A second chance to make a first impression

When Portland Works came into community ownership in 2013 it was in a truly shocking state of repair, having been neglected for many years. Anyone passing by the Works would have been forgiven for assuming the building was semi-derelict with little or no activity within. So, one of the ongoing priorities has always been to improve the Hill Street and Randall Street frontages. In the early years the random signage was removed from the exterior and the serious job of roof, gutter and downpipe replacement/repairs was taken forward with the help of the Building Volunteers – a tough and resilient band who have never shied away from a new challenge!


These two photos show the damaged and missing  gratings and the two below show one of the new gratings and another in the process of installation.


Friends of Portland Works has helped to raise much needed funding to carry on the repairs and restoration of the front elevation. Successful bids for financial assistance resulted in grants from The Pilgrim Trust, The Stuart Heath Settlement and the Freshgate Foundation. On Randall Street, 7 pavement level gratings were missing or beyond repair, and were replaced with a grant of £3189.60 from The Pilgrim Trust.

The new gratings were cast to match the originals by local company Durham Foundry and our volunteers carried out all the preparatory work including clearing out decades of rubbish from the wells below street level, removing rotten window frame in the basement, and securing the new grates into the pavement.

The original brickwork on the frontage of Portland Works is one of its glories, with impressive, patterned brick panels differentiated colour bricks for arches and other pleasing details. The problem was that down the years several original bricks had been lost and replaced with modern nonmatching ones. Also, due largely to inappropriate use of cement mortar, many bricks near street level had absorbed water and were slowly but surely disintegrating. Added to that one of the window arches has partially collapsed due to settlement. After many fruitless attempts to find salvaged bricks to match the colour and dimensions of the originals, it was agreed that we would have new bricks specially made in small batches. 800 were eventually sourced from a specialist supplier.

From 2020 to 2022 our heritage bricklayer (see photo above right) was regularly to be observed chipping away at the damaged bricks to completely remove them and replacing them carefully with the new bricks. She did such a great job that it is very difficult to tell the new from the old!



Brickwork on the Hill Street elevation before and after



Another aspect of the frontage improvements has been the removal of window frames that were assessed as beyond repair. 5 sets of sash windows were made by Lynthorpe Joinery in their Portland Works unit. All have now been primed and painted by volunteers. The final two frames have now been installed by volunteers.

The frames and brickwork were funded with a combination of grants from the Stuart Heath Settlement (£5,500.00) and the Freshgate Foundation (£3,000.)  All this work has been carried on against the background of the pandemic, which inevitably delayed progress; and rising raw material costs. To help fund the remaining work on the frontage, Friends has reserved up to £7,500 from its own fund-raising efforts. This is where our supporters have been so generous with their donations large or small.


Look out for further news on progress with the frontage.

Next time you are in the area look at the Hill Street and Randall Street frontages – and feel proud of the improvements!