Libraries in West Sussex will be transformed as part of a £5million project creating community hubs for the future.
The aim is to safeguard libraries across the county as West Sussex County Council’s budgets come under increasing pressure.
The concept of putting public buildings at the heart of the community was launched at Worthing Library this morning, following a public consultation last year.
Debbie Kennard, cabinet member for safer, stronger communities, said: “We are investing in the library. We feel it is important to bring services into the one place, so we can strengthen the community.
“Obviously, we are going to make savings through closing other buildings but we are going to make sure our services are strong.
“It is about making a modern, flexible space as well, where people can come together. It will build a stronger community.
“Libraries are very vibrant, they are no longer a quiet place, and people learn in different ways. You want to make it buzzing. It is going to be a place where people can join together.
“This is such an interesting project. It is really investing to strengthen the community.”
Early concept drawings for Worthing Library, the pilot project, show how the three-storey building in Richmond Road, Worthing, could house children and family services, registration services and library services.
Consideration has been given to creating private spaces as well as quiet zones for those who want to study in silence.
Debbie said the Worthing scheme will be a pilot project with a view to creating similar community hubs in towns and villages across West Sussex. Each will be different, depending on the space available.
She added: “The plan is very fluid because we have to meet the need. We have the early concept drawings and now the project board will look at the detail. We have the overarching principle of how we are going to move forward.”
The plan is for move the children and family services from Footprints, in Crescent Road, into the library building, along with services run by the FindItOut Centre, in Marine Place, and registration services at Portland House, just west of the library.
Rachel North, director of communities at West Sussex County Council, pointed out other councils in the country have had to close libraries.
She added: “What we are trying to do is recognise the value of this really important service. Libraries are at the heart of the community.
“At the same time, there are realities about funding for the future and we are really keen to avoid closures in West Sussex. We are redesigning libraries for the future to safeguard them and looking at ways to combine services.”
The community hubs will mean transforming buildings into places where a range of services will be provided. The idea is to create modern spaces where people can meet, learn, take part in community activities and access the services they need.
During the public consultation, the council heard a range views about how best to remodel the library. The council said the response was overwhelmingly positive and the views shared helped form early design concepts.
The Worthing community hub should be ready to open next summer. The library will need to be closed for approximately six months to allow the work to be completed but alternative provision is planned.
Debbie added: “This is an incredibly exciting project. Not only are we investing in the future of our communities, we are also investing in the future of key services. People shaped our early concept design for Worthing and communities across West Sussex will shape the future of their community hubs.
“Councils up and down the country are facing a tough financial challenge. Where it makes sense, we will look at moving key services for people of all ages under one roof in new, engaging public spaces. That way we save money and protect the future of much cherished community assets.”
The council, working with relevant partners, will now identify possible locations for future community hubs.