Exterior restoration of historic Argent Centre completed

The Argent Centre with scaffolding, Summer 2020 (Photo: Townscape Heritage)

This is a little different to the kind of news we normally carry but it is relevant because it highlights the work of a Birmingham community benefit society that you may not have heard of — along with the property management company that acts on its behalf. And it involves the exterior restoration of one of the gems of the Jewellery Quarter: The Argent Centre.

Midlands Industrial Association (MIA) is a community benefit society established almost forty years ago. It manages seven properties in Birmingham — including the Argent Centre — and the Chubb Building (known more widely as the Lighthouse Media Centre) in Wolverhampton. MIA’s aims are to promote employment, support small firms and fight dereliction by providing suitable workspace through the refurbishment of redundant buildings and the reclamation of derelict sites in inner city areas of Birmingham and Wolverhampton.

Funding from the Jewellery Quarter Heritage Trust and the National Lottery Heritage Fund has enabled the complete restoration of the exterior of the Grade II* listed Argent Centre. The scheme for undertaking this major restoration was developed for MIA by Prince Warnes Properties, which manages all of MIA’s properties.

The work has just been completed and includes architecturally faithful reinstatement of the crowning turrets that were part of J. G. Bland’s original design when the factory was built in 1863 for pen manufacturer, W. E. Wiley. Wiley’s pens and nibs sold in countless millions and were exported around the world.

Wiley was a mixture of canny businessman and enlightened self-interest. He believed that better conditions for his workers made for better business and the top floors of his factory included Turkish baths which were heated using waste steam from the manufacturing process. Why waste good, hot steam when it could be sold? If you’re wondering what ‘hammam’ Turkish Baths cost in the mid-nineteenth century I can tell you that a single first class bath started at 3/6d — Townscape Heritage shows the original 1860s advert.

All of the work on The Argent Centre was done by Midlands companies. Stonemasonry and restoration was by Midland Conservation Ltd (Walsall), glasswork and window restoration by Nick Bayliss Architectural Glass Ltd (Birmingham), and the new five-foot stainless steel finials that now top the turrets were handmade by Oakham Fabrication in Cradley Heath. The project was overseen by Birmingham-based Oliver Architecture and managed on behalf of MIA by Prince Warnes Properties.

In the interests of full disclosure, I can say that while I am a happy tenant at The Argent Centre, no one is paying me to say this — I am simply pleased to see the building restored to its former glory. I know it took years to raise the resources to make this possible and everyone involved deserves to be congratulated.

Have a look at the excellent short film about the restoration that Townscape Heritage has produced.

More about regeneration in the Jewellery Quarter.

Townscape Heritage article about The Argent Centre.

Birmingham UK. Freelance research, evaluation and policy consultant specialising in social enterprise and the third sector. I maintain the BSSEC blog and website

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