Contractors have been appointed to start work next month on the first phase of the transformation of Keswick’s former pencil factory into a permanent new home for the Keswick Convention.
West Cumbria-based Thomas Armstrong will carry out the £1.9 million contract, which will see the inside of the factory refurbished, with reception, multi-function rooms and toilets created on the ground floor and children’s outdoor play area at the back.
It is hoped it will be ready for the 2021 convention.
Power and heating will also be installed throughout the three-storey building, which has already been stripped out and had its striking white front restored this year despite coronavirus restrictions.
“We’re delighted with the way the project has progressed this year, which means that work on the interior can now get under way as we work towards the full refurbishment of this iconic art deco building,” said David Sawday, chief operating officer with Keswick Ministries, the charity which runs the convention.
That progress has also seen new concrete floors laid to replace wooden ones and the building re-roofed, with the front insulated and rendered and new windows installed, largely using local companies including Keswick Scaffolding, Mike Fell Builders and Wilsons Plant & Haulage.
The project will cost £9.5 million to complete.
So far Keswick Ministries has raised £5.5 million to cover the purchase of the site and work already carried out, plus phase one.
Phases two and three will involve work on the first and second floors where facilities are likely to include a conference centre, kitchen facilities and overnight accommodation once further funds have been raised.
Murray Lawrie is in charge of the construction project at the 1938-built factory in his role as Keswick Ministries’ facilities manager.
“Lockdown has been difficult — getting hold of materials and schedules with self-isolating — but we have made reasonable progress,” he said during a tour of the building on Tuesday.
“Keswick Ministries are spending £10 million on this site. It is a major project and there is a lot of work to be done to change it from a disused factory into what will be a great facility for the local community and for us as well when it is finished,” he added.
The convention attracts 12,000 Christians from all over the world for its three-week run every summer.
The biggest crowds at its previous Skiddaw Street base have traditionally gathered in a temporary marquee and an even bigger one is set to go up in front of the pencil factory next summer, accommodating around 3,000 people.
This year’s convention was cancelled but a virtual event was held online, attracting 100,000 views.