History in the making: heritage in our hearts

Library1IT’S GREAT to be able to report that the full funding package is now in place for the Oldham Arts and Heritage Centre.
 
As a Co-operative Council partnerships across all sectors are vital to our borough’s future and this regeneration scheme is a great example of that.
 
Oldham Council has committed £8m in funding to this project and we have now secured a Heritage Lottery Fund grant of £3.37m – plus an incredible donation from Sir Norman Stoller of £4m.
 
This means funding for this phase is complete and we can now get on with delivering this exciting vision.
 
The Arts and Heritage Centre is a vital project that will improve the town centre’s cultural offer – and it underlines our determination to put heritage at the heart of our regeneration programme.
 
It’s important that future generations will have the chance to go and visit a facility where they can be inspired and learn more about our borough’s past.
This new centre will tell that story.
 
From the Industrial Revolution and our time as the cotton spinning capital of the world right up to the present day, it will use objects, storyboards, installations, media and our museum and archives collections to being that journey to life in an informative and engaging way.
 
The project will also see a new lease of life given to the grade II-listed former Library building on Union Street, which is crucial.
 
We’re acutely aware of the need to bring empty buildings back into use within the town centre conservation area.
 
We are already working hard to support existing and new businesses into the area, but there are clear challenges in getting developers interested in coming forward with solutions for larger and older buildings like this one.
 
This venue will now undergo restoration work and be fully returned to public access as the new home to our heritage showcase with gallery spaces, public research rooms and meeting spaces.
 
It will also have new educational facilities that will include opportunities for people to volunteer and train, and join in local engagement and outreach programmes. The former lecture hall will also become a performance studio space for local groups.
 
Library2The brilliant old photo (above) shows the finishing touches being put to the building just prior to its opening.
 
You can also see a poster (below right) which advertises the library’s grand event on August 1, 1883, when it was opened by Sir John Lubbock MP accompanied by a large party of fellow MPs, three Dukes, two Earls and a Marquis.
 
I have no idea yet exactly who will open the new centre – work starts on-site early next year – but a clear early candidate to do that has to be Sir Norman Stoller.
 
His philanthropy continues to astound us and we are unbelievably fortunate to have his generosity continuing to create an incredible legacy for Oldham.
 
Not only is Sir Norman an incredible example to our young people of what you can achieve in life, he is also a magnificent ambassador for the borough.
 
Since establishing The Stoller Charitable Trust in 1982 he has contributed millions of pounds to good causes and in 2014 he added a further £50m worth of shares from his personal investments into the Trust.
 
We simply cannot thank him enough for again sharing in our vision to create something that will have a big impact and benefit to residents and visitors alike.
 
Library3Looking ahead our work continues with Historic England on what possible future uses and funding can be found for other old structures in the town centre.
 
Last October we successfully pushed for the conservation area to be included on their ‘Heritage at Risk ‘register.

That might sound like an odd thing to do on the face of it, but this is actually the best thing we can do to help protect and preserve those assets.
 
It allows us to now access specialist advice and gives us the status required for certain funding sources which would otherwise have been denied to us.
 
Historic England is given targets by Government to help remove areas from the register and to dedicate time and resources to help achieve it. 
 
There are good examples in Oldham already of what can be done.
 
Our Old Town Hall project, for example, is restoring the jewel in our civic crown – and schemes like the renovation of the grade II* George Street Chapel by Age UK show how new uses can be found that align with our wider regeneration plans.
 
I am determined that we don’t repeat the mistakes of the past and ignore these problems.
 
If we don’t act now to explore the possibilities then the future could be grim for many of those buildings – and that’s something we cannot allow to happen.
 
Jean

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