Bawtry’s old town hall enjoys new lease of life
- Credit: Darren O'Brien/Guzelian
Gallery owner Ruth Worsman breathes new life into a South Yorkshire landmark building
There’s a real buzz in Bawtry. The High Street is busy, the Market Place is bustling and there’s a very positive vibe emanating from the old town hall.
Built in 1890 and left empty for three years after stints as a working men’s club, a car showroom and, latterly, a flower shop, it is now back to its glorious best, thanks to the gritty determination and artistic vision of Ruth Worsman.
Since moving in in July 2016, she has restored the exterior, giving its distinctive crenelated upsweep a crisp new finish, and has transformed the interior into a contemporary two-storey fine art gallery, thanks to a clever, space-enhancing mezzanine addition.
She’s spent £150,000 bringing the old town hall back to life and, she says, it was worth every penny: ‘It was in a terrible state. It was the most iconic building in Bawtry, but it was also dusty, musty and fusty. People were rightly concerned that it was descending into rack and ruin.
‘Breathing new life into it has been hard work, but it’s been a complete joy. We’ve created a building within a building so we can keep the stunning exterior absolutely intact. It was always our aim to bring something new and exciting to Bawtry while also being sympathetic to an old, much-loved building.’
Limited 2 Art is a big gallery – one of the largest fine art establishments in the north – but it retains an intimate, welcoming air, thanks to smart design choices (dark, rich colours, soft lighting and enticing, cosy spaces carved out of interesting corners) and the open-armed, open-hearted hospitality of Ruth and her team.
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‘I’m not elitist and this is not an elitist gallery,’ she said. ‘I have a passion for art but I don’t have a degree in it. I’m not here to lecture people. I want my customers to feel relaxed and at home, to feel able to fall in love with a piece on their own terms and in their own time.
‘This is not a sell, sell, sell gallery. It’s about engaging with people and having a conversation. Our customers become our valued friends and we have visitors who come back week after week just to see what’s new. We don’t believe in pressure; we believe in service.’
Ruth has come a long way in terms of business since launching her gallery 12 years ago, but not in terms of geography. After seven years in retail management at Boots and a further 16 as a professional fundraiser for major national charities like Marie Curie and St John Ambulance, she opened her first fine art space in a tiny shop down a largely ignored alley off Bawtry High Street in 2004.
‘I knew I wanted a place in Bawtry because it was full of independent shops, had a great vibe and, most importantly of all, was busy,’ she explained. ‘Unfortunately, the only place available was a poky little shop with, possibly, the smallest window in the country. Honestly, I couldn’t display a painting in it because it blocked out all the light. Bijou doesn’t even cover it.’
It wasn’t perfect, but it was in Bawtry and business was swift from the off. The recession proved tricky, but Limited 2 Art managed to cling on by refusing to dumb down and retaining its reputation for quality among its clientele and, just as crucially, within the art world.
When the time came to expand, Ruth could have been forgiven for taking her fine art know-how to a larger market, to Leeds, York or Harrogate perhaps. But she didn’t. Instead, she created a human chain of family, friends and customers to transport each and every gallery piece hand-to-hand from her old space in The Courtyard to her new Market Place gallery.
‘I have no intention of ever leaving Bawtry,’ she said. ‘This is such a unique little market town and I would very much like to help put it on the map. I want people to come here and see just how amazing it is.’
Limited 2 Art is fast becoming a destination gallery for aficionados from across the country and is attracting interest from artists around the globe vying for exhibition space. But that doesn’t mean local artists can’t find a place on the walls.
‘We’re launching our new biennial open art exhibition this year to support local artists. And we’re also dedicating one or two panels exclusively to their work,’ said Ruth. ‘For me, it’s about walking the walk as well as talking the talk.’
It’s also about expanding the gallery’s offering and giving customers a wide choice, while still maintaining its fine art integrity.
‘It’s not up to me to dictate what people put on their walls,’ said Ruth, a passionate collector herself with around 70 piece of art at home. ‘I want people to fall in love with a painting. If they’re unsure, I don’t tell them to go away and think about it, I tell them to go away and not think about it. If they can put a piece out of their mind, it’s probably not for them. If they obsess about it, well, it’s probably love.
‘But they shouldn’t obsess for too long though. These are all original or limited edition pieces so a few days can be the difference between loving it and losing it.’
Limited 2 Art is the key sponsor of the Yorkshire Life Landscape Painter of the Year competition. The finalists will be announced in our March edition. To find out more about the gallery, visit limited2art.com, call 01302 711189, check it out on Twitter, Facebook and YouTube or call in and say hello at 17 Market Place, Bawtry, Doncaster DN10 6JL