Spring Bank Arts Centre

Spring Bank Arts Centre

The chapel of St. James the Less has begun a huge change in the past year, with a £750,000 restoration project taking place, to transform the quiet chapel into a thriving community arts centre.


Classical recitals, band performances, art exhibitions, and theatre events – these are just some of the planned events that will light up the interior of the former church, soon a ‘central studio and performance area’. The restoration began in January 2011 and is set to finish by November this year, with an official opening scheduled for early Spring 2012.


Work is progressing well with the builders getting stuck into all the refurbishing that needs to be completed. The dig for a new extension has finally been completed and therefore a connection from the old to the new has been opened. The painstaking restoration work for the Victorian Grade II Listed building includes having to carefully peel back layers of paint and plaster from the walls to reveal the original Victorian wall. Through this process, areas of intricately stencilled wall covering, like six finely crafted gold covered angels, have been discovered, which will remain there and be expanded as the main feature on the wall. The church’s six stained glass windows by C E Kempe, a celebrated Victorian designer will, like the angels, be restored and conserved.


Parts of the chapel like the entire ‘west wall’, will be restored to simulate what it would have looked like in its original ‘glory days’, as well as the beautiful, now repaired stained glass windows – a constant reminders of the buildings history. The church remains steeped in tradition, and will co-exist alongside the brand new and updated ‘arts centre’ elements of the building, such as theatre lighting, an audio system and performance flooring. This suggests that, despite its modern features and activities, the chapel will still maintain a lot of its traditional appearance and will be in no hurry to let people forget the history of the building.


One organisation making sure of this is the Heritage Lottery Fund, which is the biggest funder for the project. As Philip Kendall tells us, the Fund are not interested in the fact that the church will become an Arts Centre as they simply want to ensure that the most important parts of the building are preserved, and that visitors will be educated about its historical significance in New Mills. Other funders include the Garfield Western Foundation, The Foyle Foundation, High Peak Borough Council (along with English Heritage), and the St. James the Less Preservation Trust’s own funds – all which have made this project possible.


However, there was an initial struggle to get hold of the building. After deciding he wanted to restore the church, Philip set up The St. James the Less Preservation Trust, applied to the Heritage Fund, gained money and expressed interest. Despite the promise that the Trust would look after the building, the church were reluctant to sell it to them and searched elsewhere for buyers until they finally decided to sell it to the trust for a very helpful price. This was done with the knowledge that the church would never find anyone else so keen to restore the building and put it to such a good use, and as Philip says, “the alternative would be unthinkable” with the potential of the church becoming unwanted and neglected, and eventually becoming an eyesore.


As we expected, the Arts Centre does not want to capture a solely adult audience, and aims to reach out to the young people of New Mills through the exciting and contemporary activities that are about to take place there. On the other hand, one thing we were unaware of before our visit was just how keen Philip was for the Centre to be accessible for all, regardless of age or any disabilities. The whole excavation at the front of the church is in order for there to be a ramp which allows full wheelchair access. Also work is being done to make the sloping floor level, so everyone can reach the stage, and therefore perform. Philip Kendall feels the community is very important and he hopes the new Arts Centre will bring the community closer together and hopefully ‘put New Mills on the map’. Also, to guarantee the Arts Centre is not forgotten and is used for many years to come, Philip says they will make sure the prices for hiring the venue will be set to be affordable for a variety of users - anyone who wishes to do so, should be able to experience the ‘fun and interesting’ classes.


But how will the people behind this project actually get young people in New Mills aware of the extraordinary changes that are taking place? Despite a frequently updated website for the chapel and numerous newspaper articles on the renovation, we still get the feeling that the majority of young people in New Mills aren’t aware of the changes taking place at the church, and how they could benefit from them in the future. Another question on our minds is whether the centre will be able to capture – and retain – a younger audience, which will be so different to the previous church attendees?


In response to the latter question, Philip refers us to other organisations and events – like the One World Festival - of New Mills which have thrived over the years, and simply got better and better. He also says it is down to the community and the actual teenagers of New Mills, to show either an interest in renting the space for rehearsal or events, or simply attending classes or performances, once the Centre really gets going. In response to our first question, Philip divulges some of the information regarding their exciting launch in springtime 2012, and reveals that he intends to get a PR person involved, with more press coverage and possibly television appearances. With this in mind, and considering the buzz that the opening ‘few weeks of events’ will create - especially if they involve a band from the local school for instance - it seems that early next year, every young person in New Mills will know about the launch of the Spring Bank Arts Centre.


The Centre aims to be an addition to New Mills and an asset to the community, and hopefully, the centre really will be able to reach out to people of all ages, and enhance our town. Soon, everyone will be anticipating the spring arrival of the Spring Bank Arts Centre.

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