The University of Worcester’s Art House has been officially opened by HRH the Duke of Gloucester, who is the University’s Chancellor.
The Art House is an imaginative refurbishment of one of Worcester’s most iconic buildings. Built on the site of the former City Gaol, the Castle Street building was first developed as Austin House, which was the car showroom and garage for Lord Austin’s Austin Motors. After many decades as a showroom/garage it became the shop for home interiors company, County Furnishings.
The University has sympathetically restored the building, including its iconic clock tower, which can be seen across the City and is beautifully lit at night. The interior has been transformed into handsome high quality creative art and exhibition working, teaching and learning space. The Art House has already hosted international art, illustration and photography exhibitions. Now the refurbishment is complete the University hopes it will become an important centre for children’s creative camps in school holidays as well as a magnet for community artists.
The official opening was performed by the University's Chancellor, His Royal Highness the Duke of Gloucester KG GCVO, in front of several hundred students, staff and dignitaries on Wednesday, February 6th.
Professor David Green, the University’s Vice Chancellor and Chief Executive, said: “We are delighted that His Royal Highness, the Duke of Gloucester KG GCVO has opened this wonderful new facility.
“HRH is a trained architect and highly knowledgeable on matters of art and architectural history. He was most interested in the history of the building, its design and the restoration which has been carried out. As always, our Chancellor enjoyed meeting students and staff of the University as well as the representatives of those who worked on the restoration. He was most encouraging to all and enthusiastic for the possibilities created for students and community alike in this magnificent new facility.
“We very much hope this building will become a beacon for the creative arts in the City. In the years to come it is sure to be an inspiring venue for students of Art, Illustration, Graphic Design, Art Therapy and more. It will be a magnetic centre where children can have their creativity inspired and where new talent can find a home.”
Artists and civic leaders have welcomed the new facility.
“I’m confident that the Art House is going to become a great asset in Worcester,” said artist David Birtwhistle. “As President of the Civic Society may I applaud what the University has done to re-vitalise this interesting building.”
Cllr Simon Geraghty, Leader of Worcestershire County Council, said: “It’s fantastic to see life being breathed back into an older building like this in the heart of our City. It’s part of the overall regeneration of Worcester that is taking place, including plans to make better use of the railway arches and the proposed redevelopment of areas like Shrub Hill. Together with the University’s City Campus, The Hive, Swan Theatre and the college we are seeking a learning and cultural quarter developing in this part of the City and the Art House fits very well amongst those developments.”
Mayor of Worcester, Cllr Jabba Riaz, added: “The building is absolutely fantastic. It’s a brilliant, magnificent space that respects the traditional and original design and conservation aspect of the building as well as its heritage, yet internally it’s been transformed into a bright modern space where creativity can be nourished and original innovative ideas can flourish and flow freely. Students and the City of Worcester alike should be proud to have such excellent facilities on their doorstep.”
Laura Worsfold, Chief Executive of Severn Arts, said: “I think the addition of the Art House to Worcester’s cultural scene offers huge potential for arts and communities to work together more closely to develop projects and work that invigorates and animates this part of the city. With the arches development and the cultural quarter over by the Cathedral and Porcelain Museum, we have such a fantastic opportunity to support emerging artists and graduates and to open up an independent, creative community that starts to join up all the different provision in our city.”
An exhibition displayed at the opening detailed the history of the site and the 10-month transformation process.
The building has just achieved a Gold standard for environmental sustainability from the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors under its SKA scheme. It is just the third building in the whole of the UK to earn gold in this most demanding environmental assessment.
Professor Green added: “The Art House site is rich in history. From the Victorian Prison to Austin Motors, it has gone through many transformations over the past 150 years, from the days of Dickens. We are proud to now be taking it into the future as a first class, environmentally sustainable, wholly inspiring building for the whole city to enjoy.”