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Open meeting in Preston Bus Station to re-imagine its future

Posted on - 12th May, 2013 - 8:57pm | Author - | Posted in - Opinion, Preston Bus Station
Stella Hall, director of the 2012 Preston Guild, speaks during the Bus Station event

Stella Hall, director of the 2012 Preston Guild, speaks during the Bus Station event

Preston’s threatened bus station was, yet again, the centre of attention yesterday as the venue for Gate 81’s event to re-imagine its uncertain future. The Gate 81 project was set up by Sally Stone and Dominic Roberts from Continuity in Architecture and Ruth Heritage from Preston based They Eat Culture. It provides a forum for all those interested parties who wish to see the iconic building saved from demolition and reinvented for the 21st century.

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The daylong event ran from 8:30 in the morning until 7:00 in the evening with workshops, guest speakers and even a guided tour through the city centre streets. I arrived at 10 am in time to hear the first speakers and was pleasantly surprised to see such a sizable crowd of eager participants. The northern end of the bus station had been transformed for the day with architectural models, art installations, a workshop area and even a stall selling bus station t-shirts and bags!

First speaker of the day was Professor Tom Jefferies, head of Manchester School of Architecture, who talked about how the building could be transformed to meet today’s needs. He gave examples of other buildings that had been successfully reinvented including Bankside Power Station in London which is now better known as Tate Modern, and the Albert Dock in Liverpool, now one of the city’s most popular visitor attractions.

Next up was Stella Hall, who was the Festival Director for last year’s Preston Guild celebrations. She talked about Preston’s wealth of cultural creativity and reminded the audience of the bus station’s starring role in the BBC’s live coverage of the ‘Preston Passion’ on Good Friday last year.

After lunch, we were taken on a magical mystery tour through the streets of Preston by Dominic Roberts who provided a knowledgeable commentary on all things architectural. Our circular route took in the covered market, the site of our original town hall on the Flag Market, the former Public Hall on Lune Street, the site of St. Mary’s Church on Friargate, the Magistrates Court on Ringway and finally, the soon to be demolished indoor market. While dashing from place to place, our thirty strong band of sightseers, complete with two cameramen, drew more than a few quizzical looks from the locals!

On returning to the bus station, there was just time to grab a quick coffee before the second round of speakers began. Next up was Christina Malathouni who lectures at The University of Liverpool and specialises in twentieth century architectural heritage. She gave a comprehensive explanation of the bus station’s third listing application which is currently pending and awaiting a decision from Culture Secretary Ed Vaizey.

Next up were three artists, Nayan Kulkarni, Chris Jones and Jamie Hawkesworth. All three gave an overview of their own practices and talked about their work in relation to possible future incarnations of the bus station. Especially for the Gate 81 event, Chris had created a surreal scaled down sculpture of the iconic structure and Jamie’s bus station photographic portraits had been supersized and displayed throughout the building.

The final speaker of the day was Kevin Rhowbotham, head of architecture at UCLan. Unfortunately, I missed what Kevin had to say as I was dragged away to take some photographs! Perhaps someone can let us know in the comments below? I did hear the prolonged applause from half way down the bus station, so it must have been good.

One high point of the day for me was when a member of the audience asked why there were no city councillors present, it was pointed out that Councillor James Hull was in fact present and the microphone was unexpectedly thrust into his hand! His surprise was comically evident but despite being ambushed, he managed to escape with only minor damage to his dignity as he tried to explain the council’s difficult position regarding the bus station. Seasoned bus station campaigner John Wilson was also on hand, giving away postcards of the bus station which were pre-addressed to The Culture Secretary’s office. He had no shortage of takers who were eager to send their comments on a postcard to Ed Vaizey. I pity his postman next week.

But seriously, It was great to see so many people from all walks of life coming together to pool their creativity and share their visions of the future for Preston bus station. The event highlighted just how much positivity there is around finding an alternative to the planned demolition and it’s clear that the bus station has no shortage of fans that are passionate about securing its future as a prominent feature on the Preston skyline.

Did you attend the event? What did you think? Let us know in the comments below

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