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.
A thoroughly enjoyable experience yesterday, filming with the Songs of Praise team for their feature on Norman which is scheduled for Sunday May 14th. Garry Boon, the producer, and the rest of the team were delighted by the way things worked out and very appreciative of the contributions made our committee members.
The main interview took place on the Ironworks site where Pam Rhodes asked me about a wide range of topics from the way the location has changed over the decades to NN's faith to aspects of his poetry.
Next stop was the church where our committee members Peggy Troll, Dot Richardson and Society member Barbara Andrews conjured up hot drinks to complement a cake brought by Peggy. The Rev Clive Shaw was also there to greet the SoP team. I think it is so good that, through NN, the church will have its moment on Songs of Praise.
The camera crew got a number of shots inside the church, plus Nicholson's gravestone outside. They then recorded me (voice only) reading four poems: Windscale, Clouded Hills, Nobbut God and Sea to the West. It'll be interesting to see which (if any!) make it through the edit.
Next stop was No 14 where Pam did a piece-to-camera outside and lunch was taken, paid for by the BBC (that's six customers added to the cafe's takings thanks to NN). At that point Garry declared himself satisfied with the interviews etc, and (not for the only time) expressed regret that he wouldn't have more time in the final programme for the NN feature.
Our committee member Sue Dawson then took over as guide, taking the crew to various locations to pick up general views, including the Whicham Valley, and Silecroft.
This was a great experience and a terrific effort by our committee in terms of laising with the BBC team, and now we can look forward to the programme on May 14th.
I had another call from the 'Songs of Praise' team and they have indeed decided to go ahead and film a segment for the show about Nicholson in Millom. Locations will include the site of the ironworks and No 14 St George's Terrace, so that is rich endorsement of the significance of the house. Filming is scheduled for Friday.
It's been a hectic week for several of our committee members this week, led by Sue Dawson who's been doing a fantastic ambassadorial job on behalf of the Society. On Monday a group of 17 students from the University of Nottingham visited Millom as part of a field trip to Cumbria where they were looking at the way landscape influences literature. Their tutor, Kiri Langmead, was in touch with us throughout her planning of the trip and met up with Sue a few weeks ago. On Monday the visit took place as reported on our Home page, and today Kiri brought another group of 13. Antoinette Fawcett, Glenn Lang, Peggy Troll and Dot Richardson all added their expertise to ensure the students had a thoroughly rewarding and eye-opening time.
Meanwhile yesterday Sue, accompanied by Dot Richardson and Society member and church organist Barbara Andrews, met the producer and his researcher from the BBC's 'Songs of Praise' programme who are keen on filming a segment about Nicholson for an upcoming programme. They had lunch at the cafe in Norman's old home and visited the Whicham Valley, Silecroft, Haverigg, Hodbarrow, the Ironworks site, and St George's Church.
So interest in Nicholson is evident from two very different directions. Not only that, there have been tangible benefits to the town. The university is going to make donations to the church, the Discovery Centre and to our Society, and the 'Songs of Praise' team will also be making a donation to the Society - plus, the cafe had a few extra people buying lunch yesterday and the students took the opportunity to spend some money in the town. If we are successful in buying and developing Number 14, we would expect to see a lot more of this sort of thing.
Received an interesting phone call today - BBC TV's 'Songs of Praise' programme is thinking of filming a piece about Norman Nicholson for an upcoming programme. This may include an interview with myself, and where do they want to record it? At the house of course, No 14 St George's Terrace - yet more evidence that this building is a magnet for all with an interest in a poet who had a sharply defined sense of place.