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The Remarkable Renaissance Of Proud Mills

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27 Oct 2017

The decline of West Yorkshire’s once-thriving textile industry, and the proud mills which defined its landscape, has been well-documented. Today the mills are often either converted into bijou apartments or left as a reminder of a forgotton heritage. However these mills also offer an opportunity for the future.

The historic Sunny Bank Mills in Farsley, halfway between Leeds and Bradford is one such site. This iconic mill complex is being transformed by a high-quality regeneration programme to create inspirational working and living space for the 21st century.

Sunny Bank Mills has a rich textile history. The original mills date back to 1829 when they were built and the Gaunt family have been connected with them ever since. Current owners and directors John and William Gaunt have invested £6 million in Sunny Bank Mills during the past seven years to regenerate the 10-acre site and to reclaim its status as the prime employer in Farsley.

The Gaunts are passionate about reviving the family mills and promoting business and community in the village.

William Gaunt explained: “Our mission is to create an environment in which businesses, employees and visitors alike can take inspiration. We are returning the buildings to their former glory for future generations to enjoy. In much the same way as we produced the highest quality cloth, so we approach the regeneration of Sunny Bank Mills, to produce buildings of which we can be justly proud.”

Sunny Bank Mills has already been praised as a best-practice case study in a report Engines of Prosperity, on the conversion and regeneration of West Yorkshire’s textile mills prepared by Cushman and Wakefield on behalf of Historic England.

Meanwhile The Mending Rooms, a pivotal part of the mill complex, have recently been commended by the British Council of Offices, adding to awards from the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors in 2015 and the Yorkshire Post in 2016.

John Gaunt commented: “We have already created 340 jobs at Sunny Bank Mills, with more than 70 companies on site. Our next phase, which will be developed over the next few years, will create at least 600 more and regenerate these lovely old buildings. We now have the flexibility, the time and the confidence to deliver a sustainable future for Sunny Bank Mills.

“We believe very strongly that we must preserve the legacy of Sunny Bank Mills for future generations. We are wholly our committed to the site and to the Farsley community, encouraging the community to become involved in what we are doing here.

“We have retained and refurbished existing historic buildings such as Sandsgate, the Mending Rooms, Red Lane Mill and the 1912 Mill, where Yorkshire Television filmed Emmerdale and Heartbeat, to create new jobs and make Sunny Bank Mills the economic powerhouse of Farsley once again.

“I think the pedigree of business which has relocated here already reflects the quality of the refurbishments being undertaken and that even in a challenging commercial property market, Sunny Bank Mills and Farsley can succeed in its mission of being a creative space for business,” he explained.

There is a wide variety of businesses on site, including an art gallery, a delicatessen, a pizzeria, a children’s nursery, a dental practice, a number of successful hi-tech and digital start-ups, photographic studios, a beautician, marketing agencies and architectural and design consultants.

Rachel Slater of Leeds-based architects Kilmartin Plowman and Partners, who have worked closely with the Gaunts, commented: “The mixture of uses, including retail, offices, studios and residential, allows The Gaunts to offer and deliver a sustainable development with employment opportunities at the heart of a thriving village.”

“Kilmartin Plowman & Partners have much experience in master planning large mixed use developments. However the unique opportunity to be involved with Sunny Bank Mills regeneration from its inception has been a remarkable experience, which continues to challenge and engage us,” she added.

Mike Haigh of Leeds-based property consultants Dove Haigh Phillips, who are joint marketing agents of the site with the Leeds office of JLL, said that this was one of the most significant mill regeneration projects currently being undertaken in Yorkshire.

He commented: “This is a genuinely exciting development. Steeped in history and with massive potential, Sunny Bank Mills is becoming one of the prime business locations in the West Leeds area. The number of lettings across so many sectors lettings underline this.

“The mix of historic buildings with first-class modern business facilities is a winning combination, whilst the location, in between Leeds and Bradford, close to Yorkshire’s superb motorway network, one mile from the nearest station and just five miles from Leeds- Bradford Airport, is perfect,” he said.

Stuart Andrew, MP for Pudsey, commented: “It is great to see the ambitious plans for Sunny Bank Mills coming to fruition. I have worked closely with some of the team at the Mills, and it has always struck me how they understand that the Mills play a very special part in our area’s history. Their plans have meant that through creating a state of the art multi-purpose space, they have been able to attract a lot of new and modern businesses.”

William Gaunt added: “Ultimately we are the guardians of this exceptional site. Whilst it has a tremendous history, we must look to the future. This is a labour of love and we are very conscious of the need to get it right, not just for us, but also for Farsley and future generations.”

The last word should go to one of Sunny Bank Mills’ commercial tenants, photographer Sue Wilson, who says: “When I first saw Sunny Bank Mills, I fell in love with it. I had looked at various other business premises in the Leeds area and none could compared with Sunny Banks in terms of atmosphere, attention to detail and quality of space. It is perfect for my business.”