What's happening about the Society's plan to buy and renovate Norman Nicholson's old home in Millom? Behind the scenes, quite a lot. We are gearing up for the launch of the Heritage Lottery Fund's new-look grant scheme, which will be unveiled next month. The Society has been invited to attend one of four launch events to be staged by the HLF in the North West and we will be represented at the Lancaster event on February 25th. That will give us the inside track on what has changed since our previous application, and we will immediately begin working to prepare our new bid. We have also added new advisors to our team, extending the range and depth of expertise available to us. Meanwhile, the house will be open to visitors during the Norman Nicholson Festival on June 29/30 in Millom this summer, so if you've always wanted to see inside the house that inspired so much remarkable writing, this is your chance. Make a note of the dates and keep checking here and our social media for more details.
I didn't want to have to write this blog post - but I always knew it was a possibility. The HLF met on September 20th and decided not to approve our application re No 14. I received the news in a phone call the following day, and then had the task of informing all the people who have worked so hard on this project, those who have backed us, and the public in general. Not an enviable task really, but I kept reminding myself that it would have been even worse not to have tried to do anything at all about Norman's old house. At least we were in there fighting, and bearing in mind that 50% of HLF applications are thrown out at the application stage, and only a third of those that reach the panel are approved, we were always up against it.
That phone call was hard to digest but it's important to take on board the positives. Those are very positive indeed - 1, the feedback indicates that the substantive elements of our application attracted no negative comments; 2, the HLF believe our project has the potential to succeed; and 3, they told us we are welcome to apply again. Equally encouraging has been the response of my fellow members of the Working Group who are unanimous in their determination to keep going and apply again next year, and indeed the response from the many members and others who have urged us to keep going.
We will take on board the HLF feedback, examine all other ways in which we can strengthen our application, and do all we can to follow in the footsteps of the many organisations who have succeeded at the second attempt.
While on holiday in Cornwall I was delighted to be able to visit Cyprus Well, the home of Charles Causley, a 20th century poet who, like Nicholson, recognised the value of localness and celebrated the ways of his home town, in Causley's case Launceston. This was not just a sight-seeing trip but a wonderful opportunity to meet Malcolm Wright of the Charles Causley Trust and find out about the excellent work the Trust is doing to celebrate Causley's life and work. Bearing in mind our own ambitions to develop Nicholson's house and encourage interest in his writing, it was great to tap into Malcolm's experience. He was extremely generous with his time and advice and I hope we will be able to show direct benefit from this in the coming months.
Today presented another of those tingling moments - when you are 100% certain you have done everything you can before passing the point of no return, but you can't help hesitating, just in case. Well, there was a certain amount of hesitation but shortly before 2pm I pressed the 'submit' button on the Heritage Lottery website, and off went our carefully-crafted application for just short of £550,000 which, if we're successful, will allow us to press on with our project. It's been a lengthy process, full of interest with the occasional bump in the road, but we have got there thanks to fantastic input by the Society's working group, the support of our wonderful patrons, and many others. We are due to receive the verdict in September.
Things are moving. Again. Last week Sue Dawson and I had a good meeting with Antonia, our Heritage Lottery officer, in Millom. We were delighted that Antonia was keen to visit Millom and see No 14 for herself. As well as giving her a tour of the house we visited St George's Church, and saw the Nicholson 'miner' memorial in Market Square. Yesterday Janice Brockbank and myself met up to review our application to the HLF which will be submitted next week. Bernard, our accountant, is going over the financial figures as I write. The task right now is to transfer our case from a much-revised Word document to the HLF's online portal - so I'm signing off the blog for now to do just that.
We were pleased to meet two officers from Copeland planning department at No 14 on Monday. The meeting was arranged as a follow-up to the initial, informal query submitted by our architects so that the department could have an early look at the plans. It's great to be able to report that the meeting was very successful and we continue on our path duly encouraged.
With our feasibility study concluded, we are now working on our application for a Heritage Grant which, if accepted, will give us most of the funding we need to move on with the project. The first step has been to complete an online 'project enquiry' which has required us to provide the Heritage Lottery Fund with a lot of detail about our aims. That 'enquiry' form has been accepted and was followed by a positive meeting involving myself, Janice Brockbank from the Society's working group, and our new Lottery officer Antonia Canal in Lancaster. We confirmed our intention of submitting a Heritage Grant application by the end of May. If successful, this will usher us into a two-stage process in which we will work closely with the HLF to development our project in fine detail, with funding supplied by the HLF, and if that stage is deemed satisfactory the HLF would release the rest of the funding to allow us to go ahead and make an offer to by the house and carry out the work. We will be required to contribute at least 5% of the total ourselves and we will therefore be looking at additional funding sources.
Nicholson's old home has a new owner. As announced on our Home page today, NN Society member Sue Dawson has completed the purchase of the property, and the house is set to enter into a new era. The cafe which was operated by the previous owners has been closed, and (subject to consent from Copeland Council) the ground floor will become the new base of Sue's son Graham Dawson's physiotherapy practice.
What does this mean for the Society's own ambitions regarding the house? In one way, nothing changes because our intention remains to submit an application to the Heritage Lottery Fund for the money to buy the house and renovate it as appropriate. The next HLF deadline for such an application is the end of May and we continue to work towards that, with a meeting with our Lottery officer scheduled for early April. What has changed, however, is that the house is now owned by someone who is more than sympathetic to the work of the Society and supportive of our aim to buy the house.
These last few months have been a little stressful at times, because we can only advance at a fairly stately pace. Lottery applications can't be put together in haste and are certainly not decided upon in haste, and we have to work within the HLF's tried and tested parameters. So we could only watch from the sidelines in the autumn while two other would-be purchasers appeared on the scene. Fortunately for us, neither concluded a deal. The situation now is that, thanks to Sue and Graham, No 14 is no longer on the market and so the threat from 'outsiders' has been removed. Should we be fortunate enough to secure an HLF grant, we will be able to make an offer for the house knowing that the new owner is well-disposed towards our intentions.
There are, or course, quite a few bridges to cross before we reach that stage.
Thank you to BBC Radio Cumbria for continuing to show great interest in our project. Yesterday I was interviewed live by Richard Corrie on the breakfast show. You can listen here
BBC Radio Cumbria (at 1 hr 50 mins 30 on timeline)
Waiting for verdicts is always a nail-biting process but we can give our nails some respite (for the time being!) because the feasibility study that we commissioned into our ambitions for the purchase and development of Norman's old home has produced a very positive outcome.
We asked John Coward Architects of Cartmel to undertake three main tasks:
It is encouraging to read in JCA’s report that they consider ‘the project is fortunate to have a very well-developed and succinct brief produced by the Norman Nicholson Society’. They also write that ‘the Norman Nicholson Society have developed an excellent brief with an incredibly detailed and well considered schedule of accommodation requirements’. Considering JCA’s extensive track record in working on ambitious conversion projects, including many with heritage significance, these comments are extremely rewarding and will act as a spur to greater effort in the future.
We were pleased and impressed by the expertise brought to the project by Marion Barter Associates and Crick-Smith, who both accepted invitations from JCA to contribute.
Marion Barter, based in Glossop, is an expert in heritage properties, a full member of the Institute of Historic Buildings Conservation, and has worked as a Historic Buildings Inspector for English Heritage. Marion has provided a fascinating and detailed historical account of No 14, within the context of Millom’s changing fortunes, which is in itself of immense value to the NN Society. Her conclusion includes: ‘No. 14 St George’s Terrace has regional importance as a Victorian terraced house and shop, notable as the home of poet Norman Nicholson for over 70 years, from 1914 until his death in 1987. The building has high significance for its literary association with Nicholson, as the place where he wrote his published work and which influenced his character and creative output.’
Bearing in mind that part of the Society’s rationale for the preservation of the house is its role as an example of a property where a small businessman plied his trade while the family ’lived above the shop,’ it is heartening to read Marion’s comment that ‘The building has medium significance for architectural and historic value as a good example of a Victorian terraced house and shop, albeit slightly altered, that illustrates the social history of Millom as a northern industrial town that rapidly developed in the last quarter of the 19th century, and declined after the iron works closed in the 1960s.’
She adds: ‘The regeneration of this building by the Norman Nicholson Society also has the potential to contribute significantly to the tourism and community potential of Millom, at a time when local identity is increasingly valued and important for sustainable communities and local economic viability.’
Ian and Michael Crick-Smith are experts in the renovation and conservation of historic buildings, based in Lincoln. They have worked on an impressive range of properties including Osborne House, Kew Palace and Bletchley Park. These are a long way from St George’s Terrace but it was evident when they visited No 14 in October that they both felt real enthusiasm for the building. Their report states: ‘The wealth of evidence surviving for the period and of value to this project, would, in other properties facing renovation, be classed as outdated and in need of replacement. In 14 St George’s Terrace, these are of high significance and relate directly to the childhood and adult home that Nicholson knew and understood.’ The lack of modernisation over the years is seen by Crick-Smith as a boon, since ‘the value of this building not only lies in its association with Norman Nicholson but also in the wealth of information both archival and physical which survive. 14 St George’s Terrace can be represented using a combination of retained ‘original’ and thoroughly understood reinstated items and finishes.’
Perhaps unexpectedly, these conclusions can give us, the Society, an additional string to our bow when it comes to publicising the value of No 14 in years to come.
We are very pleased that JCA judge the concept as one which is worthy of further development. They write in their summary: ‘The property is so intrinsically linked to Norman Nicholson, the man and his life, that the structure takes on a very special significance. With the correct approach and an acute understanding of the link between Nicholson and the house, the building would make an excellent conduit for the interpretation of his life and work. It would make the perfect setting for conveying the essence of Nicholson - more than a backdrop to exhibition and display, the bricks and mortar, doors and wallpapers, can be made to be part of the experience. Nicholson played out his life in the house, and the house has a story to tell’.
With regard to the long-term viability of the Society’s project, they conclude: ‘it has been demonstrated that it is possible to make the necessary changes that will secure the future of the building.’
Big thanks to everyone who has supported us so far, especially the Heritage Lottery Fund who have provided the funding.