Over the last century, Ancoats in Manchester has seen a period of massive change. Victorian mills, where many toiled to make ends meet, are now expensive apartment blocks. But one building which stood firm in the face of this gentrification has been under threat.
Ancoats Dispensary, once an inspiration for the artist LS Lowry, was facing demolition. Thanks to the determination of the Ancoats Dispensary Trust (ADT), it’s looking increasingly likely that this iconic building will live on.
Northern Soul met Linda Carver from the ADT to discuss the future of the dispensary.
“We want it to be a building that is moving forward and for it to become the beating heart of Ancoats,” she says. “Ancoats is still a deprived area through employment, expectations and mental health. The building healed in the past, it should still serve the community.”
The dispensary was opened in 1828 to ease the financial burden on patients who had to pay for doctors but couldn’t make it to the already overstretched Manchester Royal Infirmary. It covered mill accidents, canal accidents and other emergencies. “It was a saviour for the poor, you could see the tower from all over the city,” says Carver.
The campaign to save the Grade II listed building began three years ago when it was threatened with demolition. “Initially we just wanted to restore and save it, turn it into a community hall, but it’s not enough just to save it, it’s got to be put to good use.”
This meant the campaign had to change its way of looking at things. “In late 2012 we reached an impasse, we had raised money for a structural survey to find out if it could be saved, which it could so we knew we had a chance.” A new scheme came into force in 2013 and developers Igloo Regeneration became interested along with conservation architect, Alex Finlason. This allowed the trust to submit a Heritage and Enterprise Application in late 2013. In March this was rejected but feedback included an recommendation to resubmit – which they did in July 2014 and it went through with a grant of £770,000.
So far, so good. But the ADT can’t afford to rest on its laurels. It must raise £1 million in 18 months in order to push forward the exciting plans that have been put in place for the building.
Carver explains: “On the first and second floor we want to open it to artists and rent out studio space as well as conduct art classes with the community. On the ground floor we want a café and to run courses for people such as food hygiene etc, we want to do outside catering and meetings and events with locally produced food. The rest of the space is flexible, we can provide meeting spaces, art therapy and encourage social enterprise. We want it to be a 24:7 community hub.”
The emphasis is on the building supporting itself financially as well as making a difference to the surrounding area.
The trust is looking at different ways of raising this money from a community share scheme where people can own shares in the building, as well as looking for other funding avenues. “We welcome support from Manchester City Council, it’s not about money but it would be a gateway to other sources of funding to allow us to widen the net.”
The ADT is already reaching out into the community by working with local schools. It is also working with Manchester Metropolitan University on a project in September called Creating Our Future Histories. This is a fusion of academic and non-academic people studying the building and its history, and will culminate in an exhibition in May 2015.
For further information on the Ancoats Dispensary Trust, please visit www.ancoatsdispensarytrust.co.uk