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Uncovering hidden treasures as Oldham’s Union Street Building gets revitalised

Work to restore Oldham’s Old Library has taken a step forward with scaffolding taken down as the major restoration project advances.

The refurbishment of the Grade Two-listed building on Union Street which was built in 1883, are part of a long-running ambition by the town hall – first unveiled in 1996 – to create a ‘cultural quarter’ in the town centre.

The Refurbishment of Oldham’s Library

A hell of a project!

Work has been ongoing since January 2022, and includes replacing the roof – using the original tiles wherever possible – and cleaning the stone to bring it back to its former glory.

It had originally been proposed to turn the entirety of the Old Library into a heritage centre, but this was shelved in favour of a more mixed-use development.

Oldham Theatre Workshop

Once completed the building will become a home for the Oldham Theatre Workshop and it will also contain a new council chamber and function facilities, a gallery and ‘flexible spaces’ linked to Gallery Oldham.

Council chiefs say the first phase of the restoration of the Old Library is set to be complete next month, while the second phase, involving the internal fit out, will be starting soon.

The 140th Anniversary of Oldham Library

Speaking at the library, on the 140th anniversary of the day it first opened to the public, council leader Arooj Shah said: “It’s great to see how far the restoration of the Old Library has come, and I look forward to this fantastic heritage building being brought back into use for all the community.

“The Old Library has a special place in the hearts of many Oldhamers, just as it does to me. I have fond memories of coming here with my parents and siblings when I was younger, so it’s exciting to see the historic features being preserved and the building brought back to life for future generations to use and enjoy.

“Moving council offices and the council chamber to the Old Library and the Spindles also frees up the Civic Centre for redevelopment by our partner Muse, who are set to create new homes, a park and beautiful new public spaces right in the heart of Oldham.

“The restoration of the Old Library is an important piece in the jigsaw of our all-new town centre; and it’s so exciting to see how the plans are becoming a reality.”

Harry Catherall

Council leader Arooj Shah

During the visit Coun Shah and chief executive of the authority, Harry Catherall, signed a steel beam within the structure.

The restoration project has been key for preserving key historical features in the Old Library, including relief sculptures; carved structures or writing in the stonework.

The east and west walls of the building feature a collection of carved stone heads, including inventor Samuel Crompton, playwright William Shakespeare, poet John Milton, composer George Frideric Handel, painter Raphael and naturalist Charles Darwin.

The Lady Wrigley statue also sits atop of the historic building, proudly holding a wreath in one hand and a book in the other.

She was named as a snub to Colonel Thomas Wrigley, who campaigned to stop Oldham from building a library and art gallery in the 1880s.

The work is being carried out by contractor Tilbury Douglas, and chiefs say the project is estimated to have already achieved £3.6m of ‘social value’ including the creation of new jobs and opportunities for local businesses.

When complete the Cultural Quarter is aimed to include an extended community gallery space and home for Oldham Theatre Workshop at the restored Old Library; the brand-new theatre; Gallery Oldham and Oldham Library, with events including the live@thelibrary programme.

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