Preston’s iconic Harris Museum, Art Gallery and Library has 10 million reasons to look forward to 2017, after an ambitious bid was lodged with lottery bosses.
In the application for £10m of Heritage Lottery funding, bosses have major plans to open up the Grade I listed building to welcome more people and boost visitor numbers.
In addition, leaders behind the Harris’ regeneration hope to “revolutionise” its library by using latest digital technology, and by becoming a “true learning hub” for the 21st century.
The total cost of the project is now expected to be £18.6m - higher than the original estimate of £15m because of the “ambition” and scale of the scheme.
Further funding is hoped to be secured from other national and local bodies in the future.
Initial proposals for the redevelopment project, including the creation of a striking new entrance, have polarised opinion and attracted responses from across the county.
Jon Finch, the man tasked with “re-imagining” the building, said: “We are trying to be as ambitious as we possibly can be and seize the opportunity we have at this stage, and we felt that was the right amount to ask for.
“We’ve had lots and lots of feedback and a huge range of responses from the public, and we had specific sessions with groups of young people in November.
“At this stage, we are presenting a range of thoughts and options to the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF), because these are early ideas we are working on with the HLF, local people, staff and stakeholders, if we are lucky enough to be given the stage one approval.
“We then get another 18 months to two years to work up those details further.”
Mr Finch described working on the listed building as a “sophisticated business”, and said it was important to keep the public involved in the project.
He said the bid so far presented a range of “early ideas”, and said: “What we have included is the ambition that we need to open up the Harris, broadly, which may well mean an entrance at the front, it may mean at the back, it may mean stronger links to the rest of the city, taking it internally back to the original layout without false walls.
“It is the principle at this stage, rather than the detail.
“The HLF won’t be looking at the detail, they will be looking at the broad ideas we present, the heritage, the importance of the building and the collections.”
Mr Finch said the bid would be a “competitive process”, but said: “I am confident we have put in a very strong bid.”
Bosses say the ambition for the Harris is being driven by a “truly unique and exciting vision” for the building.
They say it will build on Lancashire’s history of innovation to create a hub where the creative past, present and future can be celebrated through making, participating and engaging.
The project will focus on conserving the building and ensuring collections are accessible, while also providing an “innovative environment” where collections are combined to provide one “constantly changing cultural and community-led hub”.
Through the investment, the Harris is hoped to become an even bigger attraction for the city, county and the region.
Coun Peter Kelly, Preston Council’s cabinet member for culture and leisure, said: “Our vision for the Harris is hugely ambitious and we are delighted to have submitted our bid to the Heritage Lottery Fund.
“We’re talking about a bid that’s worth £10m to the Harris and at this level competition from right across the UK will be fierce.
“Yet we are confident, optimistic and positive.
“We’ve put together an incredible bid that really goes to the heart of what the Harris is all about.
“A cultural, historic, educational and social icon that is a true local and national treasure.
“Over the next four months, we will do all we can to impress on the people at the Heritage Lottery Fund, the massive benefits of investing in the Harris for the benefit of Preston, Lancashire and the North West as a whole.”
County Coun Marcus Johnstone, cabinet member for Lancashire County Council’s cultural services, added: “The Harris is at a pivotal moment and this bid to the Heritage Lottery Fund is a once in a lifetime opportunity for the Harris, for the city of Preston and for Lancashire.
“We have to ‘seize the day’ and ensure the fantastic passion and great love people have for the Harris carries forward and truly inspires the Heritage Lottery Fund.
“It’s incredibly exciting to think how £10m of lottery funding could transform the Harris and so we have to be focused and put in every effort to try and make our bid a success.”
A decision will be made by the HLF on the first stage of the bid in April 2017.
If successful at this stage, the next step will be to work up fully detailed schemes, planning applications and proposals in order to receive and secure the full amount of lottery funding.
This would be some time around summer 2019.