Plans submitted to ‘restore and reimagine’ Preston’s Harris building

Proposals for the project

A planning application has been submitted for a £10.7m project to revitalise Preston’s Grade I-listed museum, art gallery and library.

The #HarrisYourPlace scheme will preserve the Victorian building and deliver a new vision for the Harris as both a community hub and world-class cultural attraction fit for the 21st century.

Opened in 1893, the Harris, in the heart of Preston city centre, is owned and managed by Preston City Council.

The new proposals bring together architectural and exhibition design to maximise the building’s offer, preserving and celebrating its original features and protecting it for the future.

Central to the plans are steps to improve the building’s permeability and accessibility.

Accentuating an original entrance, introducing a new internal lift and staircase and installing a ground floor Changing Places facility will enhance the accessibility to the wider public.

To celebrate the building the original full volumes of the galleries will be opened by removing detracting mezzanines. This will also provide flexibility for future exhibits and community uses.

Proposals also include conservation works to the roof and basement, addressing the damp issues that have affected the building and pose a future threat to the Harris’ collections.

Externally, a loggia that would house the new lift and staircase will be infilled with a sympathetic and complementary finish. This will be achieved by introducing a fretwork-style design that references the Harris’ own architecture and does not compete with the existing stonework and decoration of the façade.

The planning application is the latest milestone in the major project to restore and rejuvenate the landmark building.

Internal remodelling will allow for increased blending of museum, library and gallery spaces, additional facilities for children and young people, and enable more of its extensive collections to be displayed.

Plans for the ambitious scheme have taken shape following a successful bid for Round 1 development phase support from The National Lottery Heritage Fund to develop the project and planning application.

Extensive consultation with the public, community groups and partners have shaped the proposals both for the material changes to the building and the Harris’ overall future role with the cultural and community life of the county.

A bid for £4.5m from The National Lottery Heritage Fund to enable delivery of #HarrisYourPlace will be made in November.

It will be backed by £3.6m of funding from Preston City Council, Lancashire County Council, the Preston, South Ribble and Lancashire City Deal, Arts Council England and local supporters, including members of the public.

Melanie Close, chief executive of Disability Equality North West, said: “The Harris has been a treasured focus for cultural, social and civic life in Preston and, indeed, for Lancashire at large for more than 127 years.

“Consultation has confirmed the pride that people feel towards not only this iconic building and its collections, but also the role it plays as a cornerstone of Preston’s identity.

“We now have an opportunity to restore, reimagine and improve access to the building with these bold and ambitious plans. Investment in the building and careful consideration about its future use for all of the people in our community is essential if the Harris is to continue to be a source of inspiration, creativity and enjoyment for another 127 years.”

Collections at the Harris include paintings, textiles, sculpture, photography, historic books and digital art, many of which are of international significance. It is also a well-used community hub, in keeping with its founders’ vision that the Harris should be a focus of culture, arts and learning for the people of Preston and Lancashire more broadly.

Lancashire County Councillor, Peter Buckley, cabinet member for community and cultural services, said: “It is hugely important for Lancashire that The Harris maintains its central role within our county’s rich heritage.

“Reaching such a major milestone for our iconic Grade I-listed attraction is very positive news for Lancashire’s cultural economy.”

Works on the building will start in October 2021 if both the planning application and National Lottery Heritage Fund and Arts Council England support to deliver the project are approved.

The architectural plans have been produced by Manchester-based Buttress Architects, and concept design plans by Ralph Appelbaum Associates.
Focus Consultants have been appointed to project manage the scheme.