Seldom Seen – Introduction to Piel Island Visitor Centre Project

In 2011 Art Gene were working in partnership with Barrow Borough Council and Barrow Regeneration on a suite of regeneration projects which collectively were to test a new Art Gene concept: ‘Barrow-by-Design’; exploring the role of artists, architects and communities in Re-Visioning the regeneration of the Social, Natural and Built Environment.

The Piel Island Visitor Centre project was key to extending the reach of Barrow-by-Design from the industrial heart of the town and out into the wild and remote internationally recognised wildlife habitats which collectively form the Islands of Barrow.

In 2011 the Borough Council was already undertaking a total refurbishment of the 18th c. Ship Inn on Piel Island from a near derelict state. Additional funds were needed to bring the project to fruition, particularly with regard to the interior fit out. Art Gene worked with the Council to secure funding through CABE Sea-Change to provide high quality interior finishes, furniture and interpretation.

The process began by mapping the Islands of Barrow; their hidden assets, mythologies and histories from a time before Barrow existed, when the islands were controlled by Furness Abbey, once the second most powerful Cistercian monastery in the country, which farmed the islands, built its wealth through trade, and errected Piel Castle as a fortified trading post; through its birth as an industrial power house with what was once the largest iron works in the world; its move into ship building for almost every nation and later airship production and the gradual specialism in submarine production, which continues today, to the most recent industrial incursion – establishing the largest offshore wind farm in the world, yet around half of the Borough is still made up of rare internationally recognised wildlife habitats.

Barrow-in-Furness is challenging more than nurturing yet fascinating none the less: it encapsulates many tensions which inspire us in our attempt to understand and resolve them; the ongoing collision of industry (man) and nature, here, lies at the heart of the most current and urgent of debates in an age of global warming.

Barrow carries the can for our nation’s post imperial desire to maintain a place at the top table of world government. it provides our most potent ‘status symbol’ and bargaining chip; our independent nuclear deterrent.

Many think of Barrow as a post industrial town but it is actually a rare survivor, sanctioned by our national desire for international clout and very little else, it is now almost unique in Britain – an industrial town in a post industrial age: an industrial ‘island’; remote in a landscape of islands, featuring rare habitats, people and places formed amidst the perpetually shifting sands of its coastline and those being kicked around inside the ‘big top’ of a politically contentious circus.

Background

Art Gene were commissioned by Barrow Borough Council as part of a Sea Change funded project to create unusual new and informative items within the Ship Inn on Piel Island.

This page details some of our work to create a ‘Pub as Visitor Centre’ where bite-sized pieces of information about the Natural and Industrial History and mythology of Piel and the wider Islands of Barrow is imparted through the furniture fixtures and fittings.

Community consultation and engagement events have been funded by the Sir John Fisher Foundation, Arts Council England,and Barrow Borough Council through our Design Cafe Programme. Documentation of some of the Design Cafe events and other aspects of the project can be viewed by clicking on the links below in further reading.