Key ceremony will signify formal handover of The Harris ahead of £14m restoration

The Harris Museum, Art Gallery & Library

The ceremonial metal key to Preston’s The Harris building will be handed to Conlon Construction this Thursday (August 18).

The event will signify the formal handover of The Harris Museum, Art Gallery & Library to Conlon as part of the transformation project at the site, with refurbishment work set to begin.

Designed by Alfred Gilbert, the ceremonial key was initially used to open the Harris back in 1893 by Arthur Stanley, the 16th Earl of Derby.

The key consists of an Art Nouveau taste openwork terminal enclosing a rock crystal drop below a finial crown, featuring an enamelled coat of arms from the Stanley family, impaled with the arms of his wife, Lady Constance Villers, the eldest daughter of the 4th Earl of Clarendon.

Conlon Construction was appointed as the main contractor for the Harris Your Place project in April of this year. It has been working closely with the project team to refine the costs of the scheme and develop the programme for delivery.

Internal works will start in the Harris including surveys and asbestos removal as well as installation of hoardings to create a safe working environment, scaffolding erection and preparation for the contractors to start on site.

In preparation for the refurbishment, more than 250,000 objects have been removed from the building and placed in safe storage.

Oil paintings, watercolours, sculptures, drawings and prints have been individually cleaned. A team of expert movers closely condition checked the artworks and frames, before each painting was wrapped or crated and catalogued ready for storage.

Cllr Peter Kelly, cabinet member for arts and culture at Preston City Council, said: “It’s a fantastic achievement to get to this stage of the Harris Your Place capital project.

“What a real team effort it’s been – decanting the museum with world-class collection items cleaned, protected, catalogued and moved into safe storage, all in preparation for the Harris Your Place renovations to begin. The ceremonial handing over of the keys to Conlon Construction is a remarkable step forward in this transformational journey.”

The Harris ceremonial key

Michael Conlon, chairman of Conlon Construction, said: “Accepting the ceremonial keys to the Harris, a building of tremendous cultural and historical significance to the city of Preston, is a huge honour.

“Conlon Construction has called the city home for the last 60 years and the Harris fed the imaginations of our team on visits when we were children. It even served as the venue for my own wedding last year.

“Our many connections to the Harris make this quite a unique and special project for all of us at Conlon. We’re proud to undertake the refurbishments readying it for the next phase of Its incredible history. It’s an exciting, 21st century facility which will support the needs of the city and the county for generations to come.”

Harris Your Place is a £14m project to restore and reimagine the Harris. When the new Harris opens in spring 2024, inventive blended displays will give access to remarkable collections.

New spaces have been designed to activate curiosity, creativity and reflection and offer library services in enriched settings, positioning the Harris as a uniquely blended venue, true to its original purpose.

The new Harris aims to attract a further 100,000 visitors a year on top of the existing 350,000 and will be a visitor destination for Preston and Lancashire. The Harris is currently operating from other local spaces around Preston, including the Guild Hall.

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