Restore and renew: the Library refurbishment project

Library moodboard

We took the decision in 2020 to try to use the closure of the Library of the Society of Friends due to the pandemic as a positive opportunity, and use the time to carry out some long overdue refurbishment work on our reading room. While there was some necessary maintenance work such as painting and upgrading window blinds, we also thought about how to futureproof use of the room and expand the potential for holding events, creating an ambitious programme of work. We want to share the story so far.

The last major refurbishment of the Library was in 1993. At that time the room had been subdivided to allow staff working space as well as reader space and the decision was taken to strip this out and return the room to sole use for readers; this was also aimed at returning the room to look more like its original design when Friends House opened in 1926.

We have given similar thought to this major refurbishment, knowing it may be another 20-30 years before another opportunity arises to refurbish and change fixtures and fittings.

Inspired by the fabulous photograph of the Library as it was when Friends House first opened in the 1920s, we decided to lift some carpet tiles and see if the original wooden floor beneath was intact… was, albeit with some sections removed for electrical wiring. We took the decision to restore the wooden floor which will be the centerpiece of the refurbishment programme.

Photo of the Library from the 1920s

We considered how the space in the room is being used currently and what improvements might be made, taking into account ideas for outreach, events we have held in the past, and other colleagues in Britain Yearly Meeting who use events spaces. While protecting a research space is paramount for our service, we also want the Library to be a space that works for other stakeholders, including Quakers during Yearly Meeting and on visits to Friends House.

With that in mind we are removing some of the larger fixed pieces of furniture to create a more flexible space for events. We look forward to Quakers and colleagues sharing creative ideas about events and activities the room could be used for.

Continuing the theme of creating a more welcoming space for all, we are replacing the enquiry desk with something less imposing and accessible for all users, and hopefully installing glass paneled doors so people can see what’s on offer from outside the Library.

Achieving this programme of work in a listed building, while at the same time protecting our collections from the inevitable dust, debris and paint, is a huge task, not made any easier by our current reduced access to Friends House and Covid-safe working practices. We have removed many of the more vulnerable and valuable collections from the room for their protection including a nervous day with art handlers removing sculpture from the high alcoves in the room!

Removal of statue from high alcove

As always with building works, unforeseen setbacks have occurred including the need to update wiring in the room, as well as the supply issues which we have all heard about in the news. We are learning a lot about the challenges our Facilities team face in their work, increasing our admiration for their positive, can-do attitude!

We also have a huge game of Tetris to fit collections back into the room and our basement storage with reduced shelf space which will keep us occupied for the next few months.

We are grateful for the patience of our readers during this time, and currently hope to be able to welcome readers back to the new and improved space in early 2022. Keep an eye on the Visit the Library page on our website for further updates closer to the time.

We are now going onsite more frequently and have some access to collections, so invite researchers to get in touch and see what we can do to support their research.

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8 Responses to Restore and renew: the Library refurbishment project

  1. Ian Watson says:

    I like the move to restore the wooden floor, it should look wonderful.
    Best of luck with the Tetris challenge…

  2. Julia Bush says:

    Thank you for such an encouraging message. These plans sound excellent and I’m very grateful for all the imaginative hard work involved. Looking forward to seeing the outcome eventually!

  3. Joan Johnson says:

    A huge project for all involved. We have to move with the times.
    Well done to all.

  4. David Blake says:

    Look forward to seeing it when the work’s completed.

  5. What positivity to use this challenging time to make improvements. Renovation with deep respect for the original design. Delightful to see.

  6. Beth Allen says:

    This all sounds wonderful – good luck!

  7. Terence Melvin Harris says:

    For Ph.D. researches like myself, the ongoing closure of FHL coinciding as it does with that of Woodbrooke Library has proven particularly challenging. The ever receding reopening horizon has also been frustrating. I hope that the refurbishment will result in improved access to records rather than mere cosmetic facelifts.

    • Library of the Society of Friends says:

      Hi Terence, we apologise for the ongoing inconvenience caused by our closure, we have been frustrated by the delays to the project and reopening also, but we are nearly there. The room has been completely re-wired so although the changes may look cosmetic, there has been some much needed work ‘under the surface’! If you have any specific suggestions for improving access to records, we would be happy to hear them – contact

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