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Fundraising success to finish Hat Works

28 July 2020

The Culture Trust, Luton are delighted to announce that they have been successful in securing funding to finish Hat Works – the oldest hat factory in Luton town centre. Hat Works is part of the Hat District heritage regeneration project led by The Culture Trust to repair and re-purpose historic hat factories and transform them into inspiring and much needed creative workspace.

Hat Works is situated in the heart of the Hat District creative cluster that consists of the Hat Factory Arts Centre, Storefront Gallery and creative workspace at Hat House. Hat Works will bring back into use the oldest remaining hat factory in Luton. A key focus of the project is to provide an opportunity for local creative individuals in the town to set up business. The Trust will support their ideas, creativity and entrepreneurship by providing shared, affordable and professional workspace for them. Whilst everyone is welcome, there will be a particular focus on young people and a cohort of pioneer members who are already in place to move in when the works are complete next summer.

The ambition is to re-animate the conservation area with cultural activity, care for these important heritage buildings and promote the historic stories of this once vibrant Hat Trading town. Hat Works is being designed for creative and digital entrepreneurs, innovators and micro-businesses and will provide affordable work and social spaces in an inspiring heritage environment.

Marie Kirbyshaw, Chief Executive of The Culture Trust, said:

“This well-loved old hat factory is now in its final chapter of careful conservation and refurbishment thanks to our funders and the custodianship of the Trust. This cornerstone to the Hat District will become ‘Hat Works’ an inspiring home for creative and digital start-up businesses and we hope will be the start of many successful creative and cultural careers.”

The project has been awarded £1.052m from The National Lottery Heritage Fund to undertake essential repairs and conservation work, refurbish the building and preserve the original heritage and factory features.

Anne Jenkins, Director, England, Midlands & East at The National Lottery Heritage Fund, said:

“We’re incredibly pleased that our funding will support the development of Hat Works in Luton ensuring that an important historic building will be protected and preserved, whilst also housing a project aiding the wider regeneration plan for the area. Here at The National Lottery Heritage Fund, we want our investment to be used in innovative ways that will ensure resilience for the heritage of the UK, and the creation of a cultural industries ‘incubator’ allowing individuals to develop ideas and build sustainable businesses based at Hat Works is a fantastic example of that. We are also enthused that The Culture Trust has identified a number of partner organisations so that under-represented groups are involved in the project, broadening access within Luton’s diverse demographic communities. We look forward to seeing the project progress.”

Hat Works capital works started in 2017 and the Trust has gratefully received funding to help deliver the earlier stages and the much needed care and conservation work. Hat Works has been empty and unused since it closed last as a Hat Factory in 2006. Consequently it has needed a great deal of careful conservation over the last three years. The Trust is custodian to this important heritage asset and thanks the many project funders that have contributed to this project. The Hat Works was seed funded with to Local Growth Funding from South East Midlands Local Enterprise Partnership. Historic England has supported Hat Works with guidance, advice and grant funding to £290,000 throughout the project. The Trust has also recently been awarded £280K from the Architectural Heritage Fund to help protect the historic qualities of this prominent building set in the heart of the Plaiters Lea Conservation Area. Along with vital support from The Linbury Trust and The Pilgrim Trust the Trust is now able to start the final phase of works.

Tony Calladine, Regional Director (East of England) for Historic England said:

“We have supported the Hat Works project from the outset, offering guidance and grant funding to enable the restoration of this important historic building. Working in partnership with key agencies, we’ve collaborated to support and fund this innovative project. We’re delighted to see the Hat Works project come to fruition and look forward to seeing it flourish as an inspirational home for creative enterprise.”

Hat Works’ history:

Hat Works is a 3 storey property, with a distinct façade of Luton grey bricks, stucco dressings and a Welsh slate roof. It is located at 47 Guildford Street, in the Plaiters Lea Conservation area of Luton. The factory was built between 1840 and 1850 with alterations and extensions made in the mid twentieth century. Surviving deeds show it was originally a domestic dwelling with an office. The

building was occupied by Straw Plait Merchants: Messrs Henry Durler (1850-1924) and Otto Suter (1851-1884). Straw hat manufacturing company Herbert Brown Ltd used the building from 1906 and a Walter E. Brown, Director of Herbert Brown, signed a lease agreement with the Williams family in 1926. From 1931 the property was owned by Martha Swain, who leased the property to various hat manufacturers over the next 25 years including C H Young and Co. and Bridgewater Millinery from 1966, Maurice Davis ran his hat factory here until 2006. The building has been empty since then and is now undergoing restoration as part of The Culture Trust’s Hat District Project.

For enquiries about workspace in the Hat District please contact hatdistrict@lutonculture.com.

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