Local arts and heritage charity Lakeland Arts given the go ahead to reopen as early as possible in 2023

South Lakeland District Council (SLDC), who owns the building and is managing the redevelopment, aims for the project to begin in coming weeks, meaning Lakeland Arts can reopen the gallery as soon as possible next year.

Councillor Robin Ashcroft, South Lakeland District Council Portfolio Holder for Economy, Culture and Leisure, said: “We are pleased that work is set to begin on the Phase I redevelopment works at Abbot Hall.

“As a Grade I listed building, we have a duty to make sure we are taking great care to maintain and protect Abbot Hall as an important asset for the Kendal community. It’s also critical that the environmental standards within the building enable Lakeland Arts to be able to show internationally significant exhibitions to maintain the gallery’s reputation.

“In common with many capital programmes across the country at this time, the project has faced a variety of challenges and impacts from circumstances beyond our control, including the knock-on effects of the pandemic and cost of living crisis, which has had direct implications for things like material costs and timescales.

“We’d like to thank everyone for their patience while we worked hard with our partners to resolve these issues and we are delighted that work is now progressing and look forward to seeing the building reopen next year.’’

Abbot Hall has been home to the Lakeland Arts collection for 60 years. The charity’s collection includes a variety of painted works from acclaimed portrait painter George Romney (b. 1734) as well as work by Dame Barbara Hepworth, JMW Turner and John Ruskin.

The Lakeland Arts Trust fundraised to save the building from being demolished and opened it as a gallery to showcase the collection in 1962. The charity has leased the building since and has expanded to also operate Blackwell – the Arts & Crafts house and Windermere Jetty Museum in Bowness as well as Lakeland Museum in Kendal.

Rhian Harris, Chief Executive of Lakeland Arts said, “We’re grateful to SLDC for managing the project and ensuring the Grade I listed building is being appropriately cared for and made safe. We are very much looking forward to the works being finalised so we can reopen for visitors next year.”

Harris continued, “We are pleased Phase I of the Abbot Hall redevelopment work will begin shortly and we are able to confirm the much anticipated commission and exhibition by internationally recognised artist Julie Brook will go ahead alongside the reopening next year.”

The exhibition will be a multimedia experience of Brook’s work created during residencies in the UK and Japan and will include a new installation on the Abbot Hall site using stone from a local quarry, in response to the Cumbrian environment. Brook will also select pieces from Lakeland Art’s extraordinary collection to appear alongside the exhibition.

Members of the local community wanting to see the Lakeland Arts fine art collection are invited to visitSomething in Common, a temporary exhibition at Blackwell – the Arts & Crafts house by Lancashire based artist James Fox, whose commissioned textiles are on display alongside a selection of landscapes from the collection. The Lakeland Arts fine art collection is also on show extensively throughout both Blackwell and Windermere Jetty Museum.

Since Abbot Hall closed for redevelopment in 2020, Lakeland Arts has continued its work in Kendal and surrounding Cumbrian communities and schools. The charity works in partnership with Sandgate School, University of Sunderland and has a Participation and Learning team that works with many local primary and secondary schools. A series of CLIMArt workshops for young people and families are dotted around Kendal and will contribute to this year’s Torchlight Carnival in September. The organisation’s latest project is MEND on the Move, a bright yellow van and pop-up space that takes art, craft and creativity into communities across Cumbria.

Lakeland Arts is a registered UK charity and part of Cumbria Museum Consortium along with Tullie House Museum & Art Gallery in Carlisle and Wordsworth Grasmere.

Harris comments, “Abbot Hall is a wonderful place for art and home to the Lakeland Arts fine art collection. We look forward to reopening Abbot Hall as a space for the community that ignites creativity, where people can enjoy and interact with art.

Visit the website to find out more – lakelandarts.org.uk

Abbot Hall closed for redevelopment in 2020, just before the Covid-19 pandemic. Faced with pandemic and economic uncertainties, a decision was made to take a prudent approach to the redevelopment by phasing the works over time.The current scale of works is focused around opening the building as soon as possible and making it safe to welcome visitors, including essential upgrades to the electrics, flooring and redecorating.

Exteriors of Abbott Hall from the East
Exteriors of Abbott Hall from the East

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