New lease of life for listed factory in the works; It was once a thriving hub of jewellery manufacturing but has been left vacant for two decades. Now, the Standard Works building in Birmingham's Jewellery Quarter is being brought back to life as a college and community hub. Tamlyn Jones takes a tour.
DERELICT, neglected and in need of a serious overhaul, the Standard Works building is not a regeneration project for the faint-hearted - or those on a tight budget.
But it is a structurally sound former silversmith which, given a bit of love, could become a lasting community hub in Birmingham's famous Jewellery Quarter.
Work has finally started on bringing back to life the Grade II listed structure on the corner of Vittoria Street and Regent Place, which has sat idle for 20 years.
Ruskin Mill Trust, a charity based in Gloucestershire, is creating a 20,000 sq ft education and community centre where 16-to-25-yearolds with special educational needs, like Asperger's syndrome, can learn a trade while developing personal and social skills.
Named Argent College, it will be the fifth college opened by the trust and joins sister sites Glasshouse College in Stourbridge and three others in Sheffield, Pembrokeshire and Gloucestershire.
Ruskin Mill's assistant director of development, Elisabeth Johnson, told the Post: "Considering it's not been used for 20 years, Standard Works is in pretty good condition but we're really lucky as we got in here just in time as the roofs are going and water has just poured in.
"We want to retain as many of the originals features as we can and preserve the heritage.
"This project is not only to provide the education for the young people but also to make sure we're integrated into the community.
"So we're really looking at the functions of the building and ensuring it serves the students and the community in the best possible way. The aim is to ensure there isn't really a separation between the two when there doesn't need to be one."
Malvern-based construction group SpellerMetcalfe is carrying out the first phase of the project which will see the building made sound against the elements, new access and lifts created and the first floor converted into teaching space.
This initial element is expected to create around 12 jobs and will provide resource and classes for up to 20 students.
The second and final phase, which the trust hopes will be finished by the end of 2018, will comprise renovation of the basement, ground and second floors and the creation of a rooftop garden and bee colony.
There will be a cafe and bakery called The Hive, training kitchen, heritage gallery and jewellery making facilities, to be run by the students but accessible to the public, with profits ploughed back into the running of the college.
The basement will have a performance space with seating for up to 100 and the trust is currently investigating the possibility of a partnership with the Birmingham REP to use the space.
The top floor will house therapy areas and three bedrooms aimed at helping pupils learn about independence and living away from their homes.
Once open, New Standard Works will be able to accommodate up to 50 students and employ about 30 teaching, support and admin staff.
According to English Heritage, Standard Works was built in the late 1870s, based on designs by Thomas F Williams.
It is considered an important early example of a factory built for multiple occupancy and a precursor of flatted factory developments built after the Second World War.
At one time, it is believed to have accommodated 15 separate manufacturing units and originally had five main entrances.
A four-storey addition designed by Harry Bloomer was added in 1886 and it wasn't long before it became a single factory site when the Standard Works was launched by silversmith D&L Spiers in 1900.
Ruskin Mill Trust acquired the building from a shipping company which bought it at auction 20 years ago but never used it.
Redevelopment of the building, which will be named 'New Standard Works' when the first phase opens for classes in September, has not come out of the blue.
In 2011, Shrewsbury-based OE Developments abandoned its bid to turn the building into flats and a restaurant in what would have been the latest in a long line of schemes around the city which have seen old factories and industrial buildings reborn for residential use.
But Birmingham City Council invoked a conservation policy related to retaining the industrial use of manufacturing premises.
It is hard to know why this residential conversion was blocked when others in the Jewellery Quarter have gone ahead but it has allowed Ruskin Mill Trust to bring forward its concept.
Director of fundraising Janine Christley said: "We're very happy it was blocked and the planners are really pleased with what we're doing here as it ties in with the whole revitalisation of this area because it will be such a good community resource and is reflecting back the heritage of this building.
"Birmingham has already sent quite a few students to Glasshouse College (in Stourbridge) and been really impressed with their progress.
"The council was keen to have a college in Birmingham because it's more expensive to ship students outside of the city so that's why they encouraged us to bid for funding together."
Phase one of the Works has been supported by a PS2 million grant from the Education Funding Agency and a string of backers including trusts such Albert Hunt, Edward Cadbury Charitable and William Adlington Cadbury Charitable.
Ruskin Mill Trust can trace its roots back 50 years when Robin and Barbara Gordon moved their young sons Aonghus and Alasdair from the Ruskin Centre for Art Appreciation in Venice to a dilapidated former textile mill in Gloucestershire in 1967.
Over the next 15 years, they were inspired by three men whose visions had helped shape the lives of the Gordon family - Rudolf Steiner, John Ruskin and William Morris - and by 1984 the Ruskin Mill Centre for Arts and Cultural Regeneration was born.
Aonghus Gordon founded the Ruskin Mill Trust and is executive chairman of its trustees.
He will be speaking at a launch event for the project in Birmingham this week in a bid to secure funding for the second phase.
Janine added: This first phase is costing a couple of a million pounds. The grant we got from the Education Funding Agency enabled us to buy the building and do this whole first phase. We're now trying to get a bid into the Heritage Lottery Fund by March for its next funding round to pay for the second phase.
"That would support the facade heritage elements but they are particularly interested in having a fiveyear activity programme here."
Considering it's not been used for 20 years, Standard Works is in pretty good conditionElisabeth Johnson, Ruskin Mill
Johnson inside the Standard Works building. It will be turned into an education and community building called New Standard Works
Andrew Bruton (SpellerMetcalfe contract manager), Ruskin Mill Trust director of fundraising Janine Christley and the charity's project director and assistant director of development Elisabeth
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|Publication:||The Birmingham Post (England)|
|Date:||Feb 12, 2015|
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