How to solve a problem like a crumbling building

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From a Victorian ice factor to a 200-year-old ballroom, Sarah Freeman reports on the historic buildings which have been reinvented for the 21st century.

The Grimsby Ice Factory doesn’t look much like a success story. At least not yet.

A few years ago it made it onto the Victorian Society’s top 10 list of structures most at risk. It was easy to see why. Built in 1900 to provide the town’s trawler industry with crushed ice to keep fish fresh in the hold, it belonged to a different age.

With the arrival of on board cold stores, no one needed ice anymore and no one knew quite what to do with the factory. There’s still some of the old machinery inside, but it hasn’t turned since 1990 and the place has stood abandoned for the best part of 25 years.

Not, hopefully, for much longer. It’s taken a few years, but the Grimbsy Ice Factory Trust has come up with a £12m plan to turn the derelict landmark into a leisure complex, complete with cinema, climbing wall and pub. The Heritage Lottery fund, whose investment will be crucial have visited the site, but a decision on the bid is unlikely to be made until at least the end of this month. However, the scheme has already won the support of the Prince’s Regeneration Trust and the organisation hopes it will act as a blueprint to help save other buildings in Yorkshire which are in danger of crumbling into history.

“Our vision is that redundant historic sites, at risk of demolition or decay, are rescued, reused and regenerated for the benefit of the surrounding community,” says trust chief executive Ros Kerslake. “Buildings, like people and places, need to adapt to survive. We know there are a lot of people who feel the same way, but often don’t know what to do next.

“The involvement of local communities is often vital in giving these old buildings a new lease of life. They know what their local area needs, but often they don’t know where or how to access funding. That’s where we come in. We’ve got years of experience helping projects come to fruition and that’s what we want to share.”

This week the trust will hold its first public workshop in Yorkshire in another building which until recently also faced an uncertain future. Dating back 200 years, the Milton Rooms was built by the Fitzwilliam family, the estate which still owns a large part of the town. The site, complete with ballroom, had once been the social hub of the market town, but it was looking a little forlorn when actor Garry Cooper stumbled across it for the first time.

He immediately called his friend, the director Nick Bagnall and together they became convinced that it could become a thriving arts venue. When they talked of creating a theatre, rehearsal rooms and artist studios, some thought it was nothing more than a flight of fancy. However, when the Prince’s Regeneration Trust came on board three years ago, the pair’s plans began to be taken seriously.

“The building faces Malton’s main square and it’s state of disrepair really undermined the rest of the town,” adds Ros. “When we came on board a trust had already been set up with the aim of making it a centre of national importance for the performing arts, attracting performers from around the region and triggering wider regeneration in the surrounding area. Our role has been to liaise with the local authority, the Fitzwilliam Estate to help the process along and help the trust put together bids for funding.”

Today, the Milton Rooms is hardly recognisable and back at the Grimsby Ice Factory there are hopes that it too can live to see another today.

As Grand Designs presenter Kevin McCloud said: “The Grimsby Ice Factory provides an extraordinary opportunity to regenerate a historic building and create an asset for the town. It will scrub up beautifully.”

The Prince’s Regeneration Trust workshop will take place at the Milton Rooms in Malton on Thursday. www.princes regeneration.org