Following closure in 2021, the Harris is set to reopen in 2024 after a £16 million renovation. The ‘Harris Your Place’ project aims to rejuvenate the building into a hub of culture, education and community.
Since opening in 1893, the building has become one of the leading museums, galleries and libraries within the region.
Prior to closure, the Harris welcomed over 35,000 visitors annually. Now, the ‘Harris Your Place’ project hopes to reimagine the building for a 21st Century audience, with a greater emphasis on the Preston community.
The community and history of Preston
The Harris wishes to remain at the heart of the community and welcome a range of visitors from Preston and further afield. Throughout the project, the Harris have worked with the Preston community to ensure that the new museum fully reflects the city’s cultural offer.
Plans for the Harris’ new young people’s space will contain bright artworks and items as picked out by a panel of young people. The aim is to fully reflect the purpose of this area as a space for young people to learn and be socialise.
“It’s very much telling the story of modern Preston and people being able to see themselves really reflected in the Harris when we reopen.”Timothy Joel (the Head of Culture at the Harris)
In other areas the story of Preston will be told from a variety of different perspectives.
The ground floor rotunda is a key area of the building. Once reopened, this space will showcase different stories of The Harris’ history and explain connections between the building and collections on show. Joel said: “The residents feel as if they’ve got some sort of civic connection to the service, and it being of a standard and quality that will stand out to visitors coming to the area as well.”
The Harris first opened in 1893 after the Preston based lawyer, Edmund Robert Harris left £300,000 to the Preston Corporation in memory of his father. This led to the creation of a free museum, library and art gallery in Preston.
The refurbished Harris will heavily emphasise these roots, with the new space telling stories of the building’s origins, architecture and significance in Preston. Staff from the Harris, volunteers, Friends of the Harris and partners will also use this space to share stories of how the collection was developed.
A blended experience
The ‘Harris Your Place’ project will blend the museum, art gallery and library aspects of the Harris together. It is hoped that this will create a more cohesive experience for visitors.
Joel commented: “A sense really throughout the whole building of breaking up barriers of separation of the museum, library and art gallery and have those collections fused throughout the building in order to tell some of those rich narratives.”
In the UK, it will be the first such museum of its kind. In new library spaces, historical objects and artwork will be woven through the book shelving to complement the themes of visitor’s chosen read.
Additionally the exhibitions available at the Harris will be regularly refreshed to showcase various different programmes. Because of this, it is hoped that the different communities across the city will be well reflected in the museum. For example, when opening, there will be a ground floor space dedicated to the Afro-Caribbean community of Preston.
In the future, Joel suggests that other groups will work with The Harris to share their own story showing the building as a “changing and evolving” area. The reopening of the Harris is highly anticipated for 2024 as a historical and inspiring location in the heart of the city.
“To be able to fill it back with life and purpose again will be really special and I think quite emotional for the team because they’ve been working on it for a long time,” said Joel.
While work on the building is still underway, the Harris are hosting a variety of pop-up exhibitions and events across the city.
To find out more about upcoming events, you can visit their website here.