The developer tasked with bringing the former Grenson shoe factory back into use is working hard to ensure its heritage is preserved.
Leicestershire-based Westleigh Partnerships has an established track record of re-developing brownfield sites and it has recently begun work on putting its vision for the Rushden factory into place.
The Grade II listed main building, situated on the corner of Upper Queen Street and Cromwell Road, has been a landmark since the factory first opened in 1895.
For more than 100 years it was a focal point of Northamptonshire’s shoe-making industry, supplying the armed forces in both world wars and employing about 500 people at its height in the 1940s.
Since Grenson moved to a purpose-built modern factory in 2013, the premises at Upper Queen Street have been empty and disused.
Now, Westleigh plans to convert the main building into 14 affordable two-bedroom apartments, through a partnership scheme with East Northamptonshire Council (ENC) and the Grand Union Housing Group (GUHG).
The latter will operate the development and the flats will be rented out to those in need of housing, including young couples and those on low incomes.
Westleigh’s partnerships and investment manager, Dan Gooch, said: “Westleigh purchased the main factory building along with the adjacent Allen Road site, which is also being developed for affordable housing.
“We have obtained planning permission and will act as the main contractor during the build programme, which will bring much needed new affordable homes to the area while preserving the character of the building.
“Prior to completing any internal work, we have carried out various repairs and improvements to the building envelope.
“We needed to ensure it was in a structurally safe and water-tight condition, guaranteeing the life of the building for years to come.
“We have worked hard to ensure that the external materials chosen are sympathetic to the architecture of the original building and street scene.
“As part of our efforts in this regard, we have retiled the entire roof, managing to salvage half of the original slates.
“Any new slates have been carefully selected to match the appearance of the original tiles.
“The original roof timbers have been largely retained and a new membrane has been installed to protect them from water ingress.
“Structural roof members have been repaired or replaced where necessary.
“The existing ‘crittall’ type windows form an important part of the factory’s facade.
“We have therefore refurbished each window to ensure they are fit for purpose without changing their appearance.
“This has involved re-glazing, frame repairs and decoration.
“Much of the brick and stonework will also require either re-pointing, repair or replacement.
“Any replacement brickwork will be completed using salvaged bricks from adjacent demolished buildings where possible.
“In addition to this, we have re-built and internally restrained a collapsing gable wall.
“This wall was re-built largely with salvaged bricks.”
He added: “We’re hoping to complete the works by next summer, and will then pass it on to GUHG as the building moves into the next phase of its life as a home for dozens of people in need of affordable accommodation.
“At Westleigh we relish projects like this.
“A chance to restore a local landmark while also meeting the need for affordable housing is a win-win for us, and for the community here in Rushden.
“We’re grateful to ENC and GUHG for their assistance in making this possible.”
Dave Lakin, head of new business and development at GUHG, said: “This is our first scheme in partnership with Westleigh and we are delighted to be working on such an iconic building in the area.
“As part of our 2020 Vision, the group is looking to expand the areas in which we build affordable homes and this is one of the many projects we are looking to deliver across Northamptonshire.
“We are hoping to deliver these much needed homes as quickly as possible for them to be managed by Rockingham Forest Housing who recently joined Grand Union Housing Group.”
Leader of ENC Steven North said: “We’re delighted to be able to support this project.
“It will retain and refurbish the former Grenson’s factory which is an attractive listed building and an important part of Rushden’s boot and shoe making past.
“We’re looking forward to seeing it receive a new lease of life and be preserved for many years to come whilst also providing much needed affordable rented housing in the town.”