Historic Dundee printworks to become new £18m culture hub

The West Ward Works was reopened for four days for the first Dundee Design Festival last year.
The West Ward Works was reopened for four days for the first Dundee Design Festival last year.
Share this article
2
Have your say

An empty printworks where millions of The Broons, Oor Wullie, Beano and Dandy annuals were once made is set to be turned into one the UK’s biggest hubs for culture and creativity.

An £18 million blueprint for a vast creative complex has been drawn up for the former West Ward Works building in Dundee – where more than five millions books used to be published every year.

The West Ward Works was used for more than 60 years by publisher DC Thomson. Picture: David Howell

The West Ward Works was used for more than 60 years by publisher DC Thomson. Picture: David Howell

The 200,000 sq ft site is expected to be converted over the space of some seven years under a proposed Tay Cities Deal programme which envisages the creation of 15,000 jobs over the next ten years.

It will become home to regular live performances, festivals and exhibitions, as well as a permanent base for designers, artists and other creative workers and companies.

The old printworks has been lying largely empty since it was closed down in 2010 by DC Thomson after more than 60 years of book and magazine production.

But the site’s industrial history dates back to 1806 when it became home to the city’s first fireproof mill.

More than five million books were published each year in the 1960s and 1970s heyday of the Guthrie Street plant.

More than five million books were published each year in the 1960s and 1970s heyday of the Guthrie Street plant.

The Guthrie Street works was brought back into use last year to host the inaugural Dundee Design Festival, which attracted more than 7000 visitors and will return in expanded form in May.

Now DC Thomson is to launch a new charitable trust to spearhead its transformation. It will be responsible for drawing up detailed plans for the site and raising funding to help meet the cost of the project, which is expected to be only partially be paid for out of the Tay Cities Deal if it is approved by the Scottish and UK governments.

It will be led by David Cook, who spent 23 years building the Wasps Artists Studios into one of the UK’s biggest social enterprises, providing space for around 1000 creatives around Scotland.

Mr Cook, who spearheaded the transformation of the Briggait fishmarket in Glasgow into an arts centre, said: “West Ward has huge potential and, at 200,000 sq ft, could become one of the largest permanent creative spaces in the UK.

The West Ward Works will become of the biggest creative spaces in the UK under an 18m blueprint for the building.

The West Ward Works will become of the biggest creative spaces in the UK under an 18m blueprint for the building.

“The next phase of its development will begin a process of redeveloping the site to realise its potential economic, social and cultural impacts for the city and beyond.”

The new-look building is expected to be the focal point of efforts to build on Dundee’s Unesco City of Design status, which was awarded in December 2014. It will have key roles as a business incubator, a centre for design-led regeneration and a skills development base.

Its first occupants are expected to move into West Ward ahead of the opening of Dundee’s long-awaited V&A Museum of Design in the summer of 2018.

More than 200 people once worked at the site, where the printing and binding of the famous annuals were carried out, after the plant relocated from Bank Street in 1949.

David Thomson, chief operating officer at DC Thomson, said: “We are fully supportive of Dundee’s cultural development, including the V&A Dundee project, and we’re keen to contribute to further arts facilities for the city.

"Other former industrial spaces and jute mills have been successfully redeveloped for the creative communities.”

Stewart Murdoch, director of leisure at Dundee City Council, said: “Over the last 18 months we have worked with DC Thomson and partners in the city to bring West Ward back to life. It played a key role when it was used to host Dundee’s first design festival.

“It’s been a challenging and hugely rewarding experience, and we look forward to supporting this next phase of the development and remaining a part of its story.”

Siôn Parkinson, producer of Dundee Design Festival said the history of the West Ward and its 19th origins as a mill had inspired the "factory floor" theme for the forthcoming event, which will also celebrate Dundee's industreiheritage.

He added: "The festival marks a real moment that connects deindustrialised cities around the globe where communities are questioning what to do with our former factories, how we can make use of them.

"Many are being repurposed as arts venues such as the new Switch House extension at the Tate Modern in London, which used to be a power station, or reinvigorated spaces like The Glue Factory in Glasgow and The Biscuit Factory in Edinburgh.

"We want to look beyond the nostalgia and romanticised views of these spaces to connect the vital industries that still exist in Scotland together with contemporary design processes, tools and materials.

"What better place to explore what making means now than within the walls of a 200,000 sq ft former factory in the heart of Dundee's jute mill district."