Creating a New Heritage Centre

Introduction

Our project involves the renovation, conversion and fitting out of a three storey town house building to create a new Heritage Centre for Wirksworth, the creative use of the organisation’s museum collection to develop new interpretation of the town’s heritage, a diverse programme of events and activities to bring that heritage alive, and the development of essential income generating facilities to provide long term financial sustainability.

Background

The location of the original Heritage Centre at the Crown Yard site had long presented problems for its trustees, and visitor numbers had steadily declined over a number of years. Access was via a steep hill from the market square and there were significant access issues for people with physical disabilities. Lack of investment had led to dated interpretation and facilities. In 2012 the trust was bequeathed a three storey shop/townhouse in Wirksworth on St.Johns Street, a more central ‘high street’ site. During 2013, various options and approaches were explored by the trustees, and major decisions made about the structure of the organisation, its business model and the future of both properties in its ownership.

During this process it became clear that the St.Johns Street site provided an opportunity to re-invent the Heritage Centre as a thriving, more accessible operation which could be better utilised by visitors and residents alike.

Plans

The project will involve extensive repair, adaptation and modernisation of the building in St.Johns Street to include interpretive exhibitions, safe storage for our museum collection, a studio & meeting room, shop and Websters café with an outdoor courtyard.

Exhibitions and displays will illustrate Wirksworth’s long history and the qualities that make it so distinctive today. The design style will reflect the town’s quirky, creative and nonconformist qualities, and its strong community character. Object based displays will bring the story of Wirksworth to life, whilst the content throughout will reveal the stories of the people behind the objects. Proposed themes will include:

  • Geology and geography
  • The story of Wirksworth people, and how their lives have been influenced through the changing industries of lead mining, quarrying, textiles
  • The impact of global events including the two Great Wars
  • The influence of lead mining and quarrying on the shaping of the town
  • Well dressing and traditional celebrations
  • The recent regeneration of Wirksworth as a centre for culture and the arts.

A big range of heritage activities and cultural events will take place in and beyond the Heritage Centre in the coming years, including:

  • Guided walks around Wirksworth
  • Lectures and talks, local heritage courses, and a family history research group
  • Events for families
  • Activities for children and young people
  • Arts and crafts workshops, and art exhibitions
  • Education visits by primary schools, with tours, drama workshops & town walks
  • Visits for secondary schools, with well dressing, banner art, dance and drama, photography projects and temporary exhibitions.

Timeline

Building work has now started at the St.Johns Street site, managed by architects Lathams and being carried out by specialist building contractors Bonsers. Headland Design are responsible for the development of the museum interpretation. The building and interpretation work is expected to take around 10 months, and the new heritage centre is scheduled to open its doors to the public in late summer 2018. Heritage activities, including group visits and educational trips for schools and colleges will also start at the centre in the late summer, although the heritage centre team are happy to offer group guided walks around the town at any time.