Preston will have a striking new city centre event space in time for the summer under plans revealed today for the first of the city’s ‘Pop-Up’ projects.

The MET – which stands for Mobile Event Tent – will be installed in the city’s Harris Quarter and will play host to an array of events later this year, helping bring people back into the city centre and supporting businesses hit hard by the pandemic.

The project is being funded from £1m of initial funding the city secured from the government’s Towns Fund for a series of ‘Pop-up’ regeneration projects in the Harris Quarter. The city received a total of £20.9m from the Towns Fund in March to support its wider Harris Quarter Investment Programme.

The contemporary structure, which has been designed and developed in Preston, will be made from specially adapted shipping containers, a state-of-the-art fabric cover, and other materials to create an inspiring 150 square metre space capable of accommodating up to 100 people.

The MET will play a key role in encouraging people back into the city centre, generating economic activity, and providing work for local artists. A planning application for the structure has been submitted to Preston City Council.

It will initially be situated on the site of the proposed Animate cinema and leisure development next to Preston Market with the ability to move it to other city centre locations when needed. The cinema development is one of the projects that forms part of the wider Harris Quarter Investment Programme.

John Chesworth, chair of the Preston Partnership, said: “The Pop-Ups programme is just the start of what will be a sustained programme of investment in the city centre using the Towns Fund money we’ve secured.

“We’re incredibly excited to unveil these plans for The MET which will provide a truly unique event space for arts, culture, and other events including theatre, live music, business conferences, exhibitions and community events.

“As the lockdown restrictions continue to be eased, it’s imperative we do all we can to encourage people to come back into the city centre and to get it bustling once again.

“Providing we can do it safely, we hope to have the space in situ for the end of July and will soon be able to reveal a packed events programme that will provide something for everyone during the second half of the year.”

The MET project has been developed by Preston Partnership and Preston City Council in partnership with ‘In Certain Places’ a research centre within UCLan’s School of Arts and Media.

It has been designed by project architect Charlie MacKeith of Research Design, while visual artist Jenny Steele has been appointed to curate interiors to reflect Preston’s diverse cultural heritage. Preston City Council’s events team has played a key role in devising the events programme.

Professor Charles Quick, Professor of Public Art Practice at UCLan, said: “This will be an important piece of community cultural infrastructure, which like projects in the past and present, will not only contribute to the lives of people in Preston and surrounding districts, but will attract attention from much further afield. It will continue the tradition of Preston as somewhere that is the first to test new physical, architectural, and social structures.

“The event team are in the process of finalising a programme that will allow people to participate in arts and culture once again and that will create employment for local artists who have been hit hard by the pandemic.”

The MET will be a fully accessible space. When not in use, all its components can be stored easily within the shipping containers which can be transported easily using a special lift system. The structure has been designed to have a minimum lifespan of five years but is likely to remain in use much longer, complementing the city’s other event spaces including the Guild Hall and The Harris.

As well as The MET, the Pop-Ups programme will bring together new public artworks and improvements to public realm infrastructure, all aimed at boosting visitor activity as the city recovers from the impact of the coronavirus pandemic. More details on the other Pop-Up projects will be revealed in the coming weeks.

The wider Towns Fund projects revealed in March will breathe new life into some of the Harris Quarter’s heritage assets, key buildings and open spaces to create a diverse culture, leisure and employment offering. The Harris Quarter Investment Programme is part of the Preston’s 15-year City Investment Plan.

The Harris Quarter includes the buildings, public spaces and streets surrounding The Harris Museum, Preston Markets, The Guild Hall and the bus station. Projects that will benefit from the funding include:

  • ‘Harris Your Place’: The refurbishment of the Grade I listed Harris Museum, Art Gallery & Library, enhancing and protecting the building for generations to come.
  • Animate – Cinema and Leisure Scheme: The delivery of a new cinema and bowling attraction with food and drink venues, a car park and public square next to Preston Markets.
  • Renewal of Harris Quarter Assets: Investment to support the redevelopment of publicly-owned buildings in the Harris Quarter to support new cultural and community uses.
  • Illuminate and Integrate: A project to deliver improved pedestrian and cycleway infrastructure, street lighting and other public realm improvements within the Harris Quarter
  • Animation of Public Spaces: A project to fund the co-ordination of events in new and existing public spaces in the Harris Quarter.
  • Preston Youth Zone: The development of Preston Youth Zone as a state-of-the-art facility for young people in Preston aged eight to 19.

The city’s bid for support from the Towns Fund was led by the Preston Partnership whose members include local businesses, organisations and individuals passionate about the growth and development of Preston.

The Towns Fund is a £3.6 billion fund established by the government to level up towns and cities around the country. In September 2019, 100 towns and cities in England were invited to put forward proposals for funding from the Towns Fund.

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