Derbyshire world heritage site gets 21st century update

Dave Cooper plays the role of mill manager and Michael Ledger the centre's education officer

Dave Cooper plays the role of mill manager and Michael Ledger the centre's education officer

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The contrast between the old and the new was very much in evidence at Cromford Mills on Thursday as the world heritage site unveiled a project six years in the making.

‘Building 17’, the largest and most prominent former cotton mill on the site, has been completely transformed inside and out by both a £4 million Heritage Lottery Fund grant and a lot of hard work.

A large open plan space in the Cromford Creative office suites

A large open plan space in the Cromford Creative office suites

Cromford Creative, which takes up the top four floors of the building, has office units and workspaces which can be hired from £8.50 per day while the bottom floor is given over to a world heritage ‘gateway’ and the ‘Arkwright Experience’.

John Rivers OBE, Chairman of the Arkwright Society, who own and run the site, said: “The opening of building 17 is a significant milestone.

“In the previous 30 years a lot has been done to clear the site but this is the first big major project to regenerate an old mill built in the 1780s.

“It’s a super building with two purposes - four floors of very modern, very bright office accommodation and a ground floor gateway into the whole world heritage site stretching all the way from Matlock to Derby.

Oakenstone and Clifton Media share an office and are the first companies to move into the Cromford Creative suites

Oakenstone and Clifton Media share an office and are the first companies to move into the Cromford Creative suites

“We are all very proud to be part of it.”

A quick tour around the building itself shows just why those responsible for the project are so pleased with it.

The business centre has four coloured-coded floors split into office units, co-working spaces, meeting rooms and a ‘creative lounge’.

Visually, the combination of the building’s original stone and timber structure contrasted with the glass and steel of new office fittings, looks stunning.

L-R: Mrs Jill Tucker, Lord Lieutenant of Derbyshire William Tucker, John Rivers Chairman of the Arkwright Society, Sarah McLeod Chief Executive of the Arkwright Society, High Sheriff of Derbyshire Oliver Stephenson and his wife Fiona Stephenson.

L-R: Mrs Jill Tucker, Lord Lieutenant of Derbyshire William Tucker, John Rivers Chairman of the Arkwright Society, Sarah McLeod Chief Executive of the Arkwright Society, High Sheriff of Derbyshire Oliver Stephenson and his wife Fiona Stephenson.

It has been created that way so as to maintain the building’s internal sense of scale and to ensure the work complements the original features rather than seeking to change them.

The irony of how well the building suits its very modern current function is not lost on John Rivers.

“Someone 200 years ago effectively built a really modern, light and spacious building.

“Certainly in comparison to a lot of modern offices which are a bit pokey and have no light it is almost a perfect working environment.

“We already have a number of tenants and we expect to attract quite a few more over the coming months.”

While the office space was still largely waiting to be filled, the bottom floor’s world heritage gateway was a hive of activity as children dressed in Georgian outfits played amongst exhibits including an interactive scale model of the entire Derwent Valley world heritage site.

After that came an en masse trip into a dark and cavernous old mill to witness the ‘Arkwright Experience’, where a projected actor takes on the role of the 18th century industrialist in a humorous and informative talk about the history and importance of the Derwent Valley area.

And John certainly feels that Arkwright can teach modern day people a thing or two about success in business.

“In modern language he was an entrepreneur and I think he is a great example of what you can do starting from almost nothing.”

Who knows, if the current tenants heed his example, maybe the seeds of the next great industrial revolution will be planted in the same mill Arkwright started the last one in over 200 years ago.