The new AHF Projects and Development Officer North, Gordon Barr, introduces himself…
I’m delighted to be joining the AHF, although I’ve had a rather odd career path getting here – I studied chemistry, accidentally became a computer programmerfor the pharmaceutical industry for seven years, and have been involved in commissioning public art works as well. So what on earth qualifies me when it comes to historic buildings?
An interest in the buildings around me was awakened when I was a student, walking past an old boarded-up bingo hall that I’d never given a second glance to. By now it was in the process of being demolished and the end wall had been pulled down, letting me see inside for the first time. Suddenly an enormous, palatial auditorium and hundreds of empty seats were revealed – a complete surprise that really caught my attention.
As I researched it, I started to realize how many of the old buildings I was passing every day were in fact former cinemas or theatres – Glasgow had a lot of them! – and I started a website to record and catalogue them. Thirteen years later, the site at www.scottishcinemas.org is still running, and now features over 1,100 different cinemas across 800 towns and cities across Scotland.
Developing the site led to working with Historic Scotland’s listing team on their thematic survey of cinema buildings, and a place on the Committee of the Cinema Theatre Association – the national amenity society for traditional cinema buildings.
Eventually it was time to take the plunge and change from volunteering to working in the Heritage Sector – and I was lucky to secure a role at Maryhill Burgh Halls Trust, a BPT that was working to bring the former Victorian town hall, police and fire stations in Maryhill in Glasgow back to life as a vibrant community resource and business centre.
Maryhill Burgh Halls
The unique selling point of the project was the chance to bring a series of unique stained glass windows out of storage after more than forty years, and get them back on display in the building. These windows, created in 1878 by artist Stephen Adam, show industrial scenes with people in their everyday working clothes – not dressed up or stylized. There are boatbuilders, engineers, soldiers, wheelwrights, railway workers and papermakers. They are a great piece of art, but also give insights into the social, industrial, even fashion choices of the time! The Canal Boatman, as well as a fetching bunnet, even has a patch sewn into his trouserleg at the knee – look closely and you can see the stitches!
Gordon Barr and one of the Maryhill stained glass windows
So after four years as the Heritage Development Manager, while I’m sad to have left the Maryhill project, I’m also really proud of all that has been achieved – as well as a fully rejuvenated and very busy building, we’ve had over 6,000 people involved in over 170 different heritage related activities since 2010 – plus over 1,600 downloads of our free Maryhill Heritage Trails App.
When looking into projects the AHF has supported, I was particularly pleased to see one of my favourite cinemas, the wonderful Category A-listed Hippodrome in Bo’Ness, Scotland’s oldest purpose built cinema. This is a project that was only able to succeed thanks to the AHF’s support. Now, several years after re-opening, it’s the home of an annual and growing silent film festival, and has put the heart back in the centre of the Bo’Ness community – a great example of the huge social and economic impact that regenerating our architectural heritage back to life can offer.
I’m now looking forward to seeing the full range of projects that the AHF supports across Scotland, the north of England, and further afield, and hopefully supporting a range of new projects so that they can benefit their communities once again.