Portland Works is an old cutlery factory, built in the 1870s for a firm who were apparently the first manufacturers of stainless steel cutlery in the world. Some of the space was used as workshops which were let to other small manufacturers, and this has continued ever since. There are still some metal workers there, but also artists, musicians and other craftspeople.
In 1995, the building was Grade II listed by English Heritage, and in 2003 this was upgraded to Grade II* status. In 2009, the owner put in a planning application to turn it into flats.
Some people didn’t like the sound of that, and in late 2009 the campaign to save Portland Works was started by a committed group of tenants, local people, councillors and academics. You can read more about it here – it’s quite a story.
Rather impressively, in less than two years, the campaign managed to raise over £250,000 in shares and bought the building, which is now run as a social enterprise. The tenants remain, and the community benefit society set up to own the works has started the (long) process of renovation.
Well, I can be a bit soppy sometimes. I don’t have any special interest in cutlery, and I confess I get a little tired of the steel-based everything waved around this city sometimes, but I’m a sucker for a bit of community spirit, and I’m inclined to support anything that slows the rampage of flats across the landscape.
I also feel quite strongly that if you want good things to happen, you should be willing to do something to help make them happen. This seemed like a good thing, and so I bought some shares.
What with one thing and another, I never got round to visiting. The works isn’t open to the public (or even the shareholders!) during the day. It’s a hotbed of small scale industrial activity, so this is quite understandable. And I missed every single open day for an entire year. But a couple of weekends ago I finally made it over there to survey my (kind of) domain.
It was all rather exciting. I grabbed a cup of tea and a biscuit (of course) and followed my old PhD supervisor (now thankfully relieved of this duty, and instead a loyal member of the campaign group) up wonky staircases and through draughty workshops, peering through broken windows at rusty bits of machinery.
I love old buildings, especially old industrial buildings that have seen some life. This one feels lived in, but also alive. I love the way the community has pulled together to say no, but also yes. Yes to affordable workshop space for local manufacturers. Yes to history. Yes to finding solutions, working together, plotting for the future.
I love it when old buildings are used, and I especially love it that this one is being used for the purpose it was built for. I’m glad that in a tiny way I helped to make that possible.