Southwark Council officially launched a new library and heritage centre in Walworth “dedicated to telling the story of Southwark and its people” on Wednesday (19 May). 

In line with Covid-19 restrictions, the launch of Southwark Heritage Centre and Walworth Library was attended by a limited number of guests that included Southwark Pensioners, Walworth Society and Dawes Tenants and Residents Association.  

Visitors can browse 20,000 new books in the children’s and adults’ library and view 300 historical artefacts and artworks.  

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The centre in Walworth Road features local objects from Southwark’s past, including the only known souvenir of long-gone Victorian Surrey Zoological Gardens.

Its permanent exhibition, The Story of Southwark, looks into the history of the borough. 

Along with an event space with seating for about 50 people, 22 designated quiet study spaces, other features include a temporary exhibition space opening with ‘Myth Making’ by artists Wignall and Moore, a permanent ‘world wall’ celebrating world cultures, and the Faraday Room, inspired by local inventor Michael Faraday and the concept of the ‘Faraday cage’, where visitors can book meetings or study sessions in a digitally silent space. 

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“Over time the exhibition will be further developed in collaboration with local residents and groups to form a current and inclusive story of the borough,” the council said.  

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The opening, which followed a soft launch over three weeks ago, comes ahead of a “wider community celebration” planned for the summer when restrictions have lifted.   

The centre was delivered by council in partnership with Lendlease, as part of the redevelopment of Elephant and Castle. 

Cllr Kieron Williams, leader of Southwark Council, said: “I’m so proud to be unveiling this fantastic new library and heritage centre, where there is something for everyone.

“Whether it’s losing yourself in one of the new books, making free use of the computers, or holding your next community event, please come visit and take inspiration from unrestricted access to artefacts from Southwark’s layered past.

“The centre is all about telling the story of Southwark so truly belongs to every resident from Walworth and across the borough, past, present and future.” 

Cllr Alice Macdonald, cabinet member for communities, equalities and neighbourhoods, said: “In the last decade, Southwark has become one of London’s most vibrant and innovative locations for culture and events activity.

“I’m delighted that our new library and heritage centre builds on this legacy, unlocking the huge potential of libraries to bring communities together so that local people benefit from culture across a range of disciplines.

“It’s been fantastic to see residents engage with each stage of the centre’s design to create a community hub with a real sense of belonging for all.” 

Opening hours are temporarily reduced due to lockdown restrictions from 10am to 6pm Monday to Friday, and 10am to 5pm on Saturday.

The centre is currently closed on Sundays. Once restrictions lift, the library will be open from 10am to 8pm Monday to Friday, 10am to 5pm Saturday and 12pm to 4pm Sunday.