Work on the iconic old Co-op building in Newcastle takes shape

A £17m project to renovate the much-loved Co-op building in Newcastle is underway and is expected to be completed by December 2015


A £17m project to breathe new life into the much-loved Co-op building in Newcastle is taking shape.

Construction on the Grade-II listed structure began in April and is expected to be completed by December 2015. When finished it will contain a 184-bedroom Premier Inn hotel, other retail outlets and a large gym.

The Newgate Street building and adjoining multi-storey car park were bought for £9m from the Co-operative Group by DTZ Investment Management. The work is being carried out on its behalf by Interserve Plc. It will involve more than 600 people and a target has been set of 80% of staff coming from the region.

Meanwhile, Interserve aims to place 80% of the project’s £17m contract value with local businesses.

Due to the history of the site, and the complexity of the work, the firm has employed heritage consultant Sarah Dyer, who said: “It’s an amazing building which is revealing something new to us almost every day on the build.”

It was constructed in two stages, on St Andrew’s Street in 1902 while the Art Deco building followed in 1930.

The Co-op there closed in 2011. From then until it was bought in March this year it suffered serious deterioration caused by the elements - water damage was a great concern - as well as vandals and thieves. In August 2012 the four clocks at the top of the building were stolen by thieves posing as builders in hi vis jackets.

They are to be replaced with three clocks and a barometer made by specialist firm Smith’s of Derby which made the original clocks too, one of a series of coincidences linked to the build.

The work on the famous staircase with the balustrade ‘carried’ by rail men is being done by John Aynsley and Co, again the company which made the original. Now based in Whitley Bay, in the early part of the 20th century the company had a forge on nearby Stowell Street.

Sarah said: “We think John Aynsley’s great great grandfather actually worked on the original.”

She added the building style had Egyptian influences, as was typical of some grand buildings of the time, as it was the era of the discovery of Tutankhamun’s Tomb.

“We had our own Tutankhamun moment,” laughed Sarah. “An old arcade was discovered which we didn’t know was there.”

As a result of the find, rather than being demolished it is to be taken down piece-by-piece - “like a meccano set,” said Sarah - before being returned and re-built on site.

A war memorial, dedicated to Co-op staff who lost their lives in the two World Wars is to be removed then brought back and given pride of place when it re-opens.

Newcastle City Council leader Nick Forbes and Newcastle Central MP Chi Onwurah were given a tour of the site.

Coun Forbes said: “It’s one of the buildings people write to me most about asking what’s happening to it. I’m delighted it’s going to be refurbished sympathetically.”

Ms Onwurah added: “People have a sense of familiarity with it and having it back and working in the city centre is going to be great.”


David Whetstone
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Graeme Whitfield
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