Wigan Pier revamp completion hoped for by the summer
Work will recommence in earnest on the Wigan Pier transformation project within days.
And those behind the scheme say they hope that it will all be up and running by August.
The multi-million-pound project has been dogged by delays since it was first announced in 2018, not least the amount of work needed to renovate the canalsoide buildings, a global pandemic and a shortage of available labour.
But those obstacles are, it is to be hoped, largely in the past and it is scheduled that the fitting out process will get under way in mid-February.
Almost a year ago the Wigan Observer noted that activity around the former Way We Were museum, education centre and Orwell had noticeably quietened as new Covid restrictions bit and external restorations to the historic buildings neared completion.
But it was predicted that the place would soon be swarming with contractors as fitting-out got under way in earnest.
And it was hoped that the enterprise - which involves Manchester-based developer Step Places, Wigan Council, The Old Courts and the Canal and River Trust - would be ready for opening in the late summer of 2021.
The old museum is to become home to a food hall, gin distillery and microbrewery, including vending stalls similar to those found at the hugely successful Mackie Mayor venue in Manchester.
The education centre will be re-born and the old Orwell will become an events facility.
But the work virtually ground to a halt because there was such massive demand for skilled workers as lockdown eased that the Pier project found itself in a very long queue.
Certain external improvements have also been delayed by the Wallgate roadworks which are expected to be complete in mid-January after a Christmas break.
Thereafter it is all systems go, says Harinder Dhaliwal, managing director Step Places.
He said: “There have inevitably been frustrations. We had hoped to have got everything open by now. But there were circumstances beyond our control which meant that this didn’t happen.
“But everything is still positive. We have had workers inside the buildings recently sorting out some damp-proofing and one more external thing we will soon be able to address is the big double doors on Wallgate which we have not been able to tackle because of the roadworks.
“We have got contractors sorted and all the internal drawings, and by mid-February the fitting out of the all the interiors should get under way and we have been told that that should take about six months so we are looking at an August opening. We are as keen as mustard to get things going.
“Hopefully we will not encounter any further obstacles because this is going to be a fantastic venture once it is open.”
The final piece of the jigsaw will be the re-landscaping of the area between the two main buildings.
That is being left until last because of all the heavy machinery required to complete all the other components of the project.
Mr Dhaliwal said that the “unique and historic” buildings had continued to present technical design challenges, not least because there is a lot of wood in the structure.
He also gave an example of decisions having to be made where to put extraction flues in relation to the preparation of food on the premises.
Yet he said it was good to “stress test” these challenges and that everyone was learning from what is a “fascinating project.”
Residents are also now preparing to move into the nearby canalside town houses which were built while the renovation works were happening at the Pier.
It is understood that some are still available for purchase though.
Back in the 1980s and 1990s Wigan Pier’s attractions drew more visitors than anywhere else in the North West apart from Blackpool Pleasure Beach.
Opened by Her Majesty The Queen, The Way We Were became acclaimed for its cast of actors and Victorian scene re-enactments, including the schoolroom.
But by the turn of the century, attendance numbers were dropping and when the millennium came, so many new attractions were given funding around the country that the tourist pound was stretched too thinly and the premises closed.
There had been various plans to revive the site’s fortunes since, including a short-lived comedy club and proposals, which never got off the ground, to turn the Way We Were into a rugby league museum.
But it was only four years ago that the new masterplan was unveiled and in which so much time and money have now been invested.
To complete the scheme Step Places tendered for three contractors: one who will do electricals and plumbing including lighting, heating, extractors, CCTV and toilets, another to do fit-outs for the bars, food market, gin distillery, microbrewery and kitchens at what was the Orwell; and then a general contractor for building work.
Thanks for reading. If you value what we do and are able to support us, a digital subscription is just £1 for your first month. Try us today by clicking here and viewing our offers.