Ripon Museum Trust has been given £402,000 from the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) to take over one of the best preserved workhouse sites in the country from North Yorkshire County Council.
The existing Ripon Workhouse Museum, based in the original gatehouse, is currently leased by the Trust. Thanks to National Lottery players the grant will help them to purchase the variety of buildings which formed the original Ripon Union Workhouse, including the gatehouse, Master’s House, male and female dormitories, dining hall, kitchen garden and kitchen block, known collectively as Sharow View.
Ripon Museums submitted a proposal to the county council which was deemed to provide the best possible benefit to the community of Ripon, Harrogate District and the wider North Yorkshire area. The opportunity was part of the council’s drive to support communities across the county.
It is the first example of a new approach that offers community groups the opportunity to create new facilities for their areas by utilising underused council property. Often these buildings have local or historic interest and the council is keen, by working with community groups, to see them put to good use rather than simply being sold on the open market.
Chairman of the museum trustees, Richard Taylor, said: “This exciting development will enable us to enhance and enrich visitor’s experiences so that access to the collection (which crucially includes the original workhouse buildings) is deeper and more comprehensive. We will be able to tell the whole workhouse story in the proper place, have space so that more of the collection can be on show and dramatically help us to present the stories of the past in new and varied ways.”
The move will allow the Trust to restore, protect and increase public access to an important national asset and provide historically appropriate space to house its collection of artefacts within a climate-controlled, accessible environment.
The new opportunities that this expansion offers will enable the Trust, which is currently run by a core of three paid staff supported by volunteers, to both increase income opportunities and also employ a curator, increasing sustainability and giving them the opportunity to tell the workhouse story more effectively.
Workhouse expert Peter Higginbotham said: “Relatively intact workhouse buildings are now extremely rare and Ripon is extremely fortunate to be home to what is arguably the most complete workhouse site in the country, with its main building, casual ward, administrative block, infirmary, gardens and mortuary, The site, I believe, has the potential to become the leading museum in the country dealing with the lives of the poor.
“Such a big story demands a large canvas. Ripon Museum Trust is eminently capable of turning the Sharow View site into something that will become not only a leading visitor attraction in the north of England, but also a nationally recognised centre for the study of workhouse history.”
Fiona Spiers, Head of the Heritage Lottery Fund Yorkshire and the Humber, said: “Workhouses were a significant part of the social history of the UK, and the history of these institutions touches on themes including mental health and rural poverty, which still have great relevance today. We are delighted that, thanks to National Lottery players, we have been able to support this excellent project which will allow visitors to explore these themes and the site more fully.”
The county council agreed to the new approach as part of its Stronger Communities programme, which supports communities in providing services for local people that utilise local assets to prevent loneliness, support children, young people and families and contribute to healthier lifestyles.
While the council has experienced significant reductions in funding, it recognises that there is a need to support local communities. As part of that support, it is prepared to transfer some properties it owns where that strengthens the local support and services on offer. The new approach ensures requests will be assessed on their merits.
County Councillor David Chance, Executive Member for Stronger Communities, said: “We want to support our communities to help themselves in any way we can. Considering transferring property to local groups is one way we can do so in this time of austerity.
“We are keen to realise value from council buildings that we no longer require and want to work with community groups to find the best way of doing that, whether it be through cash value, value to the community or a combination of the two.”