Preston’s iconic Harris will remain at the heart of the city after a successful bid for £180,900 means its a step closer to being preserved for future generations.
It has been three years in the making, but custodians of the museum and art gallery have been awarded an initial grant to elaborate on plans to ensure it remains the city’s cultural hub.
It is the first stage to integrating the artwork, historical artefacts and books throughout the Harris, which could make it the UK’s first ‘blended museum, art gallery and library.’
On hearing that the team behind the project had been successful in its Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) bid, Preston City Council Coun Peter Kelly said: “I screamed down the phone.
“I had everything crossed. When they called, the HLF guys teased me a little bit.
“I was like ‘will you just tell me please’ and then they told me I actually screamed.
“It has been three years in the making and when I took up the role we had just started the re-imagining project. The heart of Preston is really the Harris, the centre.
“It’s an amazing building and in a way I see myself as responsible for the building for generations to come - like a caretaker.”
Getting through the first round of applications for the Heritage Lottery Fund means that bosses at the Harris, who are driving the project, will now have to spell out plans in detail.
That will allow them to go through a second round of applications for a total bid of £4.7m, which will support an overall £10.7m project which, in turn, will ultimately enable the full realisation of the Harris project.
It is second time lucky after the first bid the Harris submitted to the HLF fell through.
The controversial glass frontage which was included in the previous HLF application is NOT part of the new plans.
Lancashire County Council Coun Peter Buckley, cabinet member for community and cultural services, said: “This is great news for our plans to create a new chapter in the life of the much-loved Harris.
“It will transform the building and create an exciting new cultural space for people to be creative and learn new things.
“This successful bid is thanks to a lot of hard work by officers from both councils, with the aim of gaining the funding to deliver this ambitious project.”
The £3.6m funding difference is already in place from Lancashire County Council, Preston City Council and the Preston, South Ribble and Lancashire City Deal, Arts Council England and local supporters.
Fund-raising campaign #HarrisYourPlace also needs to raise £1m for the project.
Deputy head of culture at the Harris Museum and Art Gallery Tim Joel said: “It’s been three years in the making so yes, everyone was thrilled. It’s a great achievement.
“We have got 18 months now to really work on the plans in detail. In the first round we laid out our vision and aspirations. Now we’ve got to work it up to architectural standards. We’ve got to cost it out.
“We have been perfecting some of these concepts. We’ll be opening the Lancaster Road entrance for some time to see how that affects footfall, for example.
“We were one of the successful projects out of 43. It went to a national board so the fact that we have got through round one is a significant achievement.
“We have got this next two years to really tackle that fund-raising and pull together these detailed plans with our community.
“It’s all to play for, I think.”
Having recently celebrated its 125th birthday, Harris bosses hope the building will be a centre for Preston’s cultural and social life, a source of inspiration, pride and creativity for the next 125 years.
Coun Kelly, PCC’s cabinet member for Culture and Leisure Services, said: “Edmund Harris’ original vision that the building should be a place to learn has always been a driver for me.
“Generations that are coming through are learning in a different way now and we have to adapt to that and how people think. People are highly interactive.
“When they come to the Harris it has to be an experience.
“Children get to an age when they don’t come into the library as much so we have to make the building relevant to all generations.
“The other day there were 500 children making clay models in the Harris.
“Then about 150 of them went upstairs and looked at the Windrush exhibition. It was fascinating to see the children interacting with that. They come because it’s something that is tangible.
“We have got to adapt from the original vision. We are making the building into one that will last another 100 years and beyond.
“That is a once in a lifetime opportunity and we’ve got to make sure it works. I was pretty made up when they told me.
“I cannot wait to watch its transformation in the coming years and see it further embedded into the community it serves.”
To find out more or donate to the #HarrisYourPlace campaign, members of the public can go to bit.ly/harrisyourplace, drop in to the Harris shop, or send a cheque, payable to Friends of the Harris, to Harris Museum, Art Gallery & Library, Market Square, Preston PR1 2PP.