WORK has begun on transforming one of the city’s most historic buildings into a high-quality arts venue.
The University of Worcester has begun restoring and refurbishing the Grade II listed Austin House, on Castle Street, into arts facilities known as ‘The Art House’.
Midlands-based contractors, Stepnells, is carrying out the works and construction is expected to be complete by September 2018, ahead of the new academic year.
University chiefs have also been working with Cardiff-based GWP Architects to develop a sympathetic restoration of the building, which will see large studio and exhibition spaces created inside, while the exterior will remain largely unchanged.
The large open plan spaces of the building would be used by students on art and design based courses, giving them plenty of freedom for creative thought and activity.
The art deco building, with its impressive and distinctive clock tower, was designed and built in 1939 as a car showroom for Lord Austin of Austin Motors.
Over the years it has been used by various motor dealerships, including HA Saunders, Mann Egerton and Rover.
In the 1990s it became the home of Rowe Carpets of Kidderminster and was most recently used by County Furnishings.
Austin House stands on part of the site of the old County Gaol, which closed during the early 20th century.
It is understood that in the early 1800s, bodies of hanged prisoners would be taken, via a tunnel under Castle Street, to what was then the Worcester Royal Infirmary hospital, where they were used for medical practice.
Professor Sarah Greer, deputy vice chancellor at the University, said: “This is an iconic building in Worcester and we’re thrilled to be bringing it back into use for the whole community to enjoy.
“Many of the original features will be retained, including, of course, the distinctive clock tower. The Art House will provide students on our arts courses with excellent space to be creative and to showcase their work.
“Our plans include using the building as a centre for children’s creative camps, which is part of the University’s inclusive approach to education.