What's New in Buxton?
PUBLISHED: 11:55 17 January 2013 | UPDATED: 22:38 20 February 2013
New developments mean 2013 looks set to be a memorable year for one of<br/><br/>Britain's most beautiful towns. Mike Smith reports...
There was an outbreak of general rejoicing in Buxton last August when the erection of scaffolding on the Crescent meant that steps were finally being taken to save the jewel in Buxtons crown. Two months later another of the towns grand old buildings was opened as a brilliant new facility for the university and an adventurous new festival was launched. In November, yet another festival was inaugurated and Team Buxton unveiled the first of its imaginative efforts to boost the towns retail sector. These are exciting times for Buxton!
The Crescent takes shape
The Crescent was commissioned in 1780 by the 5th Duke of Devonshire as the first step in his scheme to transform Buxton into a spa to rival Bath. John Carr of York responded by coming up with a building that was even more ambitious in design than the crescents in Bath and was fashioned to accommodate two hotels, an assembly room, a town house for the Duke, various lodging houses and a series of shops. Subsequently, thermal and natural baths were added to the range and a pump room was built across the road.
By the late 20th century, the Crescent had become a home for the St Anns Hotel and the towns library, but the demise of the hotel and the discovery of structural problems in the rest of the building led to its closure in 1992. Now, thanks to an agreement between the Trevor Osborne Property Group, CP Holdings, Danubius Hotels, High Peak Borough Council and Derbyshire County Council, two decades of despair about the state of the Crescent are coming to an end with a promise of restoration followed by conversion into a building that will shine brighter than ever as the jewel in Buxtons crown.
Enabling works, which began last August, involve the demolition of incongruous additions at the rear of the building, removal of the dining room of the former St Anns Hotel and elimination of structural and flooding risks in the foundations. All this work, plus the restoration of the pump room, is due for completion in April, when the conversion of the Grade I listed building into a 79-bedroom luxury hotel and spa will go out to competitive tender.
Expanding on his vision for the Crescent, Trevor Osborne said: The hotel will have thermal and natural mineral water spas, shops and a visitor centre. At the rear, there will be a new colonnaded square designed in sympathy with Carrs original plans, a new restaurant and both indoor and outdoor swimming pools. Turning his attention to the Pump Room, he painted a wonderful picture of musicians playing on its flat roof and entertaining an audience seated on the Slopes, the gardens which rise immediately behind the building. Trevor also assured me that his determination to complete the project, which will bring enormous benefits to Buxton, is shared by all the partners in the ambitious 35 million scheme.
To the manor re-born
The 5th Dukes conversion of Buxton into a spa prompted a building boom that saw the erection of numerous villas in the town. One such villa is Oaklands Manor, which was recently used, together with 58 acres of woodland, as a centre where young people could prepare for expeditions organised by World Challenge. The manor and the woods have now been bought by Derby University and converted into Oaklands Manor Outdoor Leadership Centre. Enthusing about this new facility, Dr Peter Dewhurst, Strategic Director of the University of Derby Buxton, told me, Our purchase of the centre means that our outdoor, adventure and countryside management degree students will have a dedicated space right on the doorstep where they can develop their leadership, management and outdoor activity skills.
The outdoor facilities include a 30ft climbing wall, an underground caving course, three low rope courses and a series of high ropes where students are challenged to make a leap of faith from a very small platform at the top of a very tall pole. Oaklands Manor has classrooms, accommodation, meeting rooms and a handy drying room.
As well as responding to outdoor challenges, the students will be responsible for marketing the centre on a commercial basis to schools, youth groups, uniformed organisations and companies as a venue for outdoor programmes and team-building activities. Dr Dewhurst said: By providing our students with real-world learning through lots of direct practical, leadership, management and commercial experience, we can ensure that they will be work-ready as soon as they graduate, not least for employment in the sort of jobs that are vital to the Peak Districts economy. In fact, they will be the kind of students that employers have long been asking universities to produce.
The big adventure
The Oaklands Manor centre was opened last October by Kenton Cool, a climber who has reached the summit of Everest a remarkable ten times. Kenton was the first of several big names from the world of adventure to appear in Buxton that weekend because the opening ceremony also marked the launch of the Buxton Adventure Festival, which has been given a three-year sponsorship deal by the university and was organised by Lissa Cook and Matt Heason.
Inspirational people from Derbyshire who gave presentations at the new festival included: Derby-born Squash Falconer, the first British woman to paraglide from the top of Mont Blanc; Maddie Thompson, Castletons 17-year-old Paralympic basketball player; Bamfords John Beatty, the renowned travel photographer; and Belpers Gordon Staniforth, who has written a book about his twin brothers brush with death on a climbing expedition. Another star attraction was Gary Connery, who gained fame when he jumped from a helicopter dressed as the Queen during the opening ceremony of the Olympic Games.
Buxton is already known for its summer festivals, but this new festival will extend the tourist season and underline the towns credentials as a centre for lovers of the great outdoors. Delighted by the publics response, Lissa said, 850 people attended the ten talks and all the people who filled in feedback forms said they would come again and that they would recommend the Adventure Festival to other people.
The world of cinema
Yet another new Buxton festival took place when the Festival of World Cinema was held over four days in November. Keith Savage, the driving force behind Buxton Film, which has been showing films at the Paupers Pit and organising a competition for makers of short films for a number of years, told me, Our idea for this first international festival, which used the Pavilion Arts Centre as well as the Paupers Pit, was to make it as wide-ranging as possible so that we could test the publics reaction. As well as British films, we showed films from India, Turkey, Norway, Spain, Argentina, Germany, France and America.
Seventeen feature films were screened, along with three award-winning short films, including The Cull, filmed on a farm in Hathersage. Among the full-length films were two Hitchcock classics and a Bollywood production called Om Shanti Om, which Keith described as having something for everyone love, death, reincarnation, plus lots of singing and dancing. With festivals covering Gilbert and Sullivan, literature, opera, adventure and film, Buxton can now boast that its festival season has something for everyone.
The restoration of the Crescent, the ongoing development of the university and the introduction of new festivals will all benefit the towns shopkeepers, who need all the help they can get in these difficult economic times. Further assistance is coming from a 10,000 government grant and from the response to this cash boost by the new Team Buxton, comprising representatives from lots of existing local groups such as Transition Buxton, Vision Buxton, the Civic Association, Buxton Traders, the Buxton Group and the pressure group Buxton against Tesco.
By pooling ideas and skills, Team Buxton is coming up with imaginative schemes to boost the towns retail sector. When I met with three members of the team, I was struck by their shared vision and sense of purpose. Janet Miller, from Transition Buxton, Jean Ball, a former town centre manager for Buxton, and Joe Dugdale, who has valuable experience with Rural Action Derbyshire, told me about some of the first results of the teams brainstorming.
At least 30 local traders took part in a Christmas Crawl, which invited shoppers to visit all the participating businesses in order to qualify for entry into a draw for a 1,000 prize, whilst opening their eyes to the diversity and quality of the towns independent shops. A town-wide Spring Fair is being planned, in order to spread the message that Lower and Higher Buxton offer one continuous shopping experience, and the towns first pop-up shop has come into being at Fiveways Corner, where an empty store has been turned into a gallery and work space for local artists and artisans, thanks to the generosity of owner Julie Collins who is offering the new tenants a years free rent.
Apparently, the name of the new business, Green Man Gallery, was inspired by the traffic lights outside the building. With this and other initiatives in the pipeline, it is certainly green for go with regard to Team Buxtons efforts to boost independent shops in a place that already has so much going for it as a university and festival town with superb architecture and a wonderful setting.