EMPTY shops are to be transformed into a pop-up printing press, museum and gallery as part of efforts to revitalise part of York.

Vacant properties will also be adapted for live and digital performance and heritage activities on Coney Street. 

The plans form part of the University of York-led Street Life venture, which scooped ££469,765 from the Government’s Community Renewal Fund.

Street Life aims to give Coney Street a vibrant post-pandemic future by repurposing empty units and forging links between retail premises and their heritage.

York Press:

Long term aims include helping York to reach virtual visitors and convert them to real tourists, aiding post-pandemic recovery and piloting carbon-zero approaches to sustainability in transport, adaptive reuse and city-centre living and working. 

The project will offer reskilling and development opportunities alongside workshops co-designed with York Civic Trust and York Conservation Trust. Partners also include City of York Council and the York Music Venue Network. 

The project is being led by Prof Rachel Cowgill, Dr Kate Giles and Prof Helen Smith, from the departments of music, archaeology and English respectively. 

Prof Cowgill said: “Working closely with the community, we aim to celebrate York’s rich heritage and vibrant, creative spirit through innovative, immersive experiences, which will combine digital innovation and physical engagement. 

"Pop-up activities and virtual experiences will include musical performances, digital music-making, hands-on letterpress printing workshops, and the chance to step back into York’s colourful past via the city’s amazing archives and cultural collections.”

Dr Giles added: “We hope the project will be a blueprint for other cities facing similar challenges of finding new uses for historic high streets and bringing more people back to city centres - problems made more urgent by the pandemic.”

York Press:

Coney Street, 1969

From historic coaching inn The George, where John Vanbrugh and the Brontës once stayed, to the Guildhall and bustling waterfront, Coney Street has been the site of many important buildings and businesses, representing much of what makes York unique.

Coney Street - the King’s Street - was the site of the Roman bridge; the centre of civic governance following the construction of the Guildhall and a place of residence for York’s medieval Jewish community.

York Press:

Coney Street 1942

In later centuries, the street was known for its coaching inns, including The Bull, The George, and the Bagnio Turkish Baths. During the eighteenth century the street became known for its craftsmen, banking businesses and printing industries and was home to the York Courant, the Yorkshire Evening Post and York Herald.

York Press:

Coney Street in 1939 with the fire-damaged Leak & Thorp site on the left

In the nineteenth and twentieth centuries it housed local and national retailers, including piano and organ warehouses and the department store Leak and Thorp (built on the site of The George in 1869) as well as the Ebor Hall, Picture House Cinema (later City Screen) and The Willow Café and Nightclub.

York Press:

Coney Street 1989

Although the street was heavily bombed in 1942, its reconstruction reflected the resilience and entrepreneurial spirit of the city.

Andrew Morrison, CEO of the York Civic Trust, said: “For 75 years York Civic Trust has been at the heart of thinking about how we can look after our amazing heritage whilst using it as a source of inspiration for creativity and culture for residents and visitors to the city.

“Historic high streets like Coney Street are repositories of powerful heritage stories for businesses to draw on to create authentic and enriching experiences. We look forward to working with the University of York to think about how we can bring people together to debate the future of historic High Streets like Coney Street.”

York Press:

Coney Street, December 1983, including Chelsea Girl, Etam, Collingwood and Knobs & Knockers

Of the ££469,765, about £11,000 has been allocated for the management and administration of the funds, which will be paid to City of York Council. 

The programme should be delivered by June 30, 2022.