SINCE closing as a school six years ago, it has attracted vandals, drug users, lead thieves, rough sleepers and pigeons.
The old Anns Grove Primary in Heeley was a derelict eyesore and very much unloved when a local community group took it under its wing.
Now the main building has been stripped back to its Victorian core ready to provide accommodation for small creative and digital businesses, along with IT training facilities, adult learning and jobs advice.
It is the first part of a project that will eventually see the whole complex, which is listed for its architectural value, given a new lease of life for the benefit of the local community.
Another building will become a studio for ‘artists and makers’, along with a centre for recycling bicycles, and finally the old school hall will be turned into a community base with meeting rooms and a creche.
After an occasionally tortuous process of battling bureaucracy and securing the money, Heeley Development Trust is over the tipping point thanks to a 119-year lease from the council and £2.5m to get the first phase under way.
“This building was designed as a castle of learning,” said manager Andy Jackson. “It was a community resource and it was important to us to bring it back as that. It is right next door to the new school and we hope it will be populated by local people and provide services for the community.”
The three listed buildings fell vacant after Anns Grove moved to neighbouring new premises.
The trust, whose portfolio includes looking after Heeley Millennium Park, had already devised its plans, but the process of turning them into reality was far from smooth.
“While you are doing that, you are taking away from other things you could be doing,” said Andy. “But you have got to be stubborn The temptation was to quit, but then you wouldn’t have this sort of venue.”
The £2.5m was finally secured with grants from the Local Enterprise Growth Initiative, through the council, and the national Community Builders Fund, allowing the main building to be given a new roof – using zinc instead of lead – and to be made watertight.
It was the breakthrough for the trust, which has 11 core staff and more than 100 volunteers.
“It means the project is real. We have saved the building, stripping it right back to uncovered all the detail made by the original craftsmen. It is going to be beautiful, but we need people to keep their support going.”
With a track record on the first phase, which was designed by local architect Simon Gedye and is being built by George Hurst and Son, a local firm, the trust hopes the going will be easier on the others as it applies for financial help from grant giving organisations. The initial project is on budget and on target for completion by next spring.
“For the community it means our school won’t be overshadowed by a building full of broken windows,” said Andy. “For the trust it gives us a real shout in sustaining what we do. Any profit will be ploughed back into our community work and the park.”