Back in 2006 a feasibility study commissioned by Barrow Borough Council and West Lakes Renaissance looked at buildings across the town to work out which offered the most potential to develop as home to three of its key creative companies. The Ashton Theatre Group, Dare Dance and Signal Film & Media were respectively in unsuitable premises without the disabled access needed by its users, dancing a without a dance floor and camping out in a series of temporary digs with no place to call home.
The council was particularly looking at old buildings on Abbey Road as they had recently secured a multi-million pound Townscape Heritage Initiative grant to help save and spruce up Barrow’s iconic but rundown Victorian properties. The House of Lords, the old Coop building Oxford Chambers were all up for consideration, but in the end the Cooke’s Building was picked out as offering the greatest potential.
Roll forward to the end of 2007, and Kerry and Loren from Signal Films spotted a one-off pot of fund, suddenly released by John Prescott’s Office of the Third Sector. The Community Assets Fund offered capital funding to just 32 buildings in England. After setting up a new company, Creative Studios Cumbria, that would be needed to run the building, and a race to get the application in on time, they were delighted to be awarded £659, XXX in capital funding. Added to funds from the council’s heritage grant and further cash from the Working Neighbourhoods Fund there was now enough money for the project to happen, and over the next three-and-a-half years work has been ongoing to transform the derelict Grade-2 Listed building into a brand new creative facility.
Especially important was to retain as many of the building’s original features as possible, and a conscious decision (partially cost driven!) was made to keep the brick, wood and metal work exposed to provide a contemporary industrial setting like many of the arts studios familiar to London and Manchester.
The refurbishment has required stripping everything back to the bone and substantially reconstructing the structure floor by floor, along with an entire new roof and a full makeover of the red brickwork frontage, meaning that for the past two years the building has been swathed in scaffolding and wooden and plastic hoardings.
The huge central staircase, an original feature, was reinstated up the middle of the building, a new lift added at the back to allow proper access and the old ‘Cooke’s Furnishers’ sign which was uncovered during the refit has been repainted by a traditional sign writer to complement the full facelift given to the redbrick frontage.