As well as housing a brand-new museum and community hub, the architectural gem is well placed to appeal to the events market.
With a past life in the weddings business she probably has a better instinct than most as to what makes an attractive venue. “In my head, every time I walk around the gallery there’s an image of an evening event with people in black tie, kilts, dresses, with champagne and canapes,” says Kirsty Keay, Director of Corporate and Commercial Development at Fife Cultural Trust.
We’re sitting having coffee on the restaurant terrace in the bright, airy surrounds of the brand new £12.4m extension to the Dunfermline Carnegie Library, a project which has been 10 years in the making and was finally launched to the public in May this year.
Designed by Richard Murphy Architects – the firm that won the RIBA/Channel 4 House of the Year 2016 for the Murphy House at Hart Street in Edinburgh – the building is a perfect example of blending old and new.
Lofty, open spaces offer wide angle views across a landscaped garden to Dunfermline Abbey and the old Abbot House, whilst rust-coloured steel girders on the outside are a nod to the town’s industrial past. Although slap bang in the middle of the city’s Heritage Quarter, the building – which has already won four architectural awards in its own right – does not for one minute look out of place.
I’m visiting out of curiosity; among a flurry of press releases sent to mark the occasion of what was without doubt an important moment in the regeneration story for Dunfermline and the Kingdom of Fife, there was a noticeable footnote about the new venue being made available for event hire.
Fife Cultural Trust – an arm’s length charity set up to run the county council’s leisure and culture facilities – has responsibility for the marketing of its venues not only for public consumption, but also for the corporate market. With the opening of the new Queensferry Crossing in August, the Kingdom has an opportunity to promote its venues and spaces to events organisers, who are ever keen to find new facilities to host meetings, receptions, conferences and celebrations. As we tour the building – guided ably by Simon Hobson, the facility manager, it quickly becomes clear that with both plenary-sized spaces and a series of smaller break-out rooms, Dunfermline Carnegie Library and Galleries is perfectly positioned to tap into the events sector.
It is a point not lost on Keay, who recognises the potential but stresses the need for a bit of time to allow the building to find its niche.
She says: “We’re really conscious of the fact that it’s a new building so there’s a balance you need to strike where you’re keen to capitalise on the fact that you’ve got a new building, and everyone’s interested in looking at you, but we also need to make sure for us that we would never want to over-promise and under-deliver.”
She adds: “We want to make sure that the offer is absolutely right, that we understand our customers, and that we know what we can offer. We already have people using the building and we’re taking a much more partnership-based approach, so we’re working with people to build what they want and learning from that experience. And it all goes into refining the end product.”
More widely, Fife Cultural Trust is looking to repurpose its offer to the events industry. As we speak, Keay says a new commercial manager is being brought in to specically develop the events potential of the trust’s buildings.
The trust has responsibility for a number of museum and heritage venues including Kirkcaldy Galleries; in addition, there are four theatre and community venues including Rothes Halls, the Adam Smith Theatre, The Lochgelly Centre and Carnegie Hall.
Venue management has previously been run in partnership with the council but the responsibility is due to come “in house” as of October, says Keay, with a catering manager working in tandem with the commercial manager to offer a more coordinated approach.
As a charitable trust where all the proceeds are ploughed back into the running of services, Keay stresses also that the trust is able to keep its prices competitive. “If you talk about other venues like Rothes Halls, there are very few areas where you can get a conference centre of that size at that price we charge because we’re here to be accessible to communities, we’re not here to turn a profit of a corporate nature,” she says.
But she says the business tourism market is one she is keen to develop, adding: “The larger venues we’d gear towards the conference market but the question for us is always ‘what’s our unique selling point?’
“The question is do you always want to have the same old meeting in the same old space or do you want to do something different, and move away from typical conference-style seating and do something bright and colourful? What we’re trying to remember is that some of the stuff that gets people engaged is not sitting around a table for two hours and talking things through. It’s a completely different approach – it’s space to move, being comfortable, it’s your surroundings, whether that’s how things look, how things feel. And that’s what we’re going to look at with our conference offer and our meeting rooms,” she says.
He was considered the Bill Gates of his day and the wealth he built up during his lifetime is still providing legacies to Dunfermline.
Andrew Carnegie, who was born in the city, amassed an extraordinary fortune and his pledge to give it all away is still benefiting the city almost a hundred years after his death.
The Heritage Lottery Fund awarded Fife Council a grant of £2.8m towards the new museum, the council committed £8.6m and the Carnegie Dunfermline Trust contributed £1m.
The project to extend the building was conceived 10 years ago and construction work began in December 2014.
As a modern extension to a cul- turally rich heritage quarter, it has attracted both curiosity and some concern from locals.
Keay says: “We had people queuing to return library books on the first day of opening because they were so pleased to be coming back into what they saw as their library.”
“What was also lovely to see was the woman who signed the petition against the extension coming in and saying how wrong she was because she was so in love with the building. And they actually hadn’t touched her library. She could see it as it was and could also see what had gone around it.”