Work under way to transform new Wirksworth Heritage Centre building

How the new Wirksworth Heritage Centre will look once work is complete, according to a design by Lathams Architects.
How the new Wirksworth Heritage Centre will look once work is complete, according to a design by Lathams Architects.

Building work is under way to transform a disused townhouse in Wirksworth into a state-of-the art centre for showcasing local heritage.

Specialist restoration contractors moved in to begin converting the three-storey Webster’s building on St John’s Street last month.

The trust which ran the heritage centre from its previous site at Crown Yard hopes work will be completed this summer, ready to rehome its complete museum collection for later in the year.

Vice-chairman Sally Barkley-Smith said: “We were bequeathed the building some years ago. It was a no-brainer for us to move, but its taken a long time to figure out how on earth we could manage it.

“Our old centre was really out of the way, and we were struggling with it. It is an amazing prospect for us to have a place in the middle of town.”

The building has previously housed a diverse array of businesses including a baker and painting and decorating supplier, but has fallen into a serious state of disrepair.

Sally said: “The building has developed in quite an eccentric way. It grew from the front and back to the middle and there are lots of different levels.

“We are doing a complete renovation, and the first part of the project involves more taking down than putting up.”

She added: “There is an awful lot to do, beginning with stripping out and then preparing the structure, then the stairs and floors will need to be realigned.

“It has to be fully accessible, so we are building a new lift shaft and then a small extension at the back to house activities for school groups.”

The project is backed by a £1.3million grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund, which the trust will supplement with fundraising, smaller grants and volunteer support.

The museum collection is currently in storage, and the trust is working with the University of Lincoln and a team of specialist consultants to decide on how it will be presented.

The trust hopes that the new heritage centre will meet the required standard to house visiting exhibits from national collections.

Sally said: “The Lottery grant will pay for interpretation of the collection, and activities in the first three years after opening.

“That will help us build a visitor base and see what works. There will be a café and shop too, and our ultimate aim is to be sustainable enough that we can create new jobs.”

She added: “We want it to be a place where people will always wonder what’s happening and come in to find out.”

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