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Libraries go retail-style to pull in East End punters

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Tower Hamlets council has launched a new concept for libraries and further education to make them more consumer-friendly. Adopting ideas from retail, it plans to create seven new 'ideas stores' within the next five years to replace its existing libraries. They will incorporate cafes and will adopt the relaxed environment of giant bookshops such as Borders in place of the dowdy and somewhat intimidating institutions that exist at the moment.

These stores will share premises with shops - with supermarkets, including Sainsbury's, Asda, Safeway and Tesco, and with the second phase of retail development at Canary Wharf. This means that the ideas stores will be in places residents will already be visiting. In addition, said Eric Bohl, corporate director for customer services at Tower Hamlets, 'retailers want to ensure enough of a draw to keep people coming to them, given the advent of home shopping'.

Architect and designer Bisset Adams has worked on the feasibility study, developing a strong brand in terms of building design, interiors and marketing. It has designed prototype stores for sites at Bow (with Safeway), on the Isle of Dogs (with Asda) and at Whitechapel Road (with Sainsbury's). In addition, Tower Hamlets has employed architect Wintersgill & Faulkner to develop a design for the flagship Whitechapel site. Bohl says that the Bisset Adams design for that site will form the basis of a design for another site, at Bethnal Green.

With four new buildings and three fit-outs planned over the five years, Tower Hamlets believes the cost will be £20 million. The proposals include deliberately relaxed and bright interiors, red roofs and 'message boards' on the front of the buildings, and are intended to provide social hubs. After going out to consultation, Tower Hamlets will appoint a consultant to 'finalise the conceptual framework and brand identity'.

Culture secretary Chris Smith welcomed the idea at the launch last week, saying, 'This is an important and exciting project which has the potential to bring great benefits to the people of Tower Hamlets. I wish it every success.'

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