Mill Road Library – a community asset

Can the Mill Road community put together a sustainable plan for the old library?

Google street view of the Mill Road Library
Image: Google Maps

Update, a dedicated website has now been set up…

Support The Old Library Community Bid

It’s down to all of you, in the Mill Road community: if you would like to help local activists in their quest to put together a community bid for the former Mill Road Library, email

Earlier activity

On Wednesday 10th August 2022, local community groups received notice from Cambridge City Council that Cambridgeshire County Council intend to sell the former Mill Road Library building.

City Councillor Mike Davey (Petersfield ward) convened a meeting on Wednesday 7th September 2022 which was attended by over 100 local people.

The Grade II listed building, where community and cultural activities have always taken place, is on the City Council’s list of ‘Assets of Community value’ detailing buildings or land which are felt to provide an important service to their community.

More discussion will need to take place, but two local community groups have registered an interest in making a community bid under the Community Right to Bid rules, which means that it cannot be sold until February 2023, to give the local community a chance to compete with commercial groups. There is much work to be done to make this project succeed but also a large number of people eager to make it happen.

Many suggestions for how the old library could serve the community were mooted at the 7th September meeting. There was also warm welcome for the new Mill Road Community Centre which will be opening soon, on the Ironworks (former Mill Road depot) development and a determination that the two centres should work in close conjunction.

Suggested uses for the old library included:

  • an arts cinema, theatre, and venue for local musicians and literary activities
  • an art gallery and exhibition space focussing on local artists
  • a cultural space for Community Arts
  • a venue for the Cambridge Literary Festival

Speaking later to Mill Road Bridges, Piero d’Angelico, Mill Road Traders’ Association Ambassador, saw the old library project as analogous to running a business: “As a trader, I know what my outgoings are, and how much business I must do in order to cover my costs and make a living.” D’Angelico stressed that finding uses which generate a reliable income stream will be key to mounting a successful bid.

One attendee – a long-time Mill Road community activist – hoped that an arts cinema could provide such an income stream. Finding the right ‘niche’ would be tricky; there are three commercial cinemas in Cambridge – Vue, The Light, and the Arts Picturehouse. This latter, is part of a group undergoing ‘financial restructuring’. See: Cineworld files for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in US.

It is worthwhile noting that Mill Road Fringe – an offshoot of Mill Road Winter Fair – will showed three films in September 2022. However, as these were free, they wouldn’t pay the bills!

Join Mill Road Fringe on Friday 23rd and Saturday 24th September at St Philip’s Church for free screenings of three groundbreaking arthouse films.
These film nights herald the start of a new series of events by Mill Road Fringe over the course of the autumn, leading up to the return of the Mill Road Winter Fair on Saturday 3rd December. The films being shown are Microcosmos, Rocks and Flee.
Each film is distinctively rich, remarkable and conveys diverse narratives/stories. All these film screenings have free entry and are likely to be popular, so do turn up in good time to be sure of getting a seat. Feel free to bring your own refreshments (alcohol not permitted) and enjoy the show.
The films have been curated by Hitomi Shinozaki and Tony Jones, of Cambridge Film Projects. They are presented by Mill Road Fringe, which works in association with Cambridge’s Mill Road Winter Fair to nurture and celebrate the area’s community, creativity and independence.
Click the image to visit the Mill Road Winter Fair website for full details

Jordana Learmonthe from Cambridge Art Salon, a hub of local artists, has written to Councillor Davey to pledge the Salon’s support by committing to use the exhibition space, if the facility is provided, and thus some rental income will be ensured.

Another commentator was in touch with Mill Road Bridges to suggest that the building be divided into two floors, with one floor being rented out to an organisation, or to small firms, that can pay a market rent. That could leave the other floor for any community-related functions that complement the new facilities being built, rather than competing.

A number of attendees observed that a brand new, purpose-built community centre, immediately behind the old library, is scheduled to open late this year, seeing it as essential that activities pursued in the old library building be complementary to the new community centre, providing a different type of activity. The general feeling at the meeting seemed to support this aim.

John Franks, Chair of Petersfield Area Community Trust, told Mill Road Bridges, “Using the old library as a generic community centre won’t pay the bills; we have a really good purpose-built one next door!”

Asked if there is now a clear plan, Franks told us, “It’s more the case that people are still open and looking for other ideas.”

Se also our earlier post Mill Road Library building for sale.

If it’s such an asset, why is it being sold?

It’s complicated… Here’s the view of local historian, blogger, and former civil servant, Antony Carpen.

I’m not going to go into the party political issues. I imagine this would have been a very tough negotiation between members of the [County Council’s] Joint Administration. I can’t believe that Labour councillors would have wanted the building to be sold off if there wasn’t a hope of putting together a bid for community ownership. But ultimately the past 12 years of central government austerity has meant councils across the country have had to take similar decisions because ministers and Parliament have not given them powers to raise revenues through much wider means.

Cambridgeshire County Council to sell the old Mill Road Library building,
Cambridge Town Owl (aka Antony Carpen) August 12, 2022

And a bit of history…

Sketch of The New Library, Mill Road, Architect J Waters
Image courtesy of Cambridgeshire Collection, F.F.J96 25963

Mill Road Library, most recently in use as a Hindu temple, and now to be sold by Cambridgeshire County Council, was opened on Wednesday 2nd June 1897, by the Cambridge City Council. The library passed to the County Council’s control when all of England’s local government was reorganised in the 1970s, finally closing in March 1996.

A brief history of the building can be found here – From Books to Bhajans – on the Capturing Cambridge website. Also worth a read is Mr John Pink: Founding Father of Cambridge’s Public Libraries, 1833-1906, by Cambridge Town Owl, January 9, 2018.

In 1998 the Indian Community and Cultural Association became the new tenants, and erected some beautiful carved stonework inside. However, all was not well…

The Indian community organisation that took over the library were granted a 25 year full repairing lease on a peppercorn rent in exchange for maintaining the building fabric. This building which is grade 2 listed was considered a financial liability to the County so this was seen as a zero cost way of maintaining the structure.

Unfortunately the lessees did not spend any money on external maintenance in 10 years allowing water to enter the building and cause extensive damage. The City Council which is responsible in law to ensure listed buildings do not fall into disrepair served notice on the County Council about the deteriorating state and the County sent in surveyors who […] estimated the repairs to be in the region of £300,000.

Frank Gawthrop, local resident and activist

More here: The 5000-strong Cambridge community fighting against eviction by Debbie Luxon, Community Reporter, Cambridge News, 12 October 2019.

This left the superb carved stones at threat of being tossed into a skip and used as hardcore. See our earlier post: Beautiful Indian stonework under threat. Thanks in no small part to Piero d’Angelico, Mill Road Traders Association Ambassador, the stonework, believed to be worth £500,000, has been saved and is due to be erected in Ditchburn Place gardens. See: Cambridge temple archway wins planning permission for park installation by Alex Spencer, Cambridge Independent, 20 May 2022.

This blogpost is open for comments but, if you are able to help, getting in touch with the Mill Road community’s activists to help in their quest to put together a community bid for the former Mill Road Library is much more important. Email

Mill Road Library building for sale

Image: Google Maps

On Wednesday 10th August 2022, local community groups received notice from Cambridge City Council that Cambridgeshire County Council intend to sell the former Mill Road Library building. Full text of this letter is shown below.

Dear community group,

I am writing to advise you that the owner of the former Library, Mill Road Cambridge, has notified us of their intent to sell the property.  This property is on a list of ‘Assets of Community value’ which is kept by the City Council.  This list has all of the details of buildings or land which are felt to provide an important service to their community and as such, if they are sold, community groups should have an opportunity to raise the funds to purchase the asset.  You can see the full list of Assets of Community Value here:  Community Right to Bid scheme – Cambridge City Council

The owner of the former library cannot sell the building for a period of 6 weeks from the date they notified us of their intention to dispose of the property.  This is called the ‘interim moratorium period’.  The interim moratorium will end on Friday 16th September 2022.  You are advised that should your community group wish to be treated as a potential bidder for the asset you must notify us of your intent within this period, at which point we will inform the owner. 

If you do wish to be treated as a potential bidder you will have until Sunday 5th February 2023 in which to develop a proposal and raise the money required to bid to buy the asset, so long as you have notified us before 16th September.  Please note that the owner can sell to whomever they wish – this process is simply to allow community groups time to consider whether they wish to bid and if so, to have time to raise the funds for the purchase.

You should be aware that in order to be treated as a potential bidder, interested parties must qualify as a community interest group by a) having a local connection with the land, and b) falling within one or more of the following definitions;

  • a charity;
  • a company limited by guarantee that does not distribute any surplus to its members;
  • an industrial and provident society which does not distribute any surplus to its members and is registered or deemed to be registered under the Industrial and Provident Societies Act 1965; or
  • a community interest company.

There is some useful guidance on whether a body qualifies as a charity here:

For guidance on community interest companies you could look at:

If I can be of further assistance, please let me know.

Yours sincerely,

Julie Cornwell (she/her pronouns)
Community Funding and Voluntary Sector Manager
Cambridge City Council
On behalf of the ‘Community Right to Bid’ scheme

Amongst groups to receive the letter were Petersfield Area Community Trust whose chair posted:

We are disappointed that the building is being sold, as we hoped the County Council would find a new community use for this historic building on a lease that kept it within public ownership. However, this process gives community groups a chance to assemble a bid, and we would love to hear from any group who would like to do that. Cambridge City Council manages this process for any community asset in Cambridge, so we or any eligible group have until Friday 16th September to advise them if a group would like to take this opportunity. Giving the City Council a notification of an intent to bid would cause a moratorium on the sale until Sunday 5th February 2023, in order to give the group the chance to assemble the bid, although this is still a tough goal in just six months. We are sure there would be huge community support for an effort to buy the building, and its location just behind the new Mill Road Community Centre may provide new opportunities for community collaboration. PACT would be happy to hear from any group which is not sure of their own eligibility to trigger the moratorium.

John Franks, Chair of Petersfield Area Community Trust
Read the full Petersfield Area Community Trust news release here.

If you would like to help Petersfield Area Community Trust in their quest to put together a community bid for the former Mill Road Library, email

Local historian Antony Carpen, blogging as Cambridge Town Owl, posted on Friday 12th August 2022, in support of Petersfield Area Community Trust, giving some of the background to the library, and its recent travails.

You can read his full post here: Cambridgeshire County Council to sell the old Mill Road Library building.

It’s well worth subscribing to Antony’s blog to get email notifications; just scroll down and find where to enter your email and click the subscribe button.

And if you’re in a position to make a donation to support Antony’s ongoing work, you can do so here.

This blogpost is open for comments but, if you are able to help, getting in touch with Petersfield Area Community Trust is much more important.

Toy Library in Romsey Town

But open to all. Yes, even parents and children from the other side of Mill Road Bridge, in Petersfield!

Merry Go Round Toy Library, based in Ross Street Community Centre, Ross Street, Cambridge CB1 3UZ, have recently opened again.

The volunteers who run the Toy Library asked Mill Road Bridges to help more parents in Romsey and the surrounding areas become aware of what’s on offer. Find out more from their website here: Merry Go Round Toy Library.

Regular opening times are the 1st and 3rd Friday of every month, from 10:00 to 11:15 am.

This regular pattern has had to change, from May to September, as below:

  • Friday 20th May 2022
  • Friday 24th June 2022
  • Friday 8th July 2022
  • Friday 22nd July 2022 (last day of term for many)
  • No sessions in August 2022
  • Friday 2nd September 2022
  • Friday 16th September 2022

The Toy Library is open to all parents/carers across Cambridge, who can bring their kids to play for a bit and/or just turn up to borrow toys. You can browse the Toy Library catalogue here. The slideshow below shows just a small selection of what’s on offer.

As you can see from the catalogue, prices for borrowing are really low. But you will need to use cash, as the Toy Library has not found a way to go cashless.

You need to sign up for Toy Library membership to borrow toys.
Lifetime membership costs the princely sum of £1!

Not a member yet? Join on-line through this link: Join the Merry Go Round Toy Library.

Toy Library in action (photo with consent of the adults involved)

Merry Go Round Toy Library, has been running out of Ross St Community Centre since the 1990s.

On Monday 25th April 2022, BBC Radio Cambridgeshire’s Jeremy Sallis interviewed Rachel Edwards of Merry Go Round Toy Library.

To listen to the interview, click on this image of Jeremy Sallis as Superman.
Note this toy is not available from Merry Go Round Toy Library

Because of the intervention of Covid-19, the Toy Library had a very long break, and they not only want to build up a greater membership, but are also hoping to enlist more volunteers to help running sessions.

The more volunteers, the less each one has to do: anything from setting up, tidying up, helping to make teas/coffees, booking out and returning toys or even being a marketing mogul are all welcome. You can use this link – Volunteering for Merry Go Round Toy Library – to enquire.