Arts complex breathes new life into famous Wirksworth mill

Built in 1780, Haarlem Mill is said to have been the inspiration behind George Elliots classic novel The Mill on the Floss.
Built in 1780, Haarlem Mill is said to have been the inspiration behind George Elliots classic novel The Mill on the Floss.

Creativity, craft and industry are breathing life back into one of Wirksworth’s historic mills which reopened last weekend as an artists’ studio complex.

Town mayor Councillor Alison Clamp attended the official opening of Haarlem Workspace on Saturday, July 29, and instead of cutting the traditional ribbon it was a length of red legal binding tape of the sort originally manufactured in Haarlem Mill.

Mayor Clamp said: I think people are very pleased to see the building being given a modern usage.

Mayor Clamp said: I think people are very pleased to see the building being given a modern usage.

She said: “This project is a great use of a very historic and important building.

“It also demonstrates how our town is growing organically, drawing on the great energy and commitment of many people.”

The Grade II*-listed building on Derby Road is now home to a community interest company which will champion contemporary, rural and creative practice and research.

Built as a cotton mill in 1780 by Sir Richard Arkwright, Haarlem was the first significant coal-powered mill of the Industrial Revolution.

From left, project directors Bev Shephard, Geoff Diego Litherland, Anna Clyne and Olivia Punnett.

From left, project directors Bev Shephard, Geoff Diego Litherland, Anna Clyne and Olivia Punnett.

It also has literary heritage, featuring in works by George Elliot, DH Lawrence, Daniel Defoe, Olive Schreiner, Eleanor Marx and Friedrich Engels.

One floor has been renovated in tandem with local business Wardmans, which now owns the building, and is already home to 12 artists.

It also offers a flexible public space which will host and ambitious programme of events and activities relating to art, landscape and the environment.

Project managers are working on plans to convert a second floor next year, and are currently taking applications from more artists working in relevant fields.

Haarlem Artspace is operated by a new community interest company.

Haarlem Artspace is operated by a new community interest company.

Coun Clamp added: “The life of the town is hugely enriched by the arts and artists living and working here, and this will further our town’s reputation as a centre for contemporary art.

“It’s wonderful how artists bring chances for employment. It’s not just producing artwork, it’s also producing vitality for the town.”

More than 250 people attended the launch for a silent auction, talks and a chance to explore the space, which has been restored to English Heritage standards.

Anna Clyne, a director of the community interest company, said: “It exceeded all our expectations. We had people come from far and wide to see what we’ve done, some interested in the art, some the history of the building.

“There’s a feeling of elation now, after two years of hard work, and we’re delighted that it’s been welcomed so warmly. People think it’s great to have a cutting edge arts space in rural Derbyshire.”

The company has four directors: non-profit finance specialists Anna and Bev Shephard, and artists Olivia Punnett and Geoff Diego Litherland - whose work has been shown around the world, but found limited space in the town where they lived.

Olivia said: “Artists working rurally are often working alone or, as we were doing, travelling into city centre studios to be part of the contemporary working arts.

“So many artists were having to do this, and we felt it was time for a change.”

Work was funded by a Kickstarter campaign, Sheffield Hallam University and the Community Foundation.

Anna said: “It’s been the epitome of team effort, no one’s being paid. It’s born out of the desire of local artists. I got caught up in the whirlwind.

“Everyone has put their all into it, and there’s been so much help from the community. It’s really humbling.”

The directors will start repaying their thanks when they launch Internal Nebula, the studios’ first exhibition on September 1 to coincide with the Wirksworth Festival.

That will be followed by a programme of talks running throughout the winter with some of the region’s leading artists and international experts, funded by the Arts Council.

Anna said: “Wirksworth has a thriving creative and artistic community, we want to renew its place on the map.”

n To find out more, go to www.haarlemartspace.co.uk.