Regeneration work is to bring Barnsley Civic back to its former glory and ensure that the grade II listed building continues to be an integral part of community life, some 150 years after it was first built.
Culture in Barnsley
As we have reported over the last few months, Barnsley’s cultural offer has been going from strength to strength. The restoration of this striking Victorian building, which originally opened in 1877 as the Barnsley Mechanic and Institute Public Hall, is another crucial step up the ladder.
The hall became a theatre in the 1960s before closing its doors to the public in 1998 following a period of decline. The Civic reopened in 2009, with a new theatre space and contemporary art gallery. But the front doors on Eldon Street remained closed, with the beautiful entranceway, elaborate mosaics and original ceiling hidden from public view.
The Mechanics’ Institute has an important history which as E Harwood highlights in Historic England:
“The range of facilities offered for the betterment of participants, including a public hall for concerts and meetings, school of art, Mechanics’ Institute and public library, emphasizes the importance placed in the provision of adult education in Victorian industrial towns; known for a period as the Harvey Institute, the cost of construction was substantially underwritten by brothers Henry and Charles Harvey, local Quaker philanthropists and linen manufacturers; an important regional industry in addition to coal mining.”
Restoring the Barnsley Civic to its former glory
The much-anticipated work to finally restore its full and rightful place in the town is finally set to get underway to complete the original vision and bring the creative arts hub back into full working use.
A fantastic new programme of comedy, music, theatre, and dance accompanies the redeveloped Barnsley Civic and the arts centre will remain open during the redevelopment work.
As well as reinvigorating Barnsley Civic’s original entrance on Eldon Street, a new café, bar, and restaurant will open on the ground and first floors. Flexible office space will be created to attract businesses, and creative community spaces for events and workshops will be available to hire in the new-look venue. Toilet and lift facilities will also be significantly enhanced.
The work is being funded by Barnsley Council, Historic England, and other funders, including a grant of £1.2mn from the Eldon Street High Street Heritage Action Zone for repairs to the historic frontage on Eldon Street. Fundraising by Barnsley Civic is also underway to achieve a contribution of £150,000 to the redevelopment.
Barnsley Civic Chief Executive, Anthony Baker, said:
“September 2023 is going to be the beginning of a new era for Barnsley Civic, with work starting on the transformation in January 2023. We have waited 25 years to open our front doors onto Barnsley’s busiest street, Eldon Street. Barnsley Civic will be the jewel in the crown of the town centre transformation.
“Barnsley Civic is the only large contemporary arts centre in the borough and it is our mission to give the people of Barnsley high-quality inspirational cultural and creative experiences that will appeal to them, which is why we are changing our programme from September. We are incredibly excited about 2023 and can’t wait to share our new programme for with you later this year.”
Work on the Civic will start in 2023
Planning permission has already been granted for the development, which is viewed by Barnsley Council as integral to its wider regeneration of the town centre and the growing, diverse cultural offer.
Cllr Sir Steve Houghton, leader of Barnsley Council, explained why this is so important for Barnsley:
“Barnsley Civic has lacked an active frontage onto Eldon Street for many years but this work will not only provide a fabulous cultural resource for the people of Barnsley, but it will also conserve and celebrate the unique heritage of the building.
“We are thrilled to be able to fund this work along with Historic England as part of our four-year partnership project, which will greatly improve the physical condition of Eldon Street – one of Barnsley’s most historic streets.”
Bryan Davies from Historic England explained that “the redevelopment of Barnsley Civic is one of the most important schemes in the Eldon Street High Street Heritage Action Zone as it will improve the appearance of the street, re-open up the historic entrance, as well as create a thriving new business and community hub.”
Project work is anticipated to last nine months with the front doors of Barnsley Civic expected to open in September. Work will begin in January, with external scaffolding and the removal of the replica canopy on Eldon Street. The canopy was not an original feature of the building and although it has existed in various forms over the years, it will not form part of the new-look frontage, which will remain true to the original form.
A new autumn theatre and gallery programme will launch in spring, detailing performances from September to December.