Two of Kirkham’s most historic buildings are set for an exciting new lease of life after Fylde Borough Council purchased both as part of the town’s £10m regeneration masterplan.
The authority has just completed the important acquisition of Hillside on Preston Street and the former Charity Girls School on Poulton Street.
Both buildings – which faced uncertain futures after lying empty for many years – will now be transformed as part of the Kirkham Futures masterplan which is designed to breathe new life into Kirkham’s historic town centre.
The Grade II listed Hillside – a former restaurant and popular wedding venue – will be converted into an innovative centre of excellence for teaching heritage-based construction techniques and eco skills.
The aspiration for the centre is to host a range of nationally important training and skills courses in traditional crafts, such as stonemasonry, joinery, woodturning, thatching and stained-glass techniques – potentially creating new jobs and attracting new talent to the area to train in an inspirational setting.
The former Charity Girls School dates back to 1860. After closing its doors as a school, it became a community hall and latterly a (Lloyds/TSB) bank. It is now hoped it can be regenerated as a restaurant with scope for a much-needed community cinema.
Cllr Karen Buckley, the Leader of Fylde Council, said: “These wonderful buildings are key to Kirkham’s regeneration masterplan, so we are delighted to have been able to complete the purchase of both.
“This not only protects two much-loved local landmarks for future generations but enables us to bring them back to life through a range of new uses that will benefit both the local community and the visitor economy.
“A lot of hard work has been going on behind the scenes to deliver this ambitious masterplan for Kirkham so I am very pleased that, following the acquisition of these two buildings, local residents will soon see the regeneration work start to take shape.”
There is a widely recognised national shortage of traditional construction and trades skills required to restore and maintain England’s 5.5 million properties built before 1919. It is hoped the Hillside Heritage and Eco Skills Centre will help plug this gap.
Cllr Liz Oades, Kirkham ward councillor and Fylde Council nominated representative for the Kirkham Futures Project Board, said: “The Hillside Heritage and Eco Skills Centre is really exciting and has the potential to put Kirkham on the map by creating a nationally important training centre that creates green jobs, educates people about heritage and sustainable living, improves health and well-being and brings many people into the town.
“The renovation of these wonderful and historic buildings is really welcome news and I hope to see the work move quickly. Together with the street improvements planned it will see a welcome return to the vibrancy and vitality of our precious town centre.”
The Kirkham Futures masterplan is funded through Historic England’s High Streets Heritage Action Zone (HS HAZ) scheme, the Government’s Future High Streets Fund (FHSF) together with funding contributions from Lancashire County Council and Fylde Council and Kirkham Town Council
The project aims to re-energise Kirkham town centre by:
• Restoring and repurposing key buildings
• Improving the visual appearance of shops, streets and open spaces
• Introducing diverse uses of buildings to create new opportunities for retail, residential, employment, training and skills
• Encouraging new leisure and restaurant businesses to create a more diverse offer and enhanced evening economy
• Supporting sustainable economic and cultural growth
• Improving the health and wellbeing of residents through a range of cultural engagement programmes
Welcoming Fylde Borough Council’s acquisitions of Hillside and the former Charity Girls School, Historic England’s Tamsin Cooke said: “Grade II listed Hillside is a well-known feature of Kirkham’s town centre, so it’s fitting that these plans will see this lovely Georgian building put back to use as a national hub for training the next generation of craftspeople to maintain and restore our treasured historic places.
“We’re also thrilled about the purchase of the Grade II listed former Charity Girls School and the plans to transform this into a commercial venture and new community space. The heritage-led regeneration of Kirkham is certainly gathering momentum.”
Full architectural plans have been commissioned for the complete re-design of the interior and exterior of Hillside to create new multi-functional spaces, cafe area and workshops together with work to repair and restore the external fabric of the building.
An interim feasibility study, undertaken by Focus Consultants in 2019 stated: “The market analysis has identified a strong case for the Heritage and Eco Skills Centre, and it is clear the offer being proposed will meet an immediate and future demand for skills.”
Progress continues to be made on the Kirkham Futures regeneration scheme, as Fylde Council’s elected members voted unanimously to approve a capital expenditure of £4m for the Phase 1 Public Realm works and to award the contract to Eric Wright Civil Engineering Ltd following a successful procurement exercise.
Come to Kirkham Market Square on 13th August 2022 between 10:30am - 2:30pm to meet the artists commissioned to transform Kirkham's Town Centre, and have a go at creating your own artwork using the techniques being demonstrated by the artists!
Exciting events are set to take place in Kirkham this June, with the premiere of an animated folktale created especially for Kirkham with the involvement of local school children and the community, a heritage trail, and a big bash evening of celebration.