Chinese buffet restaurant with robot waiters snaps up iconic listed building in Preston
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The Grade II* Listed building, on the market for £350,000 earlier this year, has been snapped up by the Chinese Buffet Company from Bolton - dashing hopes of local campaigners to turn it into a community arts venue.
The former Harris School of Art has stood empty since 2014 and the decay which has set in over the last nine years has put it on Heritage England's At Risk Register, described as in "poor" condition.
Now the new owners are expected to completely refurbish the 174-year-old landmark and open it as the ninth in their popular chain of unlimited dining restaurants, complete with BellaBot front of house service robots delivering food and drink to diners’ tables.
The Friends of the Harris School of Art revealed on Facebook they had lost out in their ambitious bid to buy the building. Leader John Edward Turner said: "Unfortunately we didn't reach our target in time and the Harris Institute has been sold to the Chinese Buffet Company.
"Thank you to everyone for your continued support in our project over the past few months. All those who donated towards the crowdfunding campaign will be getting their money back over the next few days.
"After the previous owners' lack of interest and care, hopefully the building will be restored to its former glory and it will be open soon for all to enjoy.
"In case they new owners would like to use the building for its intended use we are keeping the Friends of the Harris School of Art group and the Community Interest Company active for a few months."
The Harris Institute, in Avenham Lane, was built between 1846 and 1849 as Preston Institute for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge and was extended in 1883.
It eventually became the UCLan’s Department of Performing Arts until 2009 when the department moved to a new £15m development in the central campus. It was latterly an Islamic educational institution, but was left empty when the owners moved out in 2014.
It was advertised for sale at the start of 2023 as a "development opportunity." The listing added it was "suitable for a variety of uses, subject to the necessary planning consents."