We meet the West Midlands heritage taskforce set to save four historic buildings after Crooked House crisis

Following the demolition of the Crooked House last year, the West Midlands Combined Authority is providing new funding for heritage buildings
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Vital funding has been handed to restore some of Birmingham's most historic buildings as the region's architectural funding boss says the demise of The Crooked House was a 'real wake-up call'.

The Crooked House in Staffordshire, which was named ‘Britain’s wonkiest pub’, went up in flames late in August and has since been demolished. The loss of the beloved venue was greeted with outrage by locals who launched a campaign to have it rebult 'brick by brick' and staged vigils outside the grounds so that its assets couldn't be removed.

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There are 10,500 historic buildings across the region and the loss of the historic building last year brought into focus the affection in which local people hold them for political figures in the region.

The West Midlands Combined Authority (WMCA) has now set up a Heritage Taskforce - the first time a formal regional body has existed to advise on how to protect, and care for the 10,500 heritage buildings across the West Midlands. Four historic buildings in the region are now set to receive funding.

Old Print WorksOld Print Works
Old Print Works

Which buildings will receive the funding first?

Although there are plans to regenerate a number of listed derelict buildings in Birmingham and the wider region, the historic venues will be receiving the funding first include:

  • The Golden Lion in Cannon Hill Park in Moseley, which is currently derelict,
  • The Matthew Boulton’s and James Watts’ Soho Foundry in Smethwick which is also derelict
  • The Walsall Imperial theatre and cinema
  • The Old PrintWorks in Balsall Health

The Old Print Works is a historic heritage building in Balsall Heath that is currently run by a local charity, Make It Sustainable Ltd. The building is still open today and is primarily used as a community and arts hub. Many arts classes are held at in the three-storey building including textiles, pottery and photography.

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Matthew Boulton’s and James Watts’ Soho Foundry in Smethwick is another historic venue in the region which will receive much needed funding. The building, which was founded as a factory in 1775 by Matthew Boulton and James Watt. In the past, the Grade II listed building was used to build steam engines, but the building has been left derelict since its closure.

Has historic England heritage listed statusHas historic England heritage listed status
Has historic England heritage listed status

Just up the road from the Print Works is The Golden Lion in Cannon Hill Park in Moseley. The venue started out in the 16th century in Digbeth, but was rebuilt brick by brick in Moseley. The venue was constructed around 1520 and was originally a Guild House that stood in Deritend High Street - on the opposite side of the road to The Old Crown.

It has been used for many purposes like a school, housing for the clergy, and later a tannery and a pub. It fell into disrepair and was under threat of demolition in 1910. It was bought by a local and relocated brick-by-brick to Cannon Hill Park in Moseley. The venue has been closed for many years but will now Old be restored with the WMCA funding.

Walsall's Imperial Theatre and Cinema is also set to saved through the funding. The venue opened as a cinema in 1868 and operated as a bingo club in the 1960s. After closing it reopened in 1997 as a pub but once again closed its doors in 2016. It was declared a Grade II listed building in 2022, with the funding set to restore the venue.

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Birmingham World met with members of the new heritage task force and the charity members of the Old Printworks at the Balsall Heath venue on Thursday morning (February 1) as the announcement was made.

What’s been said about the new funding?

The chief executive of the architectural heritage fund Matthew Mckeague confirmed that £45,000 is being awarded to the four buildings in the funding programme. He said: “The fund will work with the WMCA using funding from WMCA which has been able to grant some early stage funding to a number of organisations such as the Old Print Works.

“Here at the Old Print Works, they’re looking for improvements to accessibility to the entrance to make it easier to get in for people and to improve the building so it’s more sustainable. Improving access to the building is really important because it’s not too easy to get around the building at the moment.

He added: “This funding will help the charities in charge of the buildings with the key stages of project development including design work and project management, so these are the buildings that are in the right place really to get this investment.”

Matthew MckeagueMatthew Mckeague
Matthew Mckeague

'Crooked House was a wake-up call'

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When asked if the Crooked House lead to the task force being created, Mr McKeague said: “The Crooked House was a really terrible outcome. It shows if buildings are not valued then it can really lead to a lot of risks and buildings in use that are looked after is really really important to long term sustainability and I think the Crooked House was a real wake-up call to making sure our heritage buildings are looked after.”

Andy Street, Mayor of the West Midlands and WMCA Chair,  said: “We’re blessed with some 10,500 heritage buildings right across our region. They all have wonderful stories to tell about our past but an equally important role in our future - creatively reimagined as places powering employment, education and social wellbeing.

"That’s why it’s wonderful to see firsthand how new life has been breathed in to The Old Print Works - harking back to its heyday in the 20th century. It’s a good example of just what can be achieved where there is a strong will and commitment among local people who care."

Hannah GreenwoodHannah Greenwood
Hannah Greenwood

Hannah Greenwood, interim chief executive of Make It Sustainable which looks after the Old Print Works, added: “Since 2011 we’ve been transforming this disused building into a thriving community arts space, now hosting a diverse and growing creative community in a range of enterprise and  community spaces. 

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“We’re grateful for the support from the WMCA and AHF for the next phase which is to secure The OId Print Works in community ownership with a sustainable business model, and to reimagine and redevelop the site as an inclusive, welcoming, vibrant and more environmentally friendly community resource.”

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