Wasps Studios is the UK’s largest not-for-profit provider of affordable creative workspace. In Jan 2018 Wasps acquired two Grade B Listed buildings in the centre of the Inverness. Formerly Inverness Royal Academy, the ‘Midmills’ buildings were designed by the prolific 19th Century Highland Architects Alexander Ross and Robert. J. Macbeth.
Inverness Creative Academy is a two phase project which is transforming these buildings to provide artists’ studios, workspaces for creative industries, individuals, and cultural social enterprises, as well as publicly accessible meeting, events, exhibition, café and workshop space. It will be the largest sustainable creative arts facility and community resource of its type in the Highlands and has been developed in response to, and alongside, the local creative community.
The buildings are central to the regeneration of the 4.6 ha city centre Midmills campus site and were in desperate need of repair, having lain empty, subject to break-in and vandalism, since becoming vacant in 2015. Led by LDN Architects, who also master planned the regeneration development, Wasps’ project provides a new, contemporary use for these important heritage buildings, removing a number of damaging interventions to restore the original spaces and features and return them to public use.
Built in 1895 and 1913 to designs inspired by the French Renaissance, the two school buildings have a prominent civic presence and many important architectural features. One of the first examples of a large, purpose built board school, for the best part of a century pupils travelled across the Highlands and Islands to spend term time being educated in these buildings. In 1979 when the school moved, the buildings went on to be occupied by Inverness College. These buildings have been at the forefront of cultural and educational life in the Highlands for over a century and have a special place in the heart of the community.
Works on Phase 1 started on 23 Jan 2018, and completed on Monday 18th Nov 2018.
Phase 1 restored the 1913 Arts and Science extension to create the ‘artists and makers’ wing. This extension contains some of the larger spaces the original school lacked including arts studios and a large, purpose built gymnasium – originally double height but compromised by the introduction of a suspended ceiling. A number of the original spaces were remarkably well suited to Wasps’ intended use. Wasps’ restoration, carried out by Robertons Construction, has created 32 artist studios, a community run traditional darkroom, and a large events space in the former gym hall. It also upgraded services in the building, installing new facilities, an access ramp and lift to make it suitable for public use.
Opening on 1st December, Phase 1 is now home to 31 working visual artists and the darkroom group which already has 16 members. A number of the tenants deliver creative learning workshops and a space in the building is designated for this use. There has been huge interest and support from the local community, and open day events during development and since completion have had record visitor numbers.
Supporting StatementWasps Studios and Creative Inverness are jointly nominating Phase 1 of Inverness Creative Academy for a MyPlace Award as a project which sensitively restored and provides new, sustainable use to an important historic asset in Inverness whilst addressing a long-standing evidenced regional need. The project is the result of collaboration and consultations carried out with the Highlands creative community since 2015. The final building delivers against Wasps mission and vision, whilst retaining and nurturing creative talent in the Highlands, engaging local people in creative activity, and contributing to the local economy.
Wasps has been operating in Scotland for 41 years and was set up to provide good quality, affordable studio space, enabling artists to carry out their work and develop their practice within the communities which they call home. Wasps has an established track record in redeveloping and managing historic buildings for use as creative centres, and our core operations are designed to be fully self-financing once established.
Creative Inverness is a social media platform with aims to raise the profile of the city’s creativity, coordinating networking events and opportunities for artists living in the Highlands. The organisations began working together in 2015 after Wasps was approached by the Scottish Cities Alliance to investigate the need for a creative hub in the heart of the region.
Surveys and consultation events generated 500+ responses and highlighted a drastic lack of creative studio, exhibition or meeting space in a city which forms the focal point for a visual arts, craft and design community which is prolific, but spread out across a vast region, often working in isolation.
The scale, location and historical relevance of the Midmills buildings presented the perfect opportunity to address these needs and develop a unique and ambitious facility. The buildings contain a series of generous spaces which are remarkably well suited to the needs of the project. Working with LDN Architects and Robertons Construction, we had the expertise to reinstate some significant architectural features and spaces - severely compromised by a century of interventions and heavy use, but which now form a spectacular and inspiring base for the community using the building. Delivering the project in two phases allowed us to secure the fabric of both buildings, and develop much needed artists spaces in Phase 1 whilst raising support for Phase 2.
The size and challenges involved in bringing these buildings back into use meant that the project is unlikely to have been feasible for either a private developer or a community group. The suitability of the buildings alongside Wasps sustainable model was a unique opportunity with a number of benefits:
- Providing sustainable new use to ‘at risk’ heritage
- Retaining creative talent in the Highlands
- Providing suitable workspace for working artists and creatives
- Supporting local graduates into sustainable careers
- Encouraging public participation in the arts and heritage
- Contributing to the local economy and an active, connected community
The project was supported by the Scottish Government, HIE, UHI, Highland Council, Inverness City Heritage Trust, HLF and a private developer.