Haarlem Artspace – A contemporary creative community



AIRR is proud to be working with Haarlem Artspace. As plans progress this post hears from AIRR’s own, Olivia Punnett and the vision for revitalising Wirksworth’s historic, Haarlem Mill.

“Wirksworth has long been an Artistic town. It happened the way that most artist hubs happen. An old industrial centre that is a bit worse for wear or declining and is cheap to buy houses in. Creatives tend to see past the immediate signs of wear and tear (and also have to because their purses don’t allow for anything else!) and then lots of Artistic or creatively minded people populate a place. This then has an impact on local culture and starts to affect how a place looks. This is commonly termed ‘Gentrification’. An artistic, now desirable place with a thriving creative, independent business centre is born.

Spitalfields & Islington in London are prime example of this, though it has happened anywhere and everywhere since time began.


Wirksworth is no different and was first a Centre for Lead mining, then quarrying. It was very seriously run down in the early 70s when a bid was won for the Wirksworth Project to regenerate it – the work went on to win The Europa Nostra award. The Wirksworth Festival was one of the very first of its kind, starting with the Art and Architecture trail where people looked at the Architecture and Art & Crafts in people’s houses . It importantly also had a central gallery space for contemporary Arts and graduate Artists from the area. The Festival time of year in September is really important for the Town and brings everyone together to celebrate the community as well as the Art in it. (read our blog on this year’s festival here )

However this ‘Gentrification’ process has to be squeezed through this unique Northern Town. And for this reason, I think, there is a limit, or smaller capacity for gentrification. Its never going to be the same as in other places.

Art In the North already has a different character to it, as demonstrated in its cities. Northern people are known for their honest forthrightness. And therefore the sometimes trite, or overly wordy, and dare I say pretentiousness, that can sometimes accompany Modern Art, just cannot be tolerated in the same way. This makes for a refreshing robust and real take on it, which I find incredibly refreshing, and to the point. There’s no room for mediocre, you have to say it like it is and it has to be good. This attitude will not withstand anything patronising, which is significant in our present museum culture’s interpretation methods I think. But I digress, what I mean to say was summed up perfectly by the novelist Olive Shreiner, and in this amazing article about Wirksworth a long time ago.

“It is as though something tore the hill open and said “Here, you shall see not only smooth but the hard strong stuff that is inside too”’. Olive Schreiner on Wirksworth



This then is the setting for Haarlem Artspace. A new Creative hub set up in the first ever coal powered Mill, and the setting for Greorge Elliot’s ‘Mill on the Floss’, at the bottom end of Wirksworth (The area just outside the gentrification zone!).


It is being set up by Geoff Diego Litherland, Bev Shepherd and myself. Geoff and I are both Artists and lecturers, Bev is a financial advisor specialising in Social Enterprise businesses. I have been based in Artists studios in Sheffield including Yorkshire Artspace & S1 Artspace. Geoff at several Nottingham based Studios as well as Acme in London before that. We both moved to rural Wirksworth and quickly became aware of the expectation that we would now work alone, in a studio of our own, or in our own houses. This expectation remains despite the large amount of Artists all operating out of Wirksworth. The same is true of sole traders and creative business people, of which again there are a lot of in Wirksworth. There is the same assumption somehow; somewhere that these people will have a single office on their own. Sometimes this is lovely and what people want (examples of little offices and workshops below). But a lot of the time it benefits people to be housed in contemporary studios, where creatives can be inspired by each other and the programme of events & exhibits going on within it.  As well as this connection happening, there is exchange & skill share. Jobs get shared around, and there is merit to being part of a creative community which is curated.

Examples of studios in Wirksworth




This all comes together at Haarlem Artspace, which was also used this week, before the creatives move in, for an AIRR Clothing photo shoot. The light there is gorgeous and because it’s in such an old rural setting it’s an Inspiring place to work.



Being part of an emerging Creative Community is a great feeling and a great place to work, and why should this be limited to urban / city areas?

There is a cliche or yet another misplaced assumption that if Art is rural, its going to be a bit parochial. Haarlem Artspace though is a contemporary space with creative businesses and Artists that are anything but.”

Olivia Punnett


Olivia Punnett in Haarlem Artspace


We look forward to hearing more about Haarlem Artspace’s 2017 launch and the exciting series of events and exhibitions they have planned.

To find out more about Haarlem and to keep up to date on their plans, take a look at their website and follow on Twitter and Facebook here…






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