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Big reveal for spruced up buildings

Two of our city centre buildings are being returned to their original glory, thanks to work being carried out in partnership with Historic England.

The Council has been working with building owners to help them apply for grants as part of the Historic England High Street Heritage Action Zone scheme – and what a difference the work has made.

Contractors are currently putting the final touches to Plymouth Athenaeum’s makeover and most of the scaffolding has now come down following a grant award of over £86,000. The 1960s building is now looking fresh faced, sharp and gleaming in the sunshine.

The work has taken around six months and has seen the facade given a new lease of life with window glazing and frames repaired and repainted; concrete cladding made watertight and cleaned; roof parapet and original external lighting and signage updated and repairs to its columns and plinths to follow.

The Athenaeum is an historically important post-war building in the City Centre Conservation Area and holds a lot of vivid memories for many of our residents.

Before the war the Plymouth Athenaeum charitable society was a distinguished organisation which counted Charles Darwin among its members.

It moved to its current building in June 1961, on almost the exact location of its pre-Blitz home and visitors to the venue include the Beatles, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Malcolm McDowell.

It remains an important venue for performing literature, arts and culture in the city and although some meeting rooms and the library are open for member activities and for hire, no major events have taken place since the start of the pandemic due to the repair and maintenance issues.

Councillor Mark Lowry, city centre champion said: “This building holds a lot of happy memories for people of Plymouth, from pantos to poetry, the Beatles to recitals, it’s played a really important role in the city’s cultural scene.

“It was showing its age so I am delighted that the makeover has lifted and transformed its appearance. It’s looking really smart and welcoming. We were more than happy to help the charity apply to Historic England for funding under their High Street Heritage Action Zone scheme and are keen to support them with future applications.”

Chief Executive of the Athenaeum, Owen Ryles said: “The HSHAZ funding has given the Athenaeum a much-needed and very welcome facelift, which has really improved its appearance. The building is starting to look fantastic again.

“We would like to thank Plymouth City Council and Historic England for the funding award and for their help and support during the application process and while the works have been taking place. It has made a tremendous difference to the project to re-open the Athenaeum’s theatre.

“We are looking forward to building on these works to address the remaining issues to get the Athenaeum fully open again and with improved access facilities through further fund-raising in the coming months.

Rebecca Barrett, Regional Director at Historic England South West said “From the restored bow-tie paving in Civic Square to the gleaming Portland stone of Pearl Assurance House, it’s great to see the post-war city centre being revitalised and its special character revealed again. The Athenaeum symbolises the spirit of the rebuilding of Plymouth after the Blitz – its repair is a major achievement for the High Street HAZ and all involved.”

Over on Royal Parade the imposing Pearl Assurance building is being gradually unwrapped to reveal the stunning cream-coloured Portland stone beneath. The building has been shrouded in netting and scaffolding since March while a careful clean has taken place – also thanks to HAZ funding from Historic England.

The landlords of Pearl Assurance House on the corner of Armada Way and Royal Parade were offered a grant of a little under £50,000 towards the cost of cleaning the façade of this imposing 1950s building as well as carrying out repair work.

Decades of grime and dirt, together with algae are being carefully cleaned off revealing the light Portland Stone that was widely used in the post-war rebuild of the city centre.

It’s been a big job with the upper floors being cleaned across a total of 14 shop frontages. The scaffolding has started to come down at the Courtney Street end with the rest to follow in the next few weeks.

The Council’s role has been lead partner to Historic England, to negotiate with property owners, process grant applications, issue the grant offers and to monitor work on site.

Both the Pearl Assurance building and Dingles were built as cornerstones to Armada Way, and were designed to reflect the height and scale of the nearby Plymouth Guildhall. The Pearl Assurance building is more decorative than Dingles, with embellished columns and carved stonework.

The Plymouth City Centre High Street Heritage Action Zone programme – ‘Reinvigorating the Abercrombie Estate’ – is a four-year programme celebrating, enhancing and adapting the city centre’s post-war heritage and making it a more attractive, engaging and vibrant place for people to live, work and spend time.

The Heritage Action Zone project is managed by Plymouth City Council and Plymouth Culture, with support from The Box and Plymouth Octopus Project.

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