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.
Our working group met Mike Darwell and Sarah Gerrish of our architects JCA in Cartmel on Monday. We discussed the first options produced by JCA for the development of the house. It was a productive meeting which examined the work that we want to do in detail and included such issues as cafe accommodation, disabled access, display areas and planning issues. This is all part of the feasibility study which also includes input from Marion Barter Associates who are assessing the literary, heritage and architectural value of the property. We continue to liaise closely with the Heritage Lottery Fund and expect to submit an application for a six-figure grant in the new year.
Yesterday was a really exciting day. Thanks to the funding we have received from the Heritage Lottery, we were able to bring four experts in the field of property regeneration to Millom to inspect No 14 and gather information for detailed reports which we will receive in the next few weeks. Our specialist 'task force' was led by Mike Darwell of our contracted architects, John Coward Architects. Mike was joined by Michael and Ian Crick-Smith, the two directors of Crick-Smith Ltd, who specialise in property conservation and restoration, and Marion Barter who has a glowing reputation as a specialist in heritage properties. We were also very pleased to meet Sarah Gerrish from JCA. This event was a significant step on the way towards developing our plans and putting together our next application to the Heritage Lottery Fund. We had a productive get-together at the Lighthouse Centre in Haverigg before moving on to No 14 where the team examined every room in depth, closely inspecting all manner of details including traces of paint from decoration applied decades ago, wall coverings, flooring, fireplaces, window frames, doorways and more, taking a host of photographs. It's fair to say they were really enthusiastic about what they saw, and from our perspective it was terrific to get such a positive response from people who really know their business. They will report back and their recommendations will help us decide where we go in terms of developing No 14 and making it a place that people will want to visit, whether they are Nicholson enthusiasts or residents of the town. Our thanks to Mike, Marion, Michael and Ian, and thanks equally go to the Heritage Lottery Fund and everyone who takes part in the Lottery who have provided the finance to allow us to draw on this top expertise.
The grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund arrived in our account at the beginning of September. This meant we were clear to sign our contract with John Coward Architects, which we duly did. Three members of our Working Group, Sue Dawson, Janice Brockbank and myself, met Mike Darwell of JCA at the practice's gorgeous office in Cartmel on September 28th to go through the detail of the briefing for this part of the project. The first item was to obtain a full measured survey of No 14 and we're awaiting the outcome of that. Next up will be a detailed inspection by Mike, accompanied by specialists in heritage properties and conservation and restoration. The reputation and experience of all of them is top-drawer and I feel we are incredibly fortunate to have them working for us. Their expertise will inform the next phase of our relationship with the HLF, in which we will submit an application for the funds needed to buy the house and turn it into the lasting memorial to Norman Nicholson that we all want to achieve. We expect that inspection to take place by the end of this month.
....in a very different context, it's been a long time coming, or at least it seems that way. But it's a wonderful feeling to be able to share the great news that the Heritage Lottery has approved our application. Now we can unleash John Coward Architects and look forward to seeing their reports. News of our success has been well received all round, with top media coverage from the NW Evening Mail and BBC Radio Cumbria, and plenty of supportive comment on social media, all good to see. The last couple of months have seemed strange, knowing that there was nothing more we could do on the NN House project until we heard from the Lottery. Now, it's back to a busy life again!
At around 4pm this afternoon my finger hovered over a button marked 'submit' as I wondered if there was anything more we could do to strengthen our Lottery application. Well, if there was, it hadn't been omitted for the want of searching. So 'click' and away went the outcome of months of hard graft. Our application to the Lottery's 'Resilient Heritage' fund for the money to fund a full survey, feasibility study, costings, and concept design by John Coward Architects of Cartmel has today been formally submitted. We should know the outcome within eight weeks. If successful, we will ask JCA to move on with the work as soon as possible and following that, we will work with JCA and our advisors at the Heritage Lottery Fund to assemble our application for the much greater sum required to buy and renovate the property.
It seems like a long haul just to get this far! There have been a couple of detours and hold-ups along the way, and obtaining the right information and portraying it in the correct manner has been an interesting task, but I believe we have assembled the best possible case and now we'll just have to wait and hope for a favourable outcome.
Huge thanks for their hard work and support go to the members of the Society's working group, especially Sue Dawson and Janice Brockbank, without whom we would not be anywhere near this position.
Our application was accompanied by the maximum number of Statements of Support that we were allowed, from Millom Town Council, Millom Network Centre, Partnership of Millom Schools, University of Cumbria, John Rylands Library in Manchester and University of Nottingham. These statements show that we have the backing of the local community, and also that organisations far from Millom also want to see this house preserved and developed. We also notified the Lottery officials of our full list of 14 patrons along with the many supportive messages we have received from them.
So right now I feel a sense of relief that we've reached this milestone. Next will be playing the waiting game as we hope for a favourable response.
This week we've received two pieces of good news as we edge ever closer towards the submission of our application to the Lottery's 'Resilient Heritage' fund. We've received written statements of support from Millom Town Council and Millom Network Centre. It's important that our application to the Lottery shows that our project is not just something to keep a group of poetry enthusiasts happy, but that it has wider relevance and these two statements certainly achieve that. The backing of the town council is invaluable. It makes it crystal clear that Norman Nicholson's legacy is something to be cherished in Millom, and that they see the project as having an important role to play in the life of the town well into the future. Millom Network Centre is a key business hub in the town, and their support shows that a redeveloped Nicholson House can have a very positive impact on business. We're immensely grateful to both organisations. Thanks also to everyone who came to the Nicholson celebration in St George's Church on June 3rd, some travelling a good distance to be there (any advance on Sheffield??). It was a lovely afternoon, and wonderful to revel in Norman's words brought to life by a rich variety of readers, ranging from a pupil of Haverigg Primary School, Sophie, to Norman's own cousin, Doreen. Christine Boyce was also a huge hit, talking about her designing of the Nicholson Memorial Window - we could probably have devoted the entire afternoon to Christine, but it all came together to give us a day to remember.
My first chance to update the blog for a little while. It's been wonderful to see the attention that's been coming the way of Norman Nicholson and the NN Society over the last few weeks. 'Songs of Praise' did a wonderful job in its broadcast on May 14th. It's fine to get some filming done, but after that you never know what - if anything - is going to make it into the final show. As it turned out, producer Garry Boon decided not to use the sequences he shot at 14 St George's Terrace, or at St George's Church, but he still give us a great boost with two separate sections of the programme devoted to Nicholson. He dug up an impressive amount of archive of Norman himself, and it was another plus to see our president, Melvyn Bragg, discussing the strengths of Nicholson's work. One instant result of the broadcast was that traffic to our website more than quadrupled over the next 24 hours! Then we had the exciting news that one of the UK's favourite actors, Kevin Whately, has agreed to be a patron of the Norman Nicholson House Project. Kevin and his wife Madelaine Newton are both big admirers of Norman's work - just one more example of the way Nicholson devotees keep appearing in all sorts of different environments. We are so grateful to Kevin and Madelaine. As to where we are up to with our application to the Heritage Lottery, we are nearing the end of the process of writing the application itself and rounding up a number of supporting documents which we need to submit at the same time. It certainly isn't a straightforward process, but we are getting there. Meanwhile we have also been hard at work preparing for the commemoration of Norman's death 30 years ago. It's shaping up to be a lovely afternoon at St George's Church in Millom - do come along if you can, 2pm this Saturday, June 3rd.
Charlie Lambert, chair of the Norman Nicholson Society