The Alan Weston Column

The Ripon Workhouse Museum.
The Ripon Workhouse Museum.

I’m writing this month’s column a little later than usual, having just returned from Ripon Workhouse Museum and the official opening of the newly acquired main block of the workhouse site.

This building was used up until recently as North Yorkshire County Council offices, but the generous support of the Heritage Lottery Fund has enabled Ripon Museums Trust to acquire the premises and open the first section to the public.

What has been done in a short space of time is incredible and all credit must go to the staff and volunteers at the Museum for what they have achieved.

As Richard Taylor, Chair of the Ripon Museums Trust said though, this is just the beginning of a long-term project to enhance the museum.

The Ripon Workhouse Museum is highly regarded and the opportunity to develop this new facility and attract more visitors and tourists can only be good for the vibrancy and vitality of the city.

A stone’s throw away, virtually the other side of the car park, and Ripon Cathedral are also seeking Heritage Lottery Funding for proposed major developments, which could see the Cathedral’s Chapter House, Undercroft, North West Tower, North Quire Aisle and wall paintings opened to the public, the Library made accessible, and a new building to accommodate a song school, toilets, storage, cafe and community space.

Put these two projects together and it is easy to see why Richard Compton, speaking at the Museum opening, expressed his view that Ripon is on the verge of exciting times.

Major developments at two of the city’s key heritage assets would have great potential to help to breathe new life into the economy of our historic city. Much of Ripon’s attractiveness as a place to visit is based upon its heritage and we are fortunate to have many heritage assets in the locality.

The draft Ripon City Plan has a strategy to address this so, as City Development Manager, I am currently working with others to submit an initial proposal recognising the positive impacts that becoming a Heritage Action Zone could have on helping to deliver the vision for Ripon.

Ripon City Council has also been looking at ways to deliver a couple of smaller heritage projects in the city.

Following concerns expressed by a number of people about the state of the red telephone boxes in Ripon Market Place, the council have agreed to make an expression of interest to British Telecom about adopting the kiosks.

This national adoption scheme provides an opportunity for the community to take on responsibility for management and maintenance of the structures and identify new uses for them and has seen a wide variety of innovative ideas across the country.

Furthermore, the council is also planning to refurbish and restore the cabman’s shelter, which must be fairly unique as a removeable grade II listed structure.

And finally, we must not forget that over recent weeks, our city’s heritage has unexpectedly been the focus of national media attention, following the job advertisement for a new Hornblower, all of which has been good promotion for the city.

So, whilst the heritage of the City is a backdrop to the Ripon of today, it is going to be an important part of the future too and so I have to agree with Richard Compton, I think we are on the verge of some very exciting times.