The arts centre rising from the ruins of Scarborough’s old parcels office

In its day it had been a ladies’ waiting room and a Red Star parcels office, before the local pigeon population claimed it as their own.

But the once crumbling building in the shadow of Platform One at Scarborough Station will soon take flight as the town’s newest visual arts centre.

It is a journey that has taken nearly as long as one of those old railway parcels.

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Some 12 years have elapsed since Jo Davis, a local artist, and a friend had first noticed the building, for all the wrong reasons.

From left in the new arts centre: Jo Davis, artist and chair of Scarborough Studios, Simon Featherstone, board member of Scarborough Studios, and Sally Gatie, artist, and one of the founders of the studios

“The roof was collapsing and it was full of pigeons but straightway we could see the building had potential,” she said.

Since then, she and other artists and volunteers have raised more than £850,000 to convert the space into seven artists’ studios, a workshop and a gallery that will feature exhibitions of work by local and national artists and an annual schools’ exhibition. The centre will be known as Scarborough Studios.

Much of the money came from Historic England and the Railway Heritage Trust. But before the sums had been added up, the Covid pandemic caused work to be put on hold, and since then the prices have risen.

However, this week final work has begun on a scaled-down version of the original vision, and it is hoped the venue may finally open before the end of the year.

Scarborough's new arts centre takes shape in the old parcels office. Picture: Scarborough Studios

“There have been so many ups and downs and we are still not there yet – but every time I walk into the building and see the light streaming in through the restored roof lights I know the effort is worth it,” said Ms Davis, who chairs the project.

“Once it’s finished, Scarborough is going to have a major new contemporary arts centre and that’s something I’m really proud of.”

It would also contribute towards the town’s recovery, she hoped.

“We don’t know what town centres will look like when the pandemic is over but we do know that the arts will draw in new audiences, with the possibility of turning places like Scarborough into cultural destinations as well as just places to visit and go shopping.”

The building, which is now Grade II listed, had been originally put up in 1883 and divided into four sections to serve the needs of arriving and departing holidaymakers – especially to provide relief for those using trains without corridors. When in 1908 a new “excursion station” was erected on nearby Londesborough Road, the older building was turned over to parcel handling.

The Railway Heritage Trust, which contributed £273,000 to its restoration, said the hipped, flat-topped roof had been saved from collapse only by the scaffolding installed to prop it up. Andy Savage, the Trust’s executive director, said: “It is a source of real pleasure to me to see the building which was a derelict wreck, restored to a useful role once more.”

Volunteers are still raising funds for the final work that will enable it to reopen as Scarborough Studios later this year.

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