Multi-million pound transformation on the cards for Preston’s Harris

Photo Neil Cross
Jon Finch, who is leading the "re-imagining the Harris project"

Photo Neil Cross Jon Finch, who is leading the "re-imagining the Harris project"

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The balcony of Preston’s iconic Harris Museum, Art Gallery and Library could open to the public as part of a multi-million pound transformation.

The outdoor terrace is currently reserved for special occasions in the city, but could be used regularly as the whole building is “opened up” to make better use of spaces.

Photo Neil Cross
Jon Finch, who is leading the "re-imagining the Harris project"

Photo Neil Cross Jon Finch, who is leading the "re-imagining the Harris project"

Proposals to create a striking new entrance in the front wall of the building have already been revealed, with leaders hoping to make more areas of the landmark structure available.

“At a broad level, we want to open up much more of the space to be used”, said Jon Finch, the man tasked with “re-imagining” the Grade I listed building.

“Of course people can come and read books and look at art, but the idea they can create and make and engage and present their views and experiences, I think is key for an institution like this.”

He said feedback had included a wish for “flexibility”, and said: “People want to come in a few months later and see something refreshed.”
The proposals of the new entrance also include opening up the Lancaster Road entrance, creating a thoroughfare through the building.

Photo Neil Cross
Jon Finch, who is leading the "re-imagining the Harris project"

Photo Neil Cross Jon Finch, who is leading the "re-imagining the Harris project"

Mr Finch said: “We are looking at creating a ‘labrary’, that’s a combination of a laboratory and a library, using books to encourage people to create and make.

“These are just early ideas.

“On the ground floor, with people using it as a thoroughfare, it’s giving people a taste of what’s being done elsewhere and constantly changing.”

He said the area would include comfortable seating and meeting spaces, and said a shop and cafe area was being considered for the front of the building, currently used as an education room and storage.

He said: “People may well expect several opportunities to get food and drink, so we might have a café at that end and a coffee machine at the other end.

“We are thinking about should we have a restaurant in the building.

“You expect decent food and drink, and you expect somewhere to buy good quality items.

He said the Harris would be an “ideal place” for a craft shop to display local work, and said: “What we do inside should be making the Harris the creative focal point for the city and the county.”

Mr Finch said proposals for the first and second floors were around creating more space for people to “relax and engage”.

He said: “We’ve got these wonderful balcony areas where we could have comfortable seating, access to books, places to relax and charge your phone, access to wireless, put forward ideas on what you’ve seen.

“Ideas are around building a community history library, the idea of a reading room using our wonderful historic book collection.

“And we’ve got this wonderful balcony outside that we are not using.

“I think utilising that as a space for people to use, that could be where a restaurant could be, a place which people could use in the spring and summer, where people could eat and drink.

“It could also be a place for people to gather, which creates that link between the Harris and the Flag Market.

“We need to go through health and safety and make sure it’s safe and secure, but plenty of other places have used balconies and roof spaces as a way of drawing people in and we have this space that’s under-used at the moment.”

He said the Harris wanted to bring the best exhibitions and displays from around the world, and also said more could be done with the Egyptian balcony - currently only accessible with guided tours, and the basement.

He said: “I think the basement is a great venue for creativity.”

He also said the possibility of using the Harris for weddings was being considered.

People are being urged to have their say on the “early” proposals, with hundreds already having been consulted.