ART AND SOUL: Bid to revive Preston’s historic Harris Institute

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An ambitious bid has been launched to restore one of Preston’s historic buildings to its former glory.

Enthusiast Alana Cooper hopes to establish an arts hub at the Harris Institute and is looking for support from the community.

Alana Cooper is launching a bid for the Harris Institute, in  Avenham, to become an arts hub, returning to its traditional roots

Alana Cooper is launching a bid for the Harris Institute, in Avenham, to become an arts hub, returning to its traditional roots

The plan has triggered a wave of optimism across the city’s resurgent arts scene that the Grade II-listed building will be given a new lease of life.

The 29-year-old said: “It’s such a beautiful, historically significant building with amazing capabilities to become the heart and soul of Preston once more.”

Alana’s masterplan is to create an all-encompassing arts hub at the Avenham Lane site.

The ambitious plans, although at an early stage, have been hailed by some of Preston’s culture bosses who have spoken of their excitement if the building is “brought back to life.” Alana, who lives close to the building in Avenham, has a background in performance arts and has submitted a business plan to owner Yousuf Bhailok.

The 29-year-old hopes to get the bid off the ground by initially forming an art-house style cinema to create a buzz about the development. Other rooms in the vast building would then be opened up for use by community groups, arts and drama organisations and design studios.

There are also plans to establish a bistro restaurant and cafe.

Alana said: “I want to establish something as a celebration of the arts, entertainment and culture and bring this building back for the people of the city of Preston.

“It will be for the whole community and we have had a lot of support for the project.

“The building isn’t in a bad condition and I’m hopeful we can get parts of it up and running within months.”

The grand Harris Institute building, close to Avenham Park, has a history intertwined with the city’s cultural heritage.

Built in 1846-49, it was funded by benefactor Edmund Harris, on the stipulation it would be used for educational purposes.

Later used by the University of Central Lancashire for art studies, it was put up for sale in 2009 after the university moved its performing arts students to a new £15m facility at the main campus.

English Heritage had placed it on its buildings at risk register in 2009 before it was bought by multi-millionaire tycoon Mr Bhailok, with a view to creating a training school for Imams.

However, it has been largely vacant in recent months.

Alana, who says she was in awe of the building when she first saw it, says the project could be eligible for funding from Arts Council England and heritage arts pot.

She said: “Art runs through my veins.

“It is my passion, it is my life.

“Each room will have a different purpose, a different facility for the arts. An accessible space for all to enjoy, with scope to strengthen the local community and boost its economy.

“It’s such a beautiful, historically significant building with amazing capabilities to become the heart and soul of Preston once more.”

A fund-raising page has been set up on the www.indiegogo.com website entitled Revive The Harris, Bring Back The Art.