About Me

"Use every man after his desert, and who should 'scape whipping?"

Tuesday, 24 November 2015

Anyone want to run a café in Clapham Library?

Some caffeine with your Kafka madame?
Looking forward to this bookish café, but hoping it'll
spill out onto the pavement otherwise there won't be
anywhere for anyone to sit - students, readers, coffee
sippers will all be competing for already limited
seating and desk-space!
Interesting fact: Lambeth is inviting bids from anyone interested in opening a coffee shop on the ground
floor of Clapham Public Library.

The flyer put out by Lambeth's agent, Lambert Smith Hampton, says the café would be given 60 square metres of space on the ground floor, and that customers "will be able to acesss…additional seating at mezzanine level".

A café has always been part of the plans for the library and in theory it's a nice idea. A good book or magazine and a decent mug of frothed milk instant: what could be better?

In reality, of course, it's a different matter. On a Monday afternoon, that 60sq m at the front of the building was filled with young students working at tables. The mezzanine area was also full. Most of the private study spaces on the way up that spiral ramp were occupied.

Things get even busier when exam season approaches - and these days exam season is most of the school year. The trouble with this building, which looks awfully good in the brochures, is that it makes very poor use of the space it encloses. There's a great big void in the middle that's pleasing enough but not really very useful for people wanting somewhere to sit and read. The little benches on the spiral ramp are too narrow for anyone over the age of about 7 to sit comfortably on.

Add to this the fact that Lambeth says that Clapham, as one of the "safe" town centre libraries, will take in exiled users of the libraries it is planning to close or convert into gyms, and you see the potential for severe overcrowding. That's if people can face or afford the bus or tube journey to Clapham High Street from Kennington or South Lambeth.

With these considerations, and with the proposed rent "in the region of £25,000pa" you wonder if the site is going to be very attractive to bidders. You have to hope there'll be restrictions on the type of food they can offer, or the whole book stock will soon be smelling of stale fried onion. 

It seems OK that parts of the library are reserved for "teens" or mothers and babies. There's quite often a seat free down in the kids' area, which is also a performance area - but you'd need a stronger sense of entitlement than I have to face off the glares of the SW4 mumsnet contingent.

Maybe they should have a designated dossers' zone for old lags, layabouts and buffers like me. We are on the increase, you know.

But I don't want to carp: I use this library all the time and overall it has to be one of the better examples of public-private joint development. The staff are great and it has a good and imaginative stock of books, etc…I just wonder how, if it's got a hope of being commercially viable, a café is going to be squeezed in there and what will be lost as a result.

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