The best of Dorset in words and pictures

The regeneration game

Andrew Livingston looks at the work being done to rescue iconic buildings in his home town

Both the Methodist Chapel at West Bay and the Bridport Literary and Scientific Institute (below) are to be nursed back to health by the Bridport Area Development Trust

Both the Methodist Chapel at West Bay and the Bridport Literary and Scientific Institute (below) are to be nursed back to health by the Bridport Area Development Trust

Travel down Bridport’s East Street today and you cannot miss the scaffolding dominating the pavement at one point. This project has been going on for months now, but what is hidden behind the tarpaulin, piping and planks? The building itself is a piece of Bridport’s history: the Literary and Scientific Institute (LSI). Opened in 1834, the building originally served as a Mechanics’ Institute, to provide education and improvement for working men. The striking ashlar building variously served as the Bridport School of Art and a men’s club; it was even used by the Americans before the Normandy landings in World War 2. In 1997, however, after acting as the town’s library for the previous 45 years, the building fell vacant and was left to deteriorate.

A piece of Bridport's history — the Literary and Scientific Institute

A piece of Bridport’s history — the Literary and Scientific Institute

For five years, the LSI sat unused by the passing public and unnoticed by those who had only ever known it to be empty. Then, in 2002, the grade II listed building was added to what is now known as the Heritage at Risk register; it was a cry for help to the surrounding community. With other proposed projects to save the building having fallen by the wayside, local community groups and organisations unified in the guise of the Bridport Area Development Trust (BADT) and proposed to save the LSI. They formulated a plan, gained funding and began the monumental task of regenerating the historic building.
Despite its size, the LSI is not the only project that BADT is currently tackling; the trust is also attempting to transform ‘the chapel on the beach’ into a Discovery Centre for Bridport and West Bay, reflecting its status as a ‘Gateway to the Jurassic Coast’. Although rich in restaurants, cafés and pubs, there is a shortage of all-weather attractions in West Bay.
Now in its tenth year, the BADT has ‘the aim of delivering community projects in Bridport and the surrounding area of West Dorset’. Membership consists of 25 local businesses and organisations that, each year, select the trustees and directors who oversee the undertaking of projects. Currently the trust aims to increase the opportunity for extra employment, especially in the young; to create community facilities at low cost, such as meeting places and by supporting local charities; and, by working with Bridport Museum, to enhance tourism by bringing the area’s history to light and to life.
Trevor Ware, the chairman of the Trust, describes its purpose as ‘to promote for the benefit of the public, urban and rural regeneration, especially in areas of economic and social deprivation’.
Funding to complete projects is principally received through grants given by large national foundations and funds. Funding for the BADT’s largest project, the LSI building, currently stands at £2.7m, with significant contributions from the Heritage Lottery Fund, Historic England and both Dorset County Council and West Dorset District Councils. But, as Trevor reveals, fundraising is still ‘a significant ongoing part’ of their efforts: ‘Our own community fundraising efforts have so far realised about £40,000; we still have £30,000 to find in cash from local activities and donations in order to meet our target of £70,000. We have additionally secured £97,000 thus far by volunteering time, in non-cash contributions and support.’
‘Over the past ten years,’ activity co-ordinator Crystal Johnson recalls, ‘there have been a fantastic number of HLF-funded heritage projects in the town, including the Newbery Trail, focusing on the work of artist Fra Newbery, the restoration of Bridport Town Hall and, currently, the re-development of Bridport Museum. The LSI is really the final link in the story and it was the catalyst for the Bridport Area Development Trust being established, as there was a clear need for a body that would be constituted in such a way that it could take on a building for the community and raise the money to save it.’

These pictures of the inside of the Bridport LSI reveal just how much work has had to be done inside the iconic building

These pictures of the inside of the Bridport LSI reveal just how much work has had to be done inside the iconic building

On completion, the building will resume some of its original work, as once again it will be partly used as education and training facilities; it will include a work hub, meeting rooms, small start-up office spaces and even a ground floor café, which will be open to the public, who can then explore the historically significant spaces and so learn more about the LSI’s heritage.
Crystal’s passion is obvious and she believes that the Bridport community shares her sentiments: ‘It’s been a building that has always been for the community. When we took the project on, it was at a point where nobody had been able to come up with a viable plan for the building that would save it for the future and secure the funding that was needed. It was a liability really, because the amount of money that is required to bring it up to standard far outstrips any value that the building would ever have once it’s finished.’

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On completion, the LSI will resume some of its original work: education and training facilities, a work hub, meeting rooms, small start-up office spaces and a ground floor cafe

But, explains Crystal, once finished, the LSI will be self-sufficient: ‘One of the key things has always been that it is sustainable, that it will not be reliant on any grants and that it will cover its own costs. As a building it’s got to work quite hard, because although it is a big building, there is a relatively little floor space to let out. Every space will need to work hard to generate an income to help run the building. It is never going to make a profit, but equally it will be able to operate independently of external funding.’
The story of the BADT’s involvement with the Chapel on the Beach begins in 2007, when, following several years of declining congregations, the chapel had eventually ceased to be a place of worship. After West Dorset District Council could find no other religious denomination to take control of the future of the building, BADT was granted the ownership of the grade II listed building, to redevelop it for community use.
In early 2015, essential repair works were carried out to the roof and gutters, and a more detailed survey was completed to understand what work was required to protect and conserve the fabric of the building. After consultation with the tourists and residents of West Bay, a plan was devised by the BADT for the Discovery Centre, exploring the history of West Bay, its harbour, the former railway link and the ecology of the central Lyme Bay coastal area.
Bridport Museum Trust is backing the proposals for the Methodist chapel’s conversion, as the museum cannot itself adequately represent the history of West Bay due to limitations on space, and it makes much more sense for it to be in West Bay.
Trevor hopes that the chapel’s conversion will begin in autumn 2017: ’The re-use of this small but beautiful old building will enhance the offering for holiday-makers to West Bay, especially for those with children and in times of wet weather,’ says Trevor. ‘It will be a fitting tribute to the West Bay community and the legacy of the nearby buildings and their uses over several centuries. A bid has recently been made to the Coastal Community Fund to meet the conversion and fitting-out costs which are currently estimated to be £250,000. Some community fundraising will also be necessary which can begin once the target for the LSI has been reached.’
Trevor hints that BADT has more plans in store for the town and local area: ‘Once the LSI project is complete and the West Bay Discovery Centre is underway we might look at several sites within the Bridport area.’
The Bridport Area Development Trust’s work is now to ensure that Bridport and West Bay have not only a heritage to be proud of, but a bright future to look forward to.

For details of the Bridport Area Development Trust, please visit www.bridportadt.org.uk. To find out more about the work of the re-born LSI, please visit www.lsibridport.co.uk

The Methodist Chapel at West Bay

The Methodist Chapel at West Bay

The chapel on the beach
The practising of Methodism began, as far as West Bay is concerned, in 1817, after Dr Giles Roberts and Mr William Tutcher began open-air preaching on the quayside and aboard vessels anchored in the harbour. In 1849, after the denomination’s popularity grew in the area, it was decided that a chapel was required to house the newly formed Wesleyan Society. Shipbuilders Messrs Cox and Son proceeded to build a chapel on the shingle behind the East Beach with the £200 that was raised. During World War 2, the chapel was closed due to wartime conditions and restrictions. However, it re-opened at Easter 1947, after the church had been damaged in 1942 during two military rehearsals for the ill-fated Dieppe Raid (Operation Jubilee) in Exercise Yukon I and II.

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