Glimmer of hope for under threat historic home
Campaigners who tried to save a historic house condemned to the wrecking ball despite its pivotal role in the formation of the Berkeley Institute are to continue their fight.
Duncan Simons of Wantley Matters, a pressure group set up to save Wantley, on Princess Street, Hamilton, said members were working on proposals to preserve the building.
Mr Simons, an architect, added: “Our view is that Wantley is a part of our collective identity as a Bermudian people.
“We are trying to harness the resources of our community to bring a new and adaptive reuse of the building.”
Mr Simons said: “Whatever we do has to have a public benefit.
“We can’t just save the building for the sake of saving the building. That’s just not enough.”
Wantley was built in 1875 by Samuel Robinson.
Mr Robinson organised a meeting at his home four years later with six other men and established the Berkeley Educational Society to raise funds for a school for Black children in a segregated Bermuda.
The Berkeley Institute opened 18 years later in the Samaritans’ Lodge on Court Street.
Mr Simons said the group contacted the Government in July to discuss alternatives to demolition.
The Berkeley Educational Society represented the group at a meeting with the Bermuda Housing Corporation, who own the property.
Mr Simons said: “They formally responded to us in mid-September with a deadline of October 31 for us to get a proposal to them.”
Mr Simons added he and other architects had been examined the condition of the building to determine the cost of restoration and other committees had focused on potential uses for the building.
Mr Simons said: “It has to have a cultural and commercial benefit.
“It is only worth it to everyone if it has a wider benefit.”
He added some of the options being considered for the site were for “cultural institution” or a business incubator.
Mr Simons said that about half of the property was open space – which was in short supply in North East Hamilton.
He added: “There is an option to create a micro-park or some sort of public green space on the site as well.”
Mr Simons said that if the Government gave the group the green light, they would have to launch a fundraising effort.
He added: “We are going into this with the mindset that the Government are not in a position to allocate funds for this and that it is going to have to be owner-supported.
“I don’t think we want to ask the Government to renovate the building into its former state in the current climate.”
Mr Simons said that the Government had said it was willing to work with the group.
He added: “We are working towards putting a preliminary viable proposal together so that the Government is confident enough to proceed with engaging more with the group.
“It is our hope that in November that they would be willing to work with us.”
He said that Wantley had major architectural and historic significance, but that the building was almost 150 years old and was in a “terrible state”.
Mr Simons added: “From an electrical and plumbing standpoint, it needs a complete renewal.
“There was a fire there, so there is serious roof damage in a portion of the building. It has been partially demolished.”
He said: “If it was just some random building, you would demolish and rebuild, which is what the BHC was intent on doing until Wantley Matters brought it to the public’s attention.”
The BHC bought Wantley in 2008 and the Bermuda Economic Development Corporation early last year looked at using the building as its headquarters.
But the house was damaged by a fire last December and a structural appraisal found that a “complete overhaul” – estimated to cost at least $1.2 million – would be needed.
BHC applied for permission to level the house in April, which was approved in May.
But several groups later united to appeal to the Government to reconsider.
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