Opening to the public in 1893, the Victorian founders’ vision was that the Harris Free Library, Museum & Art Gallery would be the focus of culture, arts and learning, an embodiment of aspirations in late 19th century Preston.
Buttress has recently been appointed to deliver the National Lottery Heritage Fund-backed ‘Re-Imagining the Harris’ project. It is inspired by those founders’ early ambitions, whilst also responding to the needs of the people of Preston and the surrounding region for the next generation.
The aim is to provide an innovative environment in which museum, library and art gallery collections and services are fused to provide a flexible and community-led hub. This will allow the Grade I listed building and its important collections to be presented more effectively.
The practice’s Heritage Consultancy team has been appointed to produce a Conservation Plan to support the wider development project. The plan seeks to reflect the aims and objectives of the organisation, providing a thorough understanding of the heritage and its significance, and offering guidance on how that significance should be retained through any future uses, development or repairs to the building.
In developing the Conservation Plan, our approach has been underpinned by the project’s philosophy of learning and collaboration, bringing together the Harris’ staff and local students to help shape the document.
A core part of the Conservation Plan is the production of a significance plan, which provides a visual guide to which elements of the building may be more or less architecturally or historically important. To help the students understand how this part of the plan is produced, they were divided into groups and tasked with exploring the building to identify aspects they believed were significant. They were also asked to assess the condition of the fabric and to record areas where repair work should be undertaken, an important step in developing the long-term maintenance strategy for the building.
Next semester - in accordance with government guidelines at the time - a workshop will be held with the students where the practice’s Heritage Consultants will share the significance plans they have produced with the group. This will give the students an opportunity to discuss, compare and contrast their own findings with those produced by our team, helping enhance their knowledge and ability to critically assess historic spaces.
This approach has both supported the students in their career development, by giving them hands-on experience of an active capital project in their local region, while giving a local academic institute the opportunity to make an imprint on the plan.
Our team has also held workshops with staff across the museum, library and gallery to draw on their experience and knowledge of the building, and to identify where they thought opportunities could be exploited as part of our proposals. As custodians of the building, and as those who know it best, this process has ensured that the insight and experience of the Harris’ staff has a role to play in shaping its future.
By ensuring that collaboration sits at the heart of our approach, the finished Conservation Plan will not only provide an academic understanding of the Harris’ significance but it will also capture the building’s intangible personality. It will be a user-friendly and practical document that will play an important role in the day-to-day running of the building, ensuring that the Harris and its heritage is protected for staff and visitors for many years to come.
Find out more about the Re-imagining the Harris project here.