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Feature: New start for town’s historic focal point

Developers Willmott Dixon handing over the keys to Harborough District Council in the foyer of the local authoritys revamped HQ, The Symington Building. From left, Carl Jackson of Willmott Dixon, Robert Symington, Cllr Peter Lewis from Leicestershire County Council, district council chief executive Anna Graves, district council leader Cllr  Blake Pain and Terry Downes of Willmott Dixon

Developers Willmott Dixon handing over the keys to Harborough District Council in the foyer of the local authoritys revamped HQ, The Symington Building. From left, Carl Jackson of Willmott Dixon, Robert Symington, Cllr Peter Lewis from Leicestershire County Council, district council chief executive Anna Graves, district council leader Cllr Blake Pain and Terry Downes of Willmott Dixon

After almost a year of redevelopment work at its headquarters in Adam and Eve Street, the construction company have handed back the keys to Harborough District Council.

Just before Christmas, the leader of Harborough District Council Cllr Blake Pain received the keys from Willmott Dixon, the contractor that has been leading on the refurbishment work.

It means the council can begin moving furniture and staff back into the building.

Cllr Pain said: “This was a great day for the council and the local community.

“The redeveloped building will be a fantastic community hub.”

The chief executive of the council Anna Graves added: “It’s taken a lot of hard work from a lot of people to get us to this point, so it’s exciting to be able to see the results starting to take shape.”

The red-brick building running along the top of Adam and Eve Street in Harborough has been the council’s headquarters for more than three decades.

But the building has been a focal point for the town for well over 100 years, ever since the Symington family started a corset factory on the site.

The Symington family has a long and distinguished relationship with Market Harborough. Brothers William and James Symington moved to the area from Scotland in the early 1800s and quickly started businesses in the town. William had a passion for creating dried foods that were good-quality and easy to prepare, and started a company selling tea, coffee and groceries.

Symington’s slogan is “providing great tasting food for over 180 years” and is still going strong today.

However, his brother James had different interests and started a haberdashery and stay-making business which opened a number of factories in the area.

In the 1880s, James’ sons built a new factory opposite Church Square, where 1,600 people were employed to make the corsets that fashionable women across the country were demanding.

James’ great-great-
grandson Robert Symington still lives in Leicestershire, although he has followed his great-great-uncle’s
example and now runs the thriving Seldom Seen farm in Billesdon that supplies to M&S and Michelin-starred restaurants, as well as the local community with everything from fruit and veg to their Christmas turkeys.

Robert’s father, Lindsay Symington, was chairman of the corset factory until it closed in the 1960s, and Robert has fond memories of the building.

He said: “It is an iconic building, and has always been central to the town. A large proportion of people who’ve lived in Harborough over the years have been employed by the Symington businesses, and the factories really did become central hubs for the community.

“I remember the social and sporting activities that were arranged for the workers in the corset factory, everything from hockey and darts clubs to dances and jamborees.”

The corset factory was taken over by the Courtaulds Group in 1967, and in 1980 some of the workrooms were converted into offices and sold to Harborough District Council. The factory finally closed in 1990, and since then the building has been home to staff providing a range of public services to the area, and the site of Harborough Museum and Harborough Library.

For the past year, the council has been redeveloping the building as part of its wider “transformation project”, agreed in November 2011, which sets out to save at least £3 million over the next five years by transforming the services offered by the council and the way it uses the council’s property assets.

Cllr Pain said: “The building will be a fantastic community resource, providing modern offices for council staff, an improved home for the museum and library and a new retail experience. I’m looking forward to it re-opening in 2014 so local people can see what we’ve achieved.”

Mrs Graves added: “This redevelopment has been a major project. The council has been working with a number of partner organisations on the redevelopment, and everybody involved has worked tirelessly.

“Once people see the building I’m sure they’ll agree it was all worth it.”

Paul Bremner, the councillor with responsibility for Harborough Council’s assets and finance, said: “The redevelopment of the council’s headquarters has been a focal project within our wider transformation process.

“It’s important that we provide the best facilities and services we can for the community, while also delivering value for money for local people. That’s why I’m so pleased the construction work has gone so smoothly and come in on budget and ahead of schedule.”

The building will re-open fully later this year as The Symington Building, a decision taken by the council to reflect its history.

At the topping-out ceremony just before Christmas, Robert Symington was given a chance to have a look round the building and was shown the original features that had been preserved.

He said: “It’s been great to look round the building and see the wonderful work the council and the construction firm have done to preserve its heritage. I’m delighted the building continues to evolve but will remain the hub of the town. Our family is very proud of our association with the town and local community, and were thrilled to hear that the council has kindly and respectfully decided to re-name its headquarters The Symington Building.

Over the coming months, the council and other partners will be moving back into the building. The council is continuing to operate from Millers House in Roman Way for now, with The Symington Building set to re-open later this month.

 

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