Worcester’s railway arches are set to be transformed into a major new cultural destination for the city, providing a hub for business and creative skills development.

The Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, Jeremy Wright MP, has today awarded £3m in funding to this ambitious £4.5m project, from the Cultural Development Fund. This is a new DCMS / Arts Council England fund that focuses on developing the economic impact of creative industries, arts and heritage.

The funding will be used to create a new key gateway for the city, following the line of the Victorian arches from Foregate Street railway station to The Hive and the river Severn.

Eight of the arches will be refurbished, becoming dynamic work and creative spaces, transforming the area into a modern, 21st Century workplace for creative industries, and a cultural destination for tourists and local communities. 

A leadership and entrepreneurial skills programme will be developed to encourage graduates and others to seek pathways into employment and business start-up, with 67 new jobs being created and over 500 training places.

A Festivals Hub will be established in the arches, delivering festivals and cultural events across Worcester. The Festivals Hub will support festival organisers, encouraging skills development and volunteer opportunities in the creative industries.

The arches will also host an information point for tourists visiting the city, and continue to be a thriving vibrant home for independent retail and food offers. 

The project will include improvements to the environment of the arches area, including new lighting and surfacing of the walkway, as well as key infrastructure including electricity and plumbing to the spaces that will be created within the individual arches.

The funding bid was successfully prepared by Worcester Cultural Partnership, which will match it with a further £1.5m. The Partnership is led by Worcester City Council and comprises:

  • The University of Worcester
  • Severn Arts
  • Network Rail
  • Worcestershire Arts Partnership
  • Worcestershire County Council
  • Local businesses including Burger Shop / A Rule of Tum, Method Roastery and The Hive.

Culture Secretary Jeremy Wright said: “Creativity, arts and heritage make our towns and cities unique and our communities better places to live. With clear plans in place, this funding has the potential to make Worcester a more exciting place to live, work and visit, attracting further investment and creating jobs. This is an incredible opportunity for Worcester to build on its industrial heritage to create a vibrant cultural hub for the local community.”

Councillor Marc Bayliss, Leader of Worcester City Council, said: “Revitalising Worcester’s historic arches is a key part of our vision for the city centre, and I welcome this funding that will help us unite our city’s heritage and its vibrant future. The arches will become a key skills training base for the city, a cultural hub, tourist destination and a new pedestrian key route.”

Professor David Green CBE, Vice Chancellor and Chief Executive of the University of Worcester, said: “The renovation and fresh use of the railway arches will create a modern, 21st century centre for the creative industries in Worcester. These industries bring so much enjoyment, employment and benefit to our society. Their growth in Worcester will enrich the City and County, encouraging many more of our talented graduates to remain in the City and create fresh economic prosperity and cultural dynamism. Winning this bid and the opening of the new University of Worcester Art House means that 2019 is shaping up to be a red-letter year for art, culture, creativity and industry in Worcester.”

Laura Worsfold, Chief Executive of Severn Arts, said: “We are delighted that Worcester has been awarded this funding in recognition of our aspiration and ambition to become a centre for excellence in creative skills and to deliver a high quality, innovative festivals programme that encourages new and existing audiences to participate in the arts. This will have a significant impact on transforming this part of the city into a vibrant new artistic quarter for everyone. Severn Arts is at a pivotal moment in its development as a cultural charity, supporting music education and the arts, and looks forward to being a partner in this exciting venture.”

Rupert Davison, joint director and proprietor of the Burger Shop in the arches, said: “This exciting news will not only benefit our business, it will be the start of the creation of a new fantastic independent quarter for Worcester that will become a really great destination in the city. We have enjoyed working closely with Worcester City Council, Network Rail and the University of Worcester to make this a reality and it’s a privilege to be working with some really forward-thinking people for Worcester’s Masterplan, connecting the high street to The Hive and the river, past these beautiful Victorian railway arches.”

Mark Chislett, Co-founder of Method Coffee Roasters in the arches, said: “Relocating our business to Worcester arches last year we could see the huge potential of the area to be a focal point for makers and artisan producers like us – somewhere we could connect with the wider community and create a space to showcase our work and offer a quality experience. I think the success of this bid is huge news for Worcester. City centres need to work harder than ever to stand out and attract visitors – I believe that’s exactly what this project can do.”

Derek Brace, Portfolio Manager at Network Rail, landlords of the arches, said: “We are committed to working with partners to deliver a diverse use for railway arches across the country and we believe they can play an important role in economic regeneration. This imaginative project will turn Worcester’s arches into one of the city’s top destinations and help our existing tenants there to grow their businesses.”

Councillor Lucy Hodgson, Worcestershire County Council Cabinet Member for Communities, said: “We’re absolutely thrilled that Worcester has been successful in its bid to the Cultural Development Fund. Today’s announcement means we now have a fantastic opportunity to further strengthen our cultural offer within the County and we are delighted to be an active part in this bid. This £3million investment will be a huge boost for tourism and the redeveloped arches will offer something new and exciting to residents and visitors to the city, especially as there will be a number of events and festivals taking place there throughout the year.”

Revitalising the arches to provide a new pedestrian walkway from Foregate Street railway station is a key part of Worcester’s draft City Centre Masterplan, which is currently under consideration by the City Council.