Darlington Library

Suzy | Library Manager

Today I am shining a spotlight on Colin Alsop from our team of joiners - although he doesn’t need it as he seems to shine all by himself. 😊

Colin came to my attention a few months ago when I was taking a look at the installation of our new toilet facilities.

When designing and creating new spaces within our Grade II listed building, it was imperative that these updated facilities looked in-keeping with the original build. We wanted a quality finish which complimented the heritage of the space. Colin was certainly the right man for the job! He smiles as he tells me that whilst working, he would ask himself, “Would Edward Pease have given me the job back then?” I can confidently say that he would have.

One thing that sets 52 year old Colin apart is that he has worked for the council throughout his career, having been taken on in 1986 as a joiner through the Youth Training Scheme. He laughs as he tells me that he has probably fitted each council house with new bathrooms and kitchens twice over in the 22 years he spent working on Internal Planned Maintenance for Darlington Borough Council. It is evident that he thoroughly enjoys his job and the people he works with.

When I asked how he felt about working on our Library refurbishment he tells me that he was absolutely delighted. Sought out for his skill, he was brought on to the project to independently work on the oak joinery which is a standout feature of our beautiful building. It is clear to anyone who sees Colin’s work that he is an incredibly skilled carpenter. The areas where we have fitted new skirting boards, he has taken the 10 inch high, inch and a quarter deep solid oak, and cut this using a handsaw; then screwed, plugged, and pelleted, and the finish is seamless.

He has loved using the traditional methods of carpentry and joinery required on our heritage-led refurbishment, and he takes a huge amount of pride in his work. I have been absolutely delighted with the finish he has created and am really looking forward to sharing it with our customers when we reopen.

When chatting to Colin his passion for our library and his craft is evident. In fact, it was our library he used many years ago when studying for his Carpentry and Joinery qualification. He tells me that the librarians were quite stern back then, but now, he says it feels a lot warmer and more relaxed, and he’s really looking forward to people being able to use and enjoy it again.

I too am looking forward to that day…. But I’ll also be sad to see Colin go on to his next job.

Suzy | Library Manager

We are now in December, and we thought we would shine the spotlight on some of our individual construction team workers. First to be featured is Heating Engineer and all round “good egg”, Neville O’Riordan, who incidentally turns 58 today. (2nd Dec 2022)

Neville and some of his handiwork

Neville is often the first face I see when I enter the building on a morning. He starts work early and is often in the boiler room, which is close to where we sign-in each day. Since starting the job in April, I haven’t received anything less than a cheery “good morning” every single meet.

Work is progressing well on our library, but the scope of the work is huge so by the time of completion, some of our contractors will have been working alongside us for well over a year. It seems only right, therefore, that we introduce you to some of the team.

Neville works for Twins, and has done for 34 years. Having trained as a Heating Engineer from the age of 16, this is his first time working on a Library.

He shakes his head, laughing when I ask about his first day. “I was shocked and a little panicked when I saw the size and scope of the work.” He wasn’t wrong; It’s a large building, and the plantroom needed to be completed refurbished. The singular system needed replacing and zoning in order to achieve the energy efficiencies we were seeking.

He remembers meeting my colleague, Laura, and I, [who promptly offered him cake] and Glen, the lead Electrician, who advised him to simply take one room at a time.

This is the approach Neville used - starting in one of our offices and methodically working along the basement floor, re-piping all the original radiators situated on the public floor and establishing our new heating system.

The Library's New Boilers

I asked Neville what he has enjoyed about the job so far, and what he has found most challenging. I think the answer surprised himself. Neville is used to working on his own and was originally somewhat dismayed at the thought of working on a large building with our staff “under his feet”, “interrupting him”, “needing him to move out of our way as we came by with our trollies of books”. However, this seems to be what he has enjoyed the most about this job, commenting that it’s been refreshing seeing our team take an interest and stop to say hello as we pass. In particular he has liked speaking to Bob, our attendant, who has taken a keen interest in his work and who also often works solo and has therefore appreciated the company.

We have really enjoyed having Neville on site, and he is certainly flavour of the month with my team - as we finally have some heating back in part of the building after some chilly months without!

Happy Birthday Neville!

Enjoy the pie and birthday cake from all of your friends at Darlington Library. 😊

Suzy | Library Manager


Myself and Neville


The joiners


I share this photo tentatively as when we popped it on our social media page, to highlight the good work the team were doing in the staggering heat, the comments got a little, erm, interesting!

However, as much of the works are taking place to the roof, I thought it would be good to shine a light on the team who are installing the safety platforms which allow the glaziers and roofers access to the job.

The photographs taken by drone are probably the best way to really capture the complexity of the library roof. It consists of nine individual roof structures which are all single glazed with valleys between to shed the rainwater.

Drone shot

To provide access for the roofing team to remove and store the tiles, replace guttering, fit the damp proof membrane, and systematically reinstate the tiles, the joinery team must ensure that the area is accessible and safe to work on.

Preparatory work has included installing temporary platforms under the ceiling laylights; which allows further temporary floor staging and platforms in the roof voids to provide fall protection for those working.

Platforms and staging

This was no mean feat! Access to the areas is extremely tight, and carrying out work in confided spaces during the heat wave was certainly a challenge for the team.

New roof


One section of the roof has already been completed and, as Natural England would want it to, it looks much like it did before. The existing tiles are being reinstated where possible and, so far, no replacements have been necessary. The guttering required replacing. So, to conform with heritage standards, we sourced a suitable cast iron replacement. The specialist lead worker has been installing, shaping, and dressing the lead valleys, guttering and dovecotes.

myself, Alistair and Rich

I donned my hard hat, again, and went to new heights to see the work around the dovecotes. Site manager, Richard, showed me the work on the first dovecote and explained to me that the original capping needed to be redesigned, as it was beginning to fail due to the panelling being too large. Over time, the stresses from the weather conditions meant that the original lead was beginning to split.

Old Dovecote 

New Dovecote 

To ensure the building remains watertight for years to come, the new design will allow for the expansion and contraction of the lead; preventing this problem from reoccurring.

Rich and myself

It is a huge privilege to be able to get up high onto our roof with the team and to see, so closely, the work that is going on to restore our precious library. Although slightly cloudy, the platforms gave me incredible views. And the fresh air invigorated my mind. I decided that next time I’ll take a good book up there!

Suzy | Library Manager

It has been around fourteen weeks from start to finish but with a sigh of relief we can finally announce that the former Sports Direct building has been demolished and the site secured.

No matter how long you have lived in Darlington, you are likely to remember visiting the former Sports Direct Building which has concealed the façade of our Victorian Library from Saint Cuthbert’s Way for as long as I can remember.

Some of you will remember meeting friends at Magnet Bowl, others will have purchased furniture for your first house from MFI, and others might remember dancing the night away at Club Lucy’s; or if there was too much drinking involved, perhaps the memories are a little hazy?

For myself, the memories of watching the demolition have surpassed all of these.

From my office window, which sits above the library ground floor in what was the old caretakers flat, I have watched with increased interest as the cherry picker removed the external cladding exposing the steel framework, and the heavy excavator 360 delicately dismantled the structure in a way reminiscent to how I’d have expected a brontosaurus would have taken leaves from a tree back in the Jurassic period.

Sparks flew when the oxyacetylene burner was used to safely remove the RSJ upstands.

Working in such proximity to the demolition certainly had its challenges, the largest of these being the noise. Surprisingly it wasn’t the cacophony of banging and drilling that really got to me, but the incessant beeping caused by the heavy excavator reversing. There were times I felt I was flirting with madness; this certainly wasn’t the quietness and stillness which is traditionally synonymous with a library.

There was also little escape from the clouds of dust, but like the clouds in the sky, these were temporary, and day by day more light began to stream through my window and the view has opened up showing the green trees and blue skies that August has brought us.