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    Exclamation Bluecoat Chambers

    FASHION king George Davies has launched a fundraising appeal for Liverpool's Bluecoat arts centre.

    The Crosby-born "saviour of M& S" agreed to become president of the 1717 Appeal, which aims to raise £700,000 to complete restoration and extension of the city centre building, one of the oldest arts centres in the world.


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    Mr Davies founded fashion chain Next in the 1980s and created the George at Asda label in the 90s. His Marks and Spencer collection, Per Una, was launched in 2001.

    Yesterday, he toured Bluecoat Chambers where building work is well under way. He promised to help make it a venue for everyone in Merseyside to enjoy.

    "It is very special for me to support the appeal.

    "As the oldest and most beautiful building in the city centre, Bluecoat has always had a special place in the heart of Liverpool.

    "But after nearly 300 years, it needed refreshing.

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    THE architect behind the £9m redevelopment of Bluecoat Chambers will give a public talk abouthis plans this evening.

    Hans van der Heijden from BIQ Architects in Rotterdam will speak as part of the Liverpool Architectural Society's series of talks on city regeneration.

    He is responsible for massive building works currently talking place at the 300-year-old Bluecoat, one of the city's oldest buildings.

    The talk will take place at the Renew Rooms, Wood Street, from 6pm and is followed by an open discussion.
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    THE multi-million pound redevelopment of Liverpool's Bluecoat arts centre is finally taking shape after builders conquered a series of problems with the 290-year-old site. more
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    Artists and creative entrepreneurs are being lured to set up shop in one of Liverpool’s most historic buildings, reports Jessica Shaughnessy

    CENTRAL Liverpool’s oldest building is poised to take its rightful place at the hub of the city’s vibrant arts scene.

    The historic Bluecoat Arts Centre is on schedule to re-open at the end of the year after a major three-year restoration project costing £12.5m.

    The driving forces behind the exciting revival of the 18th- century building say they are now searching for its “lifeblood”, in preparation for Liverpool’s much-anticipated reign as European Capital of Culture in 2008.

    With the building almost complete, staff say all the Bluecoat needs is a blend of unique and charismatic artists, businesses and retailers, to take it storming into a new era.The centre, off School Lane, will provide a direct contrast to the “clone” chain stores that will sit on either side of it on Church Street and in Grosvenor’s Paradise Street shopping centre.

    Around 600,000 visitors a year are expected to enjoy the Bluecoat’s new gallery spaces, restaurant, bar, and shops.

    “When it opens, it’s going to be fantastic,” said newly-appointed business development manager Lynne Robertson.

    “We have used this opportunity to turn the Bluecoat into something amazing.

    “Before it closed in 2005, no-one really knew exactly what went on in here.

    “We want to find the right people to drive our vision forward, to turn in into a hub of arts and creativity that the whole city knows about.

    “We are working closely with the Liverpool Culture Company to ensure we will be right at the centre of the activities next year and the people working inside the centre will help us make the most of that.”

    Funded by the Arts Council, the Northwest Development Agency, English Heritage and Liverpool city council, the refurbishment includes a newly-built wing that houses a concert room with a 200- seat capacity, viewing gallery and a double height ceiling.

    It is hoped the room will help launch the Bluecoat as a renowned stage for new talent, but staff say they remain flexible about its other possible future uses – including hosting cultural debates, which they hosted this year, in St George’s Hall.

    The restoration has attempted to retain as many of the centre’s original features as possible and a roof dome is still in place, as are the arches in the windows and some of the original ceiling beams – which contrast with the modern styling of new automatic glass sliding doors.

    The mortar around the brickwork has also been raked out and restored.

    The centre will feature a new bar and restaurant overlooking an “oasis”, which is expected to be a popular retreat as the only green area in the vicinity.

    It will include four new galleries, six retail units, 12 offices and 14 artists’ studios.

    These are the spaces Ms Robertson is now looking to fill.

    “It’s vital that we get the right sort of tenants,” she said. “We are open to suggestions about the type of work that they do.

    “We just want it to be vibrant, fun and interesting with a mix of new and established businesses who are willing to get involved in promoting the centre and participate in open studio days we will hold here.”

    Though city centre rates are at a premium, the Bluecoat will offer an affordable price to the businesses and artists whose work has the right “feel”.

    As part of a unique service, Ms Robertson will be on hand to guide the centre’s new businesses and talent to ensure they thrive.

    She will use her skills developed in the last two years working at Train 2000, a social enterprise helping women on Merseyside become self-employed, providing business planning support, advice and training.

    “We want it to have a community feel with young people just starting out and more experienced entrepreneurs who are willing to offer advice, and I will help and guide where I can,” she said.

    “What we can offer is a creative environment more productive then just working at home.

    “The Bluecoat is going to have a real buzz about it and on top of all that we can offer a truly unique heritage and building.

    “Thousands of extra people will be coming to the city and the Bluecoat’s history will be very attractive.

    “We expect a lot of traffic. The building is much more accessible and it is a fantastic opportunity for people to showcase their work.”

    Bluecoat Arts Centre chief executive Alastair Upton said: “Tenants are the lifeblood of the Bluecoat and those occupying the building once we re-open will contribute hugely to re-establishing the Bluecoat as a cultural hub where people make, sell, enjoy and discuss art.”

    IF YOU are interested in becoming a tenant of the Bluecoat Arts Centre, call Lynne Robertson on 0151 7025321 or email lynne@bluecoatartscentre.com

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    THE team tasked with reviving the Bluecoat have faced a series of unique challenges and discoveries during the site’s restoration.

    The painstaking operation has included restoring a stone Liver Bird, believed to be the oldest of its kind in the city, on one of the building’s wings.

    A forgotten air-raid shelter from the second world war was unearthed and parts of the building were completely dismantled and rebuilt exactly as they were before.

    Site manager Colin Leek, of construction agents Kier North West, said: “The Liver Bird was damaged, its legs had been broken, so we had it taken down and restored to as good as new.

    “It’s a really important and historic part of the building, so it was vital to get it just right.

    “The first problem we encountered was right at the start of the project when we began to uncover the structure of the building and realised parts of the facade were unsafe.

    “We immediately had to put up a retaining system before we could begin any of the works.”

    The next problem was when an air raid shelter was uncovered.

    Mr Leek continued: “That was very inconvenient. We knew there was one shelter, but when we began the excavation, we discovered another.

    “We had to wait until it was removed before we could continue.

    “Then the old bin store was discovered to be unstable. Because it was so historic, we had to take it down brick by brick and rebuild it exactly how it was before.”

    The contractors could not restore an old air raid siren found in the loft of the building so it had to be removed.

    But they were able to breathe new life into the bell tower on the top of the building, which is believed to have been constructed in the early 1800s.

    Mr Leek added: “On top of all this, there has been a lot of work put into preserving the part of the building that sculptor Tyson Smith used as his studios.

    “We had to use this part of the site for our entrance, so it was dismantled and placed in storage. When the project is completed, it will be reinstated.

    “Work on historic buildings like this is always unique. You have to expect the unexpected. Being from Liverpool, I have a lot of personal pride in this project, as do a lot of the lads who are working on it. It’s one of the oldest buildings in the city centre and one of its kind.

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    Thanks, Kev! We need pics. Who's up for the task?
    Christopher T. George
    Editor, Ripperologist
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