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York academics lead partnership to revitalise famous York Street

Posted on 15 November 2021

A project to breathe new life into one of York’s historic streets has been given the go-ahead after receiving funding of almost half a million pounds from the Government’s Community Renewal Fund.


The team will be installing a newly-restored press on Coney Street as part of the Street Life project. Credit: University of York, Alex Holland.

Street Life aims to bring the history of Coney Street to the fore and give the iconic thoroughfare a new and vibrant post-pandemic future.

The University of York-led project will create apprenticeships and a number of job opportunities across the heritage and creative sectors, and revitalise empty shops. 

The project is led by Professor Rachel Cowgill from the Department of Music (and Creativity Research Champion for the University), Dr Kate Giles from the Departments of Archaeology, and History’s Heritage360 research centre, and Professor Helen Smith from the Department of English and Related Literature and involves multiple partners from across the city.

Heritage

It will offer reskilling and development opportunities to volunteers and other members of the local community, alongside workshops co-designed with York Civic Trust and the York Conservation Trust. Partners also include the City of York Council and the York Music Venue Network.

 The project will see empty premises transformed into an innovative pop-up printing press, museum and gallery, and adapted for live and digital performance and heritage activities.

Local businesses will be invited to explore new ways of understanding their history and heritage and to use these insights into the past to develop creative and commercial opportunities.

Immersive

Project lead, Professor Cowgill said: “Working closely with the community, we aim to celebrate York’s rich heritage and vibrant creative spirit through innovative, immersive experiences, which will combine digital innovation and physical engagement.

“Pop-up activities and virtual experiences will include musical performances, digital music-making, hands-on letterpress printing workshops, and the chance to step back into York’s colourful past via the city’s amazing archives and cultural collections." 

Dr Giles added: “We hope the project will be a blueprint for other cities facing similar challenges of finding new uses for historic high streets and bringing more people back to city centres -  problems made more urgent by the pandemic.”

Unique

From historic coaching inn The George, where John Vanbrugh and the Brontës once stayed, to the majestic Guildhall and bustling waterfront, Coney Street has been the site of many important buildings and businesses, representing so much of what makes York unique. 

Coney Street (the King’s Street) was the site of the Roman bridge; the centre of civic governance following the construction of the Guildhall and a place of residence for York’s medieval Jewish community. 

In later centuries, the street was known for its great coaching inns, including The Bull, The George, and the Bagnio Turkish Baths. During the eighteenth century the street became known for its craftsmen, banking businesses and printing industries and was home to the York Courant, the Yorkshire Evening Post and York Herald.

Resilience

 In the nineteenth and twentieth centuries it housed local and national retailers, including piano and organ warehouses and the department store Leak and Thorp (built on the site of The George in 1869) as well as the Ebor Hall, Picture House Cinema (later City Screen) and The Willow Café and Nightclub. 

Although the street was heavily bombed in 1942, its reconstruction reflected the resilience and entrepreneurial spirit of the City. 

Andrew Morrison, CEO of the York Civic Trust said: “For 75 years York Civic Trust has been at the heart of thinking about how we can look after our amazing heritage whilst using it as a source of inspiration for creativity and culture for residents and visitors to the city.

 “Historic High Streets like Coney Street are repositories of powerful heritage stories for businesses to draw on to create authentic and enriching experiences. We look forward to working with the University of York to think about how we can bring people together to debate the future of historic High Streets like Coney Street.”

The project hopes to achieve long term benefits including helping York to reach virtual visitors and convert them to real tourists, aiding post-pandemic recovery and renewal and piloting carbon-zero approaches to sustainability in transport, adaptive reuse and city-centre living and working.