Blog: Linda Carver

The founder of the campaign to save Ancoats Dispensary explains why the coming weeks are so critical for the building's future

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It wouldn’t be wrong to say that the Ardwick & Ancoats Hospital saved not only my life (emergency appendectomy) but the life of thousands of people living in north east Manchester and the surrounding districts before and after the Second World War.

The architectural gem on Mill Street (now Old Mill Street) was built in 1874, opened four years later and was closed in the late 1980s. The main hospital itself was demolished in 1989 so all that is left is the Dispensary made famous by the artist LS Lowry in his Outpatients Hall painting now held at the Whitworth Art Gallery. This building, even in its present neglected state, still inspires enormous pride and affection among the people of not only Ancoats but Manchester and the world.

Three times Ancoats figured largely in my life, both as an outpatient and an inpatient, and so along with many other residents of Ancoats I was shocked and angry when I heard that this iconic Grade II listed building was to be demolished. I felt that such an important part of Manchester’s industrial and social heritage was being swept away, along with all the other famous buildings that once formed part of the world’s first industrialised suburb.

Ancoats Hall, housing the remains of the Horsfall Art, and the famous Round House, originally a chapel, were demolished in the early 1970s. Many buildings that formed a cohesive community have been lost in the same way, including churches, public houses, Salvation Army hostels and the Girls Institutes.

In 1954 new national criteria for housing rang the death knell for the remaining 19th century housing in Ancoats. Some had gone in the slum clearance of the 1890s and 1930s but much had remained. Ironically the process of demolition in 1954 was very slow and many houses remained bricked up or derelict until well into the 1980s.

The long awaited regeneration of north east Manchester is moving rapidly – the Dispensary should play its rightful part on such a stage

The clearance orders swept away a number of local institutions along with the houses, including the 100-year-old Islington Baths, where my dad had been part of the swimming team and won a medal. The process of demolition continued in a piecemeal and unplanned fashion and so when it came to the proposed demolition of Ancoats Dispensary it was unthinkable to me that the only remaining element of historic fabric of this area should have reached a point of no return.

It is within the context of so much loss of neighbourhood and community over the years that I felt a line could not be crossed. The long awaited regeneration of north east Manchester is moving rapidly to provide accommodation and retail facilities in an area of world importance – the Dispensary should play its rightful part on such a stage.

You can’t save a Grade II listed building alone and so in 2011, after objecting to the demolition as a resident of Ancoats, I was advised by the Victorian Society – which had placed the Ancoats Dispensary on its top 10 buildings most at risk register – to start a campaign. So, rather naively but full of enthusiasm, I and a small group of equally concerned local people began the Fight to Save the Dispensary campaign.

The journey of this group, which has transitioned from a campaign through to a development organisation on the brink of not only saving the Dispensary but restoring it for the future, has been a tough one. I can only compare it to the analogy of climbing millstone grit, which is found mainly in the hills of Derbyshire and Yorkshire. It is not rock for dabblers – it demands commitment, indomitable pluck and stamina. It is the unkindest of rocks, brutally steep, abrasive and yet standing proud above the peat beneath. Well, we have found ourselves in such a landscape over the past five years and have survived the scars because we have pulled together. We haven’t been afraid to stand up for what we believe to be just.

The dabblers have long gone and the naysayers have not been listened to. We have been proactive for the past five years and developed relationships with the various communities now living and working in Ancoats, asking them many times if they want to be part of the movement that shapes the future of the Ardwick & Ancoats Dispensary. The answer has come back with a resounding “Yes”, “It’s our Ancoats” and “It would be good to see the lights on again”. Say no more.

By creating sustainable uses under the umbrella of health and wellbeing, this will once again become a working building

A dynamic partnership between Igloo regeneration and one of the UK’s leading architects, Purcell UK, formed three years ago has given us the opportunity to create a vision that will secure the long-term future of this important historic gem. By creating sustainable uses under the umbrella of health and wellbeing, this will once again become a working building, giving the opportunity for the various communities to shape its future for generations to come.

In the words of John Ruskin: “The beauty of a building lies not in its stones but in its age and as a lasting witness to events and in connecting both old and new generations.” To me and many others the Dispensary represents Manchester’s heritage, identity and culture being passed from one generation to another.

ADT is now seeking £300,000 from high net worth individuals, corporates, trusts and foundations to meet our match funding target so we can bring £5 million of Heritage Lottery Fund investment to Manchester. If we’re successful a community share offer will also be launched in 2018 to give people an opportunity to invest in the Dispensary as shareholders, own a piece of it and shape the building’s future.

Photo: Duncan Hull/Creative Commons

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