The Caspian Cultural Centre (CCC) – formerly known as the Library for Iranian Studies, started life in November 1991 as a humble library with about 2,500 books in a small, rented space in London. Subsequently, in March 1993 the library was officially registered as a UK charity as “Library for Iranian Studies” (LIS).
With tireless efforts of the founders and financial support from the Iranian community, LIS not only grew in terms of content and scope of operation but was also able to purchase the freehold of the application Site and convert it into an equipped library and exhibition centre in 1994.
Today, the library’s stock of books, manuscripts and periodicals stand at over 40,000 titles in Persian, making LIS the largest Persian language library outside of Iran.
The library is also committed to increasing its stock of books for younger readers. It continuously receives copies of newly published Persian books. Furthermore, LIS is home to hundreds of titles related to, or produced by, authors from the region in other languages, including English. The library’s wealth of contemporary Persianate literature, political thesis, religious, social and historical critique present a rare collection under one roof.
For more than a quarter of a century, LIS has also conducted numerous literary events, lectures, exhibitions and book launches, regularly attended by members and interested individuals. LIS also offers Persian language classes on a regular basis. For people interested in academic research, particularly in Iran’s contemporary history, the library’s archives provide an invaluable service. Also kept in the archives are a number of old and rare publications which students and researchers are unlikely to find anywhere else in the world.
Caspian Cultural Centre is home to the common culture and heritage of about a quarter of a billion people from West Asia to the Middle East, generally referred to as the Persianate culture. CCC’s aim is to nurture, protect and promote that common heritage, bring together diverse communities, and create a unique environment for academic work to enhance understanding and appreciation of the history and culture of the region. It is a truly unique facility, with no religious, political, or governmental affiliation.
Whilst CCC offers a world class library stock, and holds conferences, events and provides a research and study centre, it has outgrown its home and fails CCC’s ambition and potential.
The Woodlands Hall is also no longer fit for purpose. The building fabric is failing, with basic amenities such as heating, electrics, plumbing etc all out of date and require replacement. The building also suffers from significant damp, which is a major issue given the book stock on Site. The building has been extended and altered ad-hoc through the years by previous owners/occupants, resulting in a poor, inefficient and inflexible layout. Other essential requirements, such as full disabled access cannot reasonably be retrospectively provided in the current building, e.g. the principle access into the site is via a set of steps. A redevelopment is therefore necessary.
CCC is an independent institution. The Centre does not receive any funding from the state, lottery or any other bodies or organisations within or outside the UK and relies solely on donations from its members and well-wishers. This is not enough to cover the impractical costs of the upkeep of the current premises, let alone the improvements to the Site that are envisioned. The existing facility is also run by volunteers, with no paid staff. There is therefore a concurrent need to make the facility self-sufficient, generate an income stream and facilitate hiring full time paid staff for the longer-term.
The proposals seek to incorporate a student housing element over upper floors, the provision of which will directly fund the development of the new Centre, without cost to the charity.
The development comprises the demolition of the existing building to allow the erection of a part 9, part 8, part 3 storey building (over basement) providing a 935sqm fully fitted Cultural Centre and library over ground and first floor levels with ancillary storage/archive space in the basement. The Cultural Centre will be accessible to everyone, not simply existing members of the CCC.
At ground floor, the Cultural Centre also seeks to accommodate an ancillary café with a double height space overlooking Woodlands Park, with a small area of outside seating fronting the park.
Upper floors are proposed to accommodate a total of 105 student rooms, together with associated communal facilities, serving local educational institutions.
The two uses are symbiotic and are envisaged to complement each other on a day-to-day basis, with access to the library, research facilities and the function hall available to resident students as well as the local community.