Lincoln Corn Exchange building
The Grade II listed Lincoln Corn Exchange building which now houses the Cosy Club restaurant © Lincolnshire Co-op
The Grade II listed Lincoln Corn Exchange building which now houses the Cosy Club restaurant © Lincolnshire Co-op

The Cornhill Quarter: Heritage Hidden in Plain View

By Ursula Lidbetter, CEO of Lincolnshire Co-op

Looking upward on most high streets, the remains of our heritage are visible all around. Sadly over many decades much of it has been lost; unloved, demolished, covered up, modernised or fragmented. Belatedly, the nation has woken up to the need to create attractive settings for people to visit. But where and how do we start to bring our heritage assets back to life and use?

At Lincolnshire Co-op we are four years into our major regeneration of the Cornhill area at the heart of Lincoln’s city centre. Over decades we’ve painstakingly purchased every building needed for a comprehensive refurbishment of several early Victorian streets.

Our original plans from the 1990s were to build a new mall behind the historic streets. Over time it became clear that the heritage buildings themselves were our key asset. If we could make them fit for modern retail and leisure brands that would be a compelling attraction to the city.

We did this by restoring the authentic historic frontages, and creating modern well-configured retail floorspace internally. This was a technically difficult and costly combination to achieve. We kept as many of the internal features as possible and each shopfit retains glimpses of the original fabric.

The traditional shop fronts and windows were handcrafted or restored following extensive historical research and referring to photographs from the early 1900s. It was a challenge to be true to the original design whilst adapting to modern retailing requirements and building regulations.

The iconic centrepiece for the Cornhill Quarter is the 1879 Grade II listed Corn Exchange. We stripped off modern additions to reveal the most glorious Italianate building behind, which needed painstaking restoration. Bold new glazing has transformed the original trading floor of the exchange, now home to the very successful Cosy Club restaurant. The building’s unique heritage shines out through the imaginative use of the space and the retention of the historic corn exchange traders’ adverts.

Every brand trading in the Cornhill Quarter has embraced the uniqueness of their building. This has been a challenge for shopfitting teams but their imagination has run riot contributing to the character of the area.

Our restoration of heritage buildings has been supported by our demolition of low quality modern buildings which jarred against them. Although we had to sacrifice lettable floorspace to achieve this, it also allowed us to install at our cost the very best public realm. Now there’s more space for walking, sitting, reflecting and admiring the buildings. We’ve also opened up a welcoming new vista from the High Street.

The whole project has been a massive local effort; skilled joinery and paving work, restoration of original brick and stone detailing; local architects and property professionals, integrated public sector co-operation for planning, highways and heritage; creation of first class transport facilities; tolerance by our local traders for the disruption, and interest in our project from local residents which informed our plans throughout.

By bringing together everyone’s ideas, energy and resources we’ve created a compelling reason to visit and revisit our beautiful city and revealed a wonderful heritage which was hidden in plain view.

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