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June 2008 

Chesworth Barn Restoration

When HDC took over Chesworth Farm there was a certain amount of concern about what they might do with it. Public consultation reflected the general view that development should be kept to a minimum, and in the main it has been. The rusting dutch barns were replaced with a Parks Department depot - now well screened by planting - and the rather scruffy wooden stables were demolished.

More recently there’s been some general tidying up and hedge planting. There was a bit of a furore in 2006 when junior football pitches were suggested for one of the fields (thrown out after public outrage – the Horsham Society played a significant part in this) but the site seems to have settled into a low-key dual role of part leisure amenity, part nature reserve. The big worry has always been: what will they do with the barn?

The building in question had been quietly deteriorating over the years, its general air of decay compounded by tarpaulins and Keep Out notices. But in the summer of 2007 all that began to change. Planning application had been granted for conversion to artists’ studios - Chesworth Arts Farm - and the builders were about to move in.

The Horsham Society gave the news a cautious welcome: the proposed use of the building wouldn’t be unsuitable for its surroundings and, provided that the conversion was done sympathetically and its occupancy didn’t create too many traffic movements, it could only be an improvement on the existing situation.

The conversion work is now complete, and it has without question been done sympathetically. Architect Nicolas Pople and builders Douch Partners are specialists in conservation work and sustainable building; they have used reclaimed or recycled materials wherever possible and simple modern alternatives otherwise. The building retains its character - it has not been over-restored.

The 2-storey barn and adjacent single-storey building contain internal and external (partly roofed) work areas, with shower room and sinks downstairs and rest-room/kitchenette on the first floor. The architect has designed the space around existing door & window openings, in fact many of the original window frames have been retained. Lime render has been used, and the wooden staircase was constructed from old church pews. Hot water is provided partly by solar panels, and in keeping with the eco-friendly theme the wall cladding in the shower room is made from recycled plastic bottles.

Before conversion the building was home to a variety of wildlife and, although the pigeons have moved out, provision has been made for bats and swallows to share the building with the human occupants.

The vision for Chesworth Arts Farm has been developed over the past four years by a small group of artists based in Sussex & Kent.  Their aim has been to create a setting where they can work in an inspirational environment and develop their ideas both individually and communally.  They specialise in the "dirty" arts - sculpture, pottery, metalwork - and when we visited the barn in May 2008 they had just started to move their equipment in.

More photos»
Chesworth Arts Farm website»