and coffee. But over the years, the library has evolved from a quiet studious space to a livelier place where weekly baby ‘bounce and rhyme’ sessions have added a new refreshing sound. Stroud has already hosted ‘knit and natter’, Lego clubs, code clubs, and the staff here have forged links with community groups. It is a hub; it is part of the heart of Stroud where all ages can come together, and this exciting new venture will just enable it to grow.

‘As a community space and a space for families, it is going to be incredible,’ says Kirstie Clarke, real nappy advisor. ‘I think that coming out of COVID as well, to have a safe place that people can come to meet their friends – where they are not expected to spend money and is inclusive – is so important.

‘The library is part of family culture, and to have somewhere that offers art and crafts, bounce and rhyme is part of that. It’s really exciting, and I hope young families will take up everything that the new library space will offer them.’

Nicole Ince is work placement coach for Stroud College and hopes that the new amenable space with its relaxing environment will encourage people of all ages.

‘There has previously been a stigma associated with libraries, so for students to have a safe place that has been designed to make them feel more relaxed and welcomed will be an amazing opportunity we can offer our learners,’ she says.

Lucy Yarham, team leader (library manager) for Stroud and Stonehouse believes it is pivotal time for Stroud and local libraries in general.

‘All of the staff are very excited that we can super-charge what we already offer to our customers, especially in current times when the cost of living has gone up. One of the ideas is to have a Saturday morning club across all libraries so that there is something happening every Saturday for families to do free of charge.

‘We are just so lucky in Stroud to have the heritage we have with our library. We are a trusted space, and it feels like we have been given a chance to reinvent ourselves and break down some of the boundaries that people have perhaps experienced with libraries. We are so far removed from that image they may have once had.

‘This is a most exciting time. It is like a library revolution for Gloucestershire.’

Managing director for Dransfield Properties, Mark Dransfield DL, believes it is pivotal moment, not only historically but architecturally.

‘It’s a major milestone in our regeneration work in Stroud to see this key building on King Street complete, and the last of our tenants fitting out and very soon taking occupancy,’ he says.

‘As well as providing a stunning piece of architecture for the town, the building has allowed for the consolidation and expansion of a number of public services that are now more accessible to the community.’

Gone are the days of being told to stay quiet in libraries and adhering to strict rules. Whilst there will be quiet areas for folk to work, this is a new dawn for the library. It’s free like it always has been, but the invitation to escape into another world or learn a new skill and create something extraordinary that books alone can't offer has now opened a massive chapter of opportunity. The library has rewritten its own new definition.

For more information visit: gloucestershire.gov.uk/libraries