Thomas Graham Community Library


Completion Date:


Building owner/client:

Strathblane Community Development Trust

Architect or lead designer:

Thomas Robinson Architects, Croftamie

Local Authority Area:


Nominating Body:

Strathblane Community Development Trust

Project Description

In the summer of 2019, frustration over the state of the deteriorating Strathblane Public Library was growing in this Stirlingshire village. Its owner, Stirling Council, was unwilling to replace the 40-year-old portacabin that provided this popular service, leaving the prospect of its eventual closure and replacement with a mobile library service.

This seemed wrong for one of Stirlingshire’s most popular rural libraries. So at its AGM that September, Strathblane Community Development Trust (SCDT) elevated a new library to the top of its project priorities, to the unanimous approval of its members.

Within days, member and local businessman Angus Graham produced a cheque for £500,000 to create a community-owned library. That was the catalyst for a three-year project organised and managed by SCDT’s volunteer-director board (the Trust has no staff). It culminated successfully in the opening last April (2023) of the Thomas Graham Community Library, a £1m facility that has been acclaimed as the UK’s first new public library to be funded by voluntary donations in living memory.

The 208-metre building provides a library space 40% larger than its predecessor, and two community rooms equipped with the latest video-broadcasting technology. Positioned on the same site, it also houses the children’s library for the adjacent Strathblane Primary School.

During those three years SCDT:

  • Investigated numerous architects’ proposals before accepting on behalf of its members the winning design, from Thomas Robinson Architects of Croftamie
  • Secured the support of Local Energy Scotland and the Scottish Government’s Community and Renewable Energy Scheme (CARES) to help design and fund a state-of-the-art renewable energy system that will deliver a carbon-neutral performance, as well as minimising costs.
  • In addition to Angus Graham’s initial £500,000 donation, a further £500,000 was raised from local donors and charitable foundations. A total of 270 local people donated between £10 to £10,000 in one of Scotland’s largest non-equity crowdfunding schemes, carried out during the Covid lockdowns of 2020-21.
  • Appointed local builders Fleming Construction to deliver the project, completed on time and to budget.
  • Negotiated a ground-breaking Operating Agreement with Stirling Council, by which SC leases the library space from SCDT, and operates its library service including employing the staff. This is the first community-council partnership to bring a new dimension to the delivery of vital library services in Scotland: a blend of charitable and donor finance, community enterprise and local authority expertise.

Throughout, SCDT has formally consulted the 2,300-strong community on its plans: whether they agreed to take on the project, where they wished the new library to be located, and which services they wanted it to provide. The results have been built into its design and specification. For example, the flexible community rooms attracted Strathclyde University’s Centre for Lifelong Learning to deliver a selection of its adult courses for the first time from a public library.

Today the Thomas Graham Community Library is managed by local volunteers, reporting to SCDT and Stirling Council.

Supporting Statement

SCDT is proud to have achieved this substantial project, the first new investment in a public facility in our village for over 40 years. There are three reasons why we believe it is worthy of recognition by the Scottish Civic Trust:

  1. As a long-standing member of the Development Trusts Association of Scotland (DTAS), we believe the Thomas Graham Community Library provides a valuable case study in energising a community to support with hard cash a project to replace a dilapidating council facility.

  2. It points the way to a potential new generation of joint ventures in Scotland between cash-strapped councils and communities desperate to secure new facilities.

  3. The building's design, with its sloping roof facing the spectacular Campsie Hills, provides a graphic representation of an open book, thus embedding its purpose in its appearance. So we think it worthy of recognition in its own architectural right.

Relevance to Judging Criteria

Community Involvement

This project began with a robust confirmation of the need for a new village library by its members at the AGM of Strathblane Community Development Trust in September 2019. There followed three extensive consultations with the 2,300 community to approve the project, determine its site and define the services and facilities it should provide. These were carried out with a combination of printed questionnaires circulated to every one of the village’s 970 homes, and online through the village's FaceBook page.

Final confirmation that the community was solidly behind the project came with its support for the crowdfunding initiative that raised the final sums needed: over 75% of the £1m cost came from locals.

Benefit and Impact

The new library has had a remarkable impact. From its opening on April 18 2023, librarians Lynne James and Beth Crossan have recorded soaring new reader registrations – up from 50 in 2022 to 293 last year. Footfall has doubled and the number of items issued has also doubled. “We’ve never been so busy,” says Lynne. “We love it!”

The community rooms, which require advance booking, have seen a consistently high usage rate, partly by existing functions such as family history sessions, coding club and film night. New users include Strathclyde University which, after a busy autumn run of classes, has now introduced two new courses (History of Art and Beginners French) for 2024.

Build Design and Quality

SCDT’s briefing to architects specified that the building must be timber-framed for sustainability, must reflect its exceptional location looking out to the Campsie Hills, and should be carbon-neutral in energy terms. This was achieved by Thomas Robinson’s winning design featured an elegantly simple structure of Glulam frames, with external larch cladding. The energy system achieved a carton-neutral rating.

Enhancing the Local Built Environment

The library site is adjacent to Strathblane Primary School and they combine to form the village’s effective hub. The timber-framed and panelled library provides a strikingly attractive feature that makes the most of its location below the Campsies.

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