From 1801 until the 1950s, the Whaley Bridge Transhipment Warehouse was a hive of activity in the Derbyshire Peak District. Standing at the head of the Peak Forest Canal, the warehouse played a central role in the booming canal trade of limestone and cotton. For a time, the historic warehouse fell into disuse.
Now it has reclaimed its rightful place at the heart of the local community, thanks to money we invested in repairs and the enthusiasm and energy of local volunteers.
Repairing the building
“For years, our little group kept the surrounding canal clean and tidy,” explains volunteer leader Nev Clarke. “But local people have always loved the warehouse too and wanted to see it restored to benefit the town. The trouble is none of us could do it on our own. The building need £100,000 spending on it”
We wanted to repair the Grade II* listed building, but the hurdle was finding a way to help the community use and care for the building afterwards.
With a stately home that's relatively easy. You restore it, open it up to visitors, charge for entry and there's a sustainable future for the site. It's not the same for a warehouse which is never going to go back to its original use. That's why we asked Sue Ball from the Media & Arts Partnership to help.
Sue said the best way forward was for the volunteer group to form a Community Interest Company who could lease the building and run it as a community centre serving Whaley Bridge. She helped us all to realise the vision.”
Ten years on
Ten years on, Nev reflects on the transformation. “Canal & River Trust had a lot of confidence in us. Spending the money on the repairs and then entrusting the building to us was a leap of faith. But now we've gone from putting some shrubbery in, to creating a wonderful hub for the whole town. You should see the smiles on people's faces when they pass by. It's been so good for community spirit. Making so much change has brought a lot of joy, to me personally and to the community.”
Resident Jan Clay helped to launch a food bank from the warehouse. “We've had absolutely phenomenal donations,” say Jan. “It's captured the best of the community. People were reluctant to come, but once they see there's no judgement, that reassures them. Word-of-mouth grew and we're in contact with various schools to supply their before and after school clubs.
They're starting to use the craft facilities too. Now the Warehouse is a living breathing place that's so central to the village. Each activity brings in different people and helps knit the community together.”
Another local resident, Bernadette Zahl, leads an art and craft project, where locals and visitors can create their own flag which is hung as bunting in the Warehouse. A recent experience touched Bernadette deeply. “I had an envelope sent to me with six pieces of bunting flags from a family who just moved to the area. The mum put a little note in to say, ‘I'm willing to help put the bunting together because I have the skills to do it'. How great is that? I don't know this lady, but I'm going to meet her and introduce myself. So I get to meet new lovely people. It must be daunting moving to a new place because you're an outsider. But we can make them feel welcomed here. It's heartwarming, and very special.”
Mum of three, Kate Turner, moved to the area 18 months ago and found her way into the community by volunteering at the warehouse. She explains: “I come litter picking and my boys come too. It's good for the boys to see the food bank and to learn how important it is to help others that aren't in as good a place. I feel part of something, and I've not really had that before, especially as a single mum. I've made lots of friends and the boys have too. There was an event at Christmas, and they had this amazing storyteller, it was beautiful. The energy is fantastic, there's so much going on and it's got so much more potential.”
The Warehouse also reaches out to people who live beyond Whaley. Long-standing resident of the nearby town of Buxton, Nana Anne, and her two grandchildren, attended one of the regular pottery classes: “This centre is great because it attracts visitors, but it also has a nice focus because Whaley is well known for its canal. I've lived in Buxton since I was two, and there were always boats on the canal. It's just lovely to see it developing again, and to see the boats on it too. And now it's a really great link to loads of other canals again because we did lose that.
Paul Bertram, local Headteacher from Buxworth Primary also sees the importance of this community space: “I think the recent lockdown has really highlighted how we need to help each other out. It's very important that we think long term for the children. This place needs to be used. If you don't use it, you lose it. We need to give the children the chance to realise it's part of their history too.”
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