SWEDOOR by Jeld-Wen : It's a portal to another world
Harris Your Place: Preserving Preston’s Past, Building its Future

In Preston, Lancashire, The Harris is renowned. A Grade I-Listed building; its Neoclassical pillars and pediment filled with statues of Ancient Greek figures are unmissable. It is the city’s home of historic exhibits, its first free library, a backdrop to weddings and celebrations, a treasured community space and an icon of the county.

Conlon Construction

Opened in 1893, The Harris was gifted to the people of Preston by local Lawyer Edmund Robert Harris, and its architectural design parallels that of the British Museum.
For Conlon Construction, a leading construction business headquartered just three miles from The Harris, appointment as lead contractor for its £16m revival was a proud moment. “The Harris fed the imaginations of our team on visits when we were children. It even served as the venue for my own wedding. Our many connections to The Harris make this quite a unique and special project for all of us at Conlon,” says Chairman, Michael Conlon. Michael and his wife were, in fact, the last couple to be married at the venue before it would close for almost three years to undergo its transformation.

Now, with a year to go until The Harris reopens, the secrets of the 130-year-old building have been laid bare to the Conlon team. “We’ve made countless discoveries,” explains Michael. “As with any listed building, we were prepared to be surprised. We expected the unexpected and have been working meticulously to preserve the building for future generations.”

Lead paint, which had covered windows in multiple layers, was removed to reveal pristine hardwood frames and brass furniture, almost all fully functioning, and now returned to their former glory.

The imposing Greek figures, sitting proudly in the apex of the building’s frontage, were found to be full of mould and visibly coated with decades of dust, while wiring tangled throughout the building, thanks to a century’s worth of necessary but perhaps occasionally ill-considered cabling additions.

“There is no comparison between a renovation of this nature and a new-build development. We must be methodical and put our technical expertise and that of the other fantastic supply chain partners on site to full use, which is among the multitude of reasons that make this project unique and thrilling,” says Michael.

Scaffolding, which has covered the outside of the building since the project began, is now almost all removed. Passers-by will notice the freshly-cleaned facade, the repainted statues and the gilded lettering returned to its frontage. What they won’t appreciate is the complexity of the task of installing and removing scaffolding on a building like The Harris, internally and externally.

The roof was never designed to bear the weight of scaffolding required, and so ingenious engineering saw it suspended from a clerestory above the rotunda, which juts out of the centre of the roof. Internally, erecting scaffolding in the rotunda area, which reaches more than 35m high, took a team of 12 seven weeks.

Now, though, extraordinary changes have taken place. Fifth-floor mezzanines erected half a century ago have been completely removed, opening up a vast, light-filled area with a huge expanse of wall space for art exhibits.

The main rotunda rooflight has been fully replaced, with careful consideration given to materials. The now double-glazed rooflight has a built-in UV filter that will protect artwork and historical items from sun damage. All other rooflights have also been fitted with film. The basement, previously prone to flooding, has also been tanked and relined to ensure a reliably dry, safe result.

Anticipation for its reopening is rising. Timothy Joel, Head of Culture at Preston City Council, and responsible for The Harris capital project, said: “This is more than a restoration; it’s a reimagining. The Harris Your Place project is readying the site for the next century. We aren’t just making it structurally sound; we’re making it sustainable, and we’re reinventing it as a place of curiosity, creativity and reflection for the benefit of local people.

“The economic benefits are the cherry on top. The Harris is delivering our ambitions of Community Wealth Building – often referred to as the ‘Preston Model’ – with millions spent within PR postcodes thanks to a local supply chain, coupled with the employment of hundreds of local people and many more apprentice days. Paying dividends socially and economically, The Harris truly is a beacon of the Preston Model.”

Working alongside Conlon Construction on The Harris Your Place project is acclaimed architect firm Buttress, fit-out contractor BECK and showcase contractor Click Netherfield, as well as Ralph Appelbaum Associates, Restore Harrow Green, Focus Consultants, Direct Access and Ridge and Partners. The restoration has been made possible with support from the National Lottery Heritage Fund, Arts Council England, Lancashire County Council, Preston City Council, Towns Fund and local and national trusts, foundations and charities.

Timothy continues: “The Harris is the cultural heartbeat of Preston, a thriving hub of creativity and community that showcases the best of art, literature, heritage and history. The Harris is here to serve as a cultural hub, bringing together communities through exhibitions, events, resources and spaces.

“The Harris is driving a community-led approach where individuals can present their views on how they would like to see change through the application of the Community Empowerment Guidelines, which are primarily focused on including the local community in all aspects of The Harris’ work. With a desire to be authentic in representing the diversity that is within Preston, we want our community to have a voice, to be involved in the decisions that affect them and, most importantly, to know they are being listened to.

“Through this ambitious project, we aim to challenge traditional narratives, embrace complexity and provide a platform for underrepresented perspectives. By collaborating with our communities and partners, we aspire to create a space where everyone feels seen, heard and empowered.”

The Conlon Construction team have taken immense pride in protecting the future of The Harris, and the prestigious project will, no doubt, shine bright in its collective career history. With The Harris featuring on Preston’s own Monopoly board game, Conlon’s legacy is solidified in the heart of the city’s heritage.

In spring 2025, Preston City Council will proudly take back the reins of this historic landmark, passing it into the eager hands of the city’s residents. With excitement buzzing in the air, the stage is set for a new chapter in its storied history, ensuring its legacy endures for generations to come.

Contact Conlon Construction

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Latest Issue

Latest Issue of Public Sector Build Journal