The Civic’s history to be brought to life in virtual walkthrough thanks to Historic England project

Heritage Action Zone will also revitalise buildings on Eldon Street

The history of Barnsley’s cultural hub The Civic will be brought to life thanks to around £2m in funding from Historic England that will also revitalise historic buildings on Eldon Street, a key gateway into Barnsley’s town centre.

Barnsley Council has matched cash awarded by Historic England as part of the High Street Heritage Action Zone programme (HSHAZ), which aims to improve, refurbish and restore important historic high streets around the country.

Historic buildings in the Old Town conservation area - specifically along the west side of Eldon Street - will benefit from the total £4m funding, which will be used to refurbish Eldon Street as work on the multi-million-pound town centre regeneration, The Glass Works, nears completion.

The scheme will also help to uncover and promote the important history and stories of the Eldon Street area, starting with a digital pilot scheme featuring The Civic.

A new digital model – on track to be released early next year – will allow people to explore The Civic as it was when it first opened in 1877 as the Mechanics’ Institute and Public Hall - home to the Public School of Art. In the late 1800s the Public Hall hosted theatre shows, concerts, public performances and events. In 1890 the building also became Barnsley’s first free public library.

The digital render - which will display the building’s original entrance from Eldon Street – will allow people to discover more about The Civic’s history, with a virtual exhibition space featuring previously untold stories of the building as a vibrant cultural and social hub for the people of Victorian Barnsley. The project will work with local artists and performers to tell these stories and bring them to life.

The Eldon Street HSHAZ is a vital piece in Barnsley town centre’s regeneration, which will see the opening of The Glass Works in September next year.

The HSHAZ project aims to link Barnsley’s past on Eldon Street with Barnsley’s future in The Glass Works, which will feature a Cineworld cinema, Superbowl UK complete with a bowling alley and laser quest, 25 shops, seven family restaurants, a refurbished public realm and bridge linking Barnsley interchange to Barnsley’s shopping precinct.

With uncertainty over the future of UK high streets compounded by the coronavirus pandemic, Barnsley continues to rip up the script by ploughing funding into its town centre which has already seen a strong recovery from the initial UK lockdown in March, with footfall and spend all trending upwards and new shops opening their doors with the addition of Deichmann – Europe’s largest footwear retailer – set to come before Christmas.

Cllr Tim Cheetham, the council’s Cabinet Spokesperson for Place, said: “We have ambitious plans to transform Eldon Street thanks to the funding from Historic England and the HSHAZ programme, with a range of independent businesses set to benefit.

“Eldon Street is a key gateway into the town centre and The Glass Works, and the funding means it will be given a much-needed facelift – bringing our past and future together and helping to create a welcoming environment for visitors, shoppers and workers.

“We’re delighted that The Civic will benefit, too, starting with the virtual walkthrough that will really bring the history of the building to life.

“Eldon Street and The Civic are key pieces of our regeneration jigsaw that will see our town centre become one of the best in Yorkshire.”

Trevor Mitchell, Regional Director for Historic England in the North East and Yorkshire said: “Our high streets bring people together. They are places to socialise, shop, run businesses and be part of our local community. When high streets suffer, as they have done in particular over the past eight months, the special character of our historic places and communities suffers too. With the funding from the Government, combined with the expertise and passion of local people, Barnsley Council and Historic England, the future of Eldon Street is looking brighter.”

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