Labour MP for Redcar, Anna Turley, has come together with campaigners, heritage organisations, and academics to launch a bid to save Red Barns from disrepair and to bring the building back to life as a community resource.
The Grade II* listed building at the heart of Redcar is the former home of Gertrude Bell, the renowned twentieth century explorer, mountaineer, archaeologist and diplomat.
In her career Gertrude became highly influential to British policymaking and played a major role in establishing and helping to administer the modern state of Iraq. She was given an immense amount of diplomatic power for a woman at the time.
The building itself, designed by acclaimed 19th century architect Philip Webb, also has architectural significance as it is one of the most important remaining examples of Arts and Crafts architecture in North East England.
It was commissioned by Bell's father, Sir Hugh Bell, a local industrialist whose enterprise included a steelworks in Middlesbrough.
Red Barns, which has had many uses over the years including being a pub and hotel, has lain empty in recent years and fallen into a worrying state of disrepair.
Anna has launched a community campaign, including an application to the government’s Coastal Communities Fund, to purchase and renovate Red Barns to create a permanent museum and learning centre to help redevelop the local economy and attract tourism. She is keen to hear from anyone with thoughts and ideas on the campaign.
"Red Barns has huge significance to the local area and it is tragic that such a beautiful building with so much history has deteriorated into such a poor state.
Our proposal to save it and turn it into a museum and learning resource would allow a local venue for the display of exhibitions akin to the current Gertrude Bell display and Kirkleatham and help drive the growth of local culture and tourism.
We are in talks with the private owners who, whilst having planning permission to convert the building into flats, are sympathetic to the building's relevance to the community.
If anyone is interested in getting involved with this project, please do get in touch. We have a Facebook page at www.facebook.com/saveredbarns/ where you can contact the team directly."
Local ward councillor Neil Baldwin, who first raised the idea of rescuing the building, welcomed the campaign:
"This fantastic building is in urgent need of repair and I wanted to do something to save it from further damage, regenerate the site and bring it back into use.
Recognising that this venture needed more clout, I met with Anna who was on the same page and has helped to drive the idea forward.
I hope we can see Red Barns restored to its former glory and provide a great facility for our area."
The campaign is currently engaging with various organisations to develop the proposal, including Newcastle University – Dr. Mark Jackson, Lecturer in Archaeology and manager of the Gertrude Bell Photographic Archive said:
“As a girl Gertrude Bell was educated at Red Barns – full of energy and determination fostered at home - she grew up to be a woman of considerable international influence. A great believer in the value of heritage for people, Gertrude worked tirelessly to protect ancient buildings and to establish museums and libraries. She and her family were true pioneers. Given its history and significance, it seems very fitting that we should all join with the community in Redcar to help restore the Bell family home for the future.”