Phew! We suddenly seem to have almost reached the finishing line with the restoration project.
It feels very strange to be at this point, seeing the building without scaffolding, however the workmen are still busy bees. Protective covers are being stripped off in areas and the little radios are slowly disappearing. It was always interesting to hear the diversity of music as we were busy taking photos each week of the work. A bit of pop and then a bit of soul, always a mixed bag – you couldn’t help wandering round with a tune in your head. We loved the banter with the workmen, from “make sure you get my best side” to the ones that made a hasty exit. There was plenty strange scene, like pairs of disembodied legs either on scaffolding or obscured by boards humming along to tunes or talking to the other workmen. It was always a pleasure to answer their questions: “So what was this building then?” “What’s it going to be?” “Why are you taking photos?” All the while being aware not to trip over something or keep people from the restoration work. It will be strange to walk round without a hard hat, hi vis vest and safety boots on.
The building looks amazing! It’s like a good friend has had a makeover.
‘Wet Paint’ signs are slowly giving way to the hum of computers and the sound of people moving with purpose around the building. Chatter and voices can be heard all around the building. Books and all the things needed to create classrooms, a college, are coming out of boxes and crates. New staff and students are discovering their classrooms and the quirkiness of the building. In a few weeks it will be like they have always been there.
It’s good to see the plans in reality and see furniture and whiteboards in the attic rooms. Rooms that now have numbers, desks and people to fill them.
We have to now remember that we can’t just walk in, there are classes on and others to consider. We don’t know the class numbers but rather the spaces, so we are learning as well.
I guess I’m haunted by the ghosts of the past but I don’t think that’s a bad thing. I’m embracing the new lease of life the restoration has given the building and it feels right to feel the busy-ness of it.
So, are we finished? Not yet!
We have signage to create, letting a new generation know about the building’s history. We have an opening to plan and educational materials to devise. We have talks to deliver to schools and community groups, where we get to enthuse about a very special building. As well as pulling in volunteers to help with gathering memories, cleaning the found objects and developing tours. All this is still to do, so you can all marvel at the Victorian iron masters working estate buildings. To see how a nineteenth century building facing an uncertain future can find a use in the twenty-first century.
We are not forgetting that this was all made possible with Heritage Lottery Funding. With a relatively new funding pot, Heritage Enterprise is aimed at encouraging business to take on unusual buildings and give them a new lease of life. All you need is a bit of vision.