Idea Store

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Exterior view of the Idea Store at Lansbury Estate, Poplar, East London, 2008

The Idea Store of London is a type of educational community centre that offers library services along with adult learning courses and extensive activities and events programmes.[1] It was initiated in 1999 by the Borough of Tower Hamlets.[2] The centres present public programmes such as dance classes, computer classes, libraries, and medical clinics.[3][4] The spaces are usually located on blocks with high foot traffic. Since the first "idea store" opened in 2002 in Bow, several others have opened also in London: Chrisp Street (2004), Whitechapel (2005), Canary Wharf (2006), and Watney Market (2013).[5][6] The group also publishes a local directory.[7]


“Idea Stores are more than just a library or a place for learning. As well as library services, they offer a wide range of adult learning courses and an extensive activities and events programme.”


Approved in 1999, the original Idea Store Strategy has radically transformed the performance of library and information services in the London Borough of Tower Hamlets, which was characterized as having the “worst library service in London” (Ted Talk[8]).[citation needed] Idea Stores were designed to deliver ‘in a way that captured the best traditions of the library movement and education sector but present them in an exciting way – one that draws in new users and retains existing users.’[citation needed]

Idea Stores are more than just a library or a place of learning. As well as the traditional library service, they offer a wide range of adult education classes, along with other career support, training, meeting areas, cafes and arts and leisure pursuits – all brought together in easily accessible spaces which are modelled on retail environments. They are places where individuals and families come together informally to socialise. They act as venues for community clubs.[9]

Meeting needs of consumers[edit]

Listening to consumer’s needs in creating the idea store, people highlighted three key needs to be addressed in the creation of the idea store:

  1. “We want to go to places that are where we go in the normal course of our lives,”
  2. “We want a place that makes us feel good about ourselves,”
  3. “It needs to belong to us.” (Ted Talk)

The sentiment of the latter need was conveyed in CEO Judith St. John’s Ted Talk in envisioning that upon entering an Idea Store, one should “feel that love. You should feel that there are people in there who are interested in you, who have something to say, and that those people might be your neighbor.” (Ted Talk) The Idea Store has the serves the purpose of “creating excellent library services that have relevance to people in the future” (Ted Talk)

Following the largest consultation exercise ever carried out by the Council to establish just what residents wanted from the Idea Stores, significant service remodelling and capital investment led to the opening of the first Idea Store in May 2002 in Bow. The success of Idea Store Bow was firmly based on the broad partnership approach taken to service development and funding with the Learning & Skills Council and Tower Hamlets College making significant contributions to the strategy implementation.[10]


From 2002 with the store in Bow, there have been five Idea Stores open to date. The first one to open was Bow, then Chrisp Street, Whitechapel, then finally, Canary Wharf.


  • The first of five Idea Stores to be opened (on May 2002) [11]
  • 1 Gladstone Place, Tower Hamlets, London E3 5ES
  • Hours: Mon to Thu 9am-9pm, Fri 9am-6pm, Sat 9am-5pm, Sun 10am-4pm

Chrisp Street[edit]

  • Second Idea Store to be opened (on 19 June 2004).[12]
  • 1 Vesey Path, Tower Hamlets, East India Dock Road, London E14 6BT
  • Mon to Thu 9am-9pm, Fri 9am-6pm, Sat 9am-5pm, Sun 10am-4pm


Idea Store Whitechapel opened in September 2005 and is housed in a building in Whitechapel which was designed by David Adjaye. It includes the former Whitechapel library which was once home to the largest collection of Yiddish books in Europe. The £20 million Idea Stores project which first began in April 1999, encompasses Idea Store centres at Bow, Chrisp Street, and Idea Store.[13]

  • Hosts events such as book club for children, IT lessons for seniors over 50 years of age,
  • Third Idea Store to open (on March 2006)
  • Whitechapel address: 321 Whitechapel Road, Tower Hamlets, London E1 1BU
  • Mon to Thu 9am-9pm, Fri 9am-6pm, Sat 9am-5pm, Sun 11am-5pm

Canary Wharf[edit]

  • Fourth store opened (March 2006) [14]
  • Placed in Churchill Place Shopping Mall
  • Churchill Place, Tower Hamlets, London E14 5RB
  • Mon to Thu 9am-9pm, Fri 9am-6pm, Sat 9am-5pm, Sun 12pm-6pm

Watney Market[edit]

  • Fifth store opened on Tuesday 14 May 2013, is based on three floors and offers a wide range of services [15]
  • Funded by the Big Lottery Fund and Tower Hamlets Council
  • Adult, youth and children's library services
  • Community facilities, including advice on council and health services
  • 260 Commercial Road, London E1 2FB
  • Mon to Th 9am - 9pm, Fri 9am - 6pm, Sat 9am - 5pm


  1. ^ About us, 2014
  2. ^ "Public Libraries: The Changing Face of the Public Library", Ariadne, 2004, ISSN 1361-3200
  3. ^ "African dance and theatre classes in London", Time Out London, archived from the original on 10 October 2014
  4. ^ "Report from the Human Library at the IDEA Store in London". Human Library Organisation. 2008. Retrieved 10 October 2014.
  5. ^ "Idea Story". Tower Hamlets Borough Council. Retrieved 10 October 2014.
  6. ^ "Architecture: David Adjaye", The Crisis, 113, January 2006
  7. ^ "Volunteers help put community assets on the map", East London News, 29 August 2014
  8. ^ TEDx Talks (2012-12-14), The Idea Store: Judith St John at TEDxEastEnd, retrieved 2018-05-14
  9. ^ "Idea Strategy 2009" (PDF). Idea Store. 2008.
  10. ^ "Idea Strategy 2009" (PDF). Idea Store. 2008.
  11. ^ "Idea Store Bow". London Town.
  12. ^ "Idea Store Chrisp Street". London Town.
  13. ^ "Idea Store Whitechapel". London Town.
  14. ^ "Idea Store Canary Wharf". London Town.
  15. ^ "Idea Store Watney Market". Homepage