Reclaiming Nottingham – Cobden Chambers and Beyond

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Digging up Nottingham’s hidden treasures for creative enterprise…

On the cusp of Hockley, hidden up a twitchell just off Pelham Street, a pretty Victorian courtyard has lain vacant for 20 odd years. A large factory at the back and a terrace of inter-joined properties were, until recently, inhabited by wrack and ruin, utilised mainly as a toilet and graveyard for Nottingham’s pigeon population.

Last year the site was reclaimed for development by Bildurn Properties with grand aims to turn it into a hub for independent retail and creative practice. In terms of provenance Cobden Chambers has a great history, with various creative endeavours having materialised in its belly.

Bildurn’s website states – “The site has a facinating, and varied history. It was used as a photographer’s studio in the 1800s and a base for the Nottingham Society of Artists between 1895 – 1912. In the 1970s it was it was the editing house for Platform, a monthly arts magazine for the Midlands, and in the 1980s it was home to a horologist. It was even once the registered office for Notts County Football Club back in 1890!

How Cobden Chambers looked last year...
How Cobden Chambers looked last year…

The first section of the development – The Terraces – are ready for use and launch this weekend (Saturday 8th March 2014). They are now home to the first residents – independent retailers and makers as well as working studios. A great starting point to explore what Nottingham has to offer now and what sort of thing its aiming towards.

With the smell of fresh paint and optimism in the air, you can’t help feeling Nottingham is going a little bit Brighton in its attitude to regeneration. Instead of chasing fat cats with soulless glassy new builds, money is being invested in the grassroots of small business with nods to the rich heritage of ‘Tigguo Cobauc’ (the historical name of Nottingham meaning place of cave dwellings). In other Nottingham news The Malt Cross – one of England’s last remaining working music halls – has just been awarded a grant to expand into the caves beneath, meanwhile Nottingham Writers’ Studio have taken over The Old Pram Shop between Hockley and Sneinton for a new base to support the local writing community.

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Graffiti art from SmallKid in The Courtyard at Cobden Chambers

It’s beginning to feel like the city is becoming something of a creative collaboration itself with strong movement towards socially-minded creative enterprise. The things that are happening couldn’t happen without the co-operation of various factions and institutions from the Howie-Smith Project, to the Creative Quarter to the local universities and colleges.

One of the key influences in Cobden Chambers and beyond is The Hive – the business incubation and support team at Nottingham Trent University. They’ve quietly played a large part in the radical rethinking of the city, pro-actively supporting creation of opportunities and co-operation between organisations, as well as ensuring funding reaches the spots that will make it the most effective. (On a personal level we also give them props for the invaluable support Bees Make Honey have received.)

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The new home for one of the Hive businesses – Cavology

It is no small sign that several businesses under the wing of the Hive are taking space in the Terraces at Cobden Chambers already. From carefully curated lifestyle brand Cavology, to Aoyagi Clothing, to music and fashion label hybrid Babes in the Wood, to app developers Wiseman Designs. As the full space is developed, the chambers will also include a large independent department store in the factory at the back (run by Evergate Ltd) and a courtyard with a bar hosting markets, live music and outdoor cinema.

We can only hope this is all a sign of a city on the up and good things to come.

Kirsty Fox

The entrance to Cobden Chambers is on Pelham Street just up from the Bodega Social Club next to The Little White Dress.

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