The Harris has been open in Preston city centre since 1893 and, as its launch date suggests, is an example of classic Victorian architecture – a time when considerations of a building’s aesthetic far outweighed thoughts of how challenging it would be for people to access all it had to offer.

The new #HarrisYourPlace scheme, the result of collaboration between Buttress Architects Ltd, Ralph Appelbaum Associates and Focus Consultants, is aiming to address this by implementing a 21st century design scheme that also preserves the structure’s character and beauty.

Central to the submitted proposals are designs to better showcase the building’s original entrance, introduce a new internal lift and staircase, and install a ground floor Changing Places facility to make the site far more accessible.

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Cross-section architectural drawings of the building. Courtesy of Buttress Architects Ltd.

“The Harris has been a treasured focus for cultural, social and civic life in Preston and indeed for Lancashire at large for more than 127 years. Consultation has confirmed the pride that people feel towards not only this iconic building and its collections but also the role it plays as a cornerstone of Preston’s identity,” says Melanie Close, CEO of Disability Equality North West.

“We now have an opportunity to restore, reimagine and improve access to the building with these bold and ambitious plans.  Investment in the building and careful consideration about its future use for all of the people in our community is essential if the Harris is to continue to be a source of inspiration, creativity and enjoyment for another 127 years.”

Plans, which were shaped partly by community consultation, also include removing mezzanines to reveal the venue’s true scale and conducting conservation works to the roof and basement in order to address damp issues that pose a threat to the Harris’ collections if not remedied.

Architectural model of the proposed changes to the building. Image courtesy of Buttress Architects Ltd.

The project has reached the planning application stage courtesy of a successful bid for Round 1 development phase support from National Lottery Heritage Fund (NLHF). Lancashire County Councillor Peter Buckley, cabinet member for community and cultural services, labelled the milestone of submitting a planning application “very positive news” for the region’s cultural economy.

A subsequent bid for £4.5 million from NLHF will be made this month in order to bankroll delivery, with a further £3.6 million being provided by Preston City Council; Lancashire County Council; the Preston, South Ribble and Lancashire City Deal; Arts Council England; and public support.

Assuming all this capital is successfully sourced and planning is approved, works on the building will commence in October 2021.

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