Call for communities to take over empty buildings

Major study: Artists Wouter Osterholt and Katja van Driel
Major study: Artists Wouter Osterholt and Katja van Driel
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Artists who have spent the past year documenting the 300 empty buildings in Preston city centre are calling for communities to take ownership of them.

Katja van Driel and Wouter Osterholt have produced a huge map and collection of photos of derelict mills, churches, homes and other buildings, in a bid to get people talking about how best they can be used.

The pair, from Germany and Holland, began their project - Open To The Public - shortly after the announcement that the £700m Tithebarn city centre regeneration scheme would not go ahead.

They are asking the people of Preston to come forward with fresh ideas on how best empty spaces can be used, without relying solely on commercial investors to step in.

Wouter said in his native Amsterdam, people find it easier to take over derelict buildings for community use, and have turned run-down wrecks into the likes of libraries or clubs.

He said: “It was striking to see so many abandoned properties in Preston - the old Post Office, St Joseph’s orphanage, the church on Fishergate.

“They are really central and nice architectural buildings.

“David Cameron introduced the idea of the Big Society and taking things into your own hands.

“To really put that into practice, they have to let go on things like health and safety restrictions and accept more risk.

“We’ve also got to get in touch with private owners about their responsibilities to keep buildings up and get people to talk about it more openly.”

Katja and Wouter have placed their map in the Guild Hall Arcade and are encouraging members of the public to come in and comment on their findings between now and February 2.

Katja said: “We want to show people the map and get them to share their stories on the history and how they see the future.

“We hope this will be a starting point for discussion and bringing people together with an interest in shaping the city.”

The artists have also organised a discussion with Preston Council’s head of property management Derek Woods, a talk by UCLan academic Dr Hannah Neale about Preston Bus Station and a film screening.

They were commissioned to do the study by In Hidden Places.

See for event information.