A landmark Carlisle building that has stood empty for four years is to become a conference centre run by people with learning disabilities.

People First, a voluntary organisation that helps people to speak up for themselves, understand their rights and live better lives, is turning the former University of Cumbria library on Milbourne Street into the new conference space.

The new centre - which will cater for 170 delegates in a large modern conference room - will open in March.

It will also cater for 70 more delegates in seven smaller break out rooms.

David Blacklock, chief executive of People First, said: "People First has supported people in Cumbria for nearly thirty years.

"We run a number of different projects across Cumbria from youth groups empowering young people with learning difficulties and mental health wellbeing networks to statutory contracts for the NHS and the council.

"Our new venture will see us supporting and training people with learning difficulties to gain real work experiences and skills to become receptionists, conference hosts, maintenance workers, gardeners and caterers.

"They will be supported by professionals in our hospitality academy to learn and develop new skills.

"We have already received a lot of interest and support from local businesses and we look forward to welcoming them to our facilities.

"We also have office spaces to rent."

The ground floor will be a welcoming reception area with a lounge area. This will lead through to a 65-seater restaurant, which will be known as the Riverbank Bistro.

"The bistro, may be run in conjunction with a number of organisations and may be a franchise of a city restaurant. We are working on that at the moment," said Mr Blacklock.

Upstairs, the first floor will be used as the main conference area and the top floor will be used for staff with a small cafe space for them to use.

Traders are currently working on the building so People First can move into their new home on February 16.

"We are excited," said Mr Blacklock.

"It is predominantly going to be a younger people with learning difficulties.

"These people have a real vigour for life.

"We will expect them to turn up on time, wear the correct uniform and be smart and clean."

Sue Stevenson is the chief operating officer with People First.

She said: "It is a wonderful building and it feels warm and welcoming before we've even moved in.

"It is a modern space as it's only 15 years old and we are going to make the interior trendy.

"It's been sat empty for four years and we are going to bring it back to life."

Mr Blacklock said: "We would hope that local organisations will use the space for conferences. By doing so they will be giving something back and helping people who really need it."

Darren Ward from Red Raven Architects in Cockermouth has designed the inside building space and Atlas Business Interiors are overseeing the rejuvenation of the building from its 90s origins into a centre which provides all the latest comforts and technology that modern businesses demand.

To book a meeting contact Luke Watts, conference centre manager, on 01228 550696.