A chance meeting over the sale of a pony led to a partnership which was behind the conversion of one of Bradford district’s most historic mills.
When Andrew Mason and Alec Newsham met in 2002, they became friends and created the innovative property development company Newmason Properties.
The company brought together Andrew’s development skills and Alec’s funding and sales abilities. Together they went on to create the award-winning Victoria Mills development, close to the Saltaire World Heritage site.
The first project the two friends embarked on was the conversion of Hanson Grammar School, a grade 2 listed building in the centre of Bradford. The Victorian school, on Byron Street, was transformed into 75 striking apartments – complete with huge windows, mezzanine floors and spiral staircases – successfully creating “a style of living new to Bradford”.
For their second project the two friends took on a historical mill that is one of Bradford’s most important along with Salts, Listers and Drummond. Speaking 15 years after the project’s completion Alec said Victoria Mills had been “a big challenge and a unique opportunity for Newmason”.
The 5.5-acre site is in the buffer zone of Salts Mill, which has World Heritage status. Victoria Mills, itself grade 2 listed, is a striking development of up-market apartments complete with a bar, gym, tennis court and concierge services, set in an idyllic riverside location.
But while they were creating luxury homes the developers were at pains to retain and respect the heritage of the site – and they set out to leave a legacy the area could be proud of.
Alec said: “The challenge was to redevelop with sensitivity to the historical importance of the site whilst creating a wonderful place for people to live; a community with onsite amenities, meeting places and tranquillity. Commercial factors such as cost, and profit couldn’t be ignored but couldn’t dominate. Fortunately, this was a buoyant time in the property market and outside investors were interested in Bradford, its history and regeneration; The Airedale Masterplan was underway, creating high tech, high value jobs in the locality.”
Victoria Mills was built in 1873 by Henry Mason, following Titus Salt’s move from city centre to clean air and a healthy environment for his workers – and knowing railways would soon replace the canal as the quick and cost-effective means of transporting materials and finished goods. It sits between the river Aire and the Leeds Liverpool canal and is minutes away from Shipley rail station, providing excellent connectivity to both Leeds and Bradford – a big attraction for residents commuting to the city.
Iconic Salts Mill is just a ten-minute walk away. The landmark, which opened in 1853, was the centrepiece of Sir Titus Salt’s utopian vision of Saltaire, which became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2001.
It is now a destination for art, shopping, and dining – with a gallery displaying paintings, etchings, and drawings by David Hockney.
Victoria Mills has had three devoted custodians since 1873 – belonging to Henry Mason and his family until the mid-1900’s when it transferred to the well-known Bradford textile family the Jeromes and then to Newmason in 2003.
Alec said: “A southern developer briefly owned Victoria Mills prior to Newmason but as their intention was to demolish and clear the site for new build housing, conversations with Bradford planners didn’t progress well.”
In stark contrast a guiding philosophy for Newmason was to use local skills for both the design and the build. Alec said local people understand the history of Bradford and its mill buildings, and spending money with local contractors boosted the local economy. The architect, Beckwith Design, is Bradford Based, the engineer is Shipley based, and the contractors are all based in Bradford, Keighley, Leeds and the surrounding area.
The development spend was around £75 million and many sales were to investors from outside Yorkshire – which meant the inward investment aim was achieved.
Conversion of the three mill buildings into apartments began in 2004 whilst the design team considered options for new build.
Alec said: “How do you build next to fabulous Venetian warehouse style mill buildings without the new looking inferior? Without building something destined for demolition? The brief from the Bradford planners was to build big and powerful; not to try and imitate a classical design (must be modern) and to use a palette of materials which complement the mills.
“We travelled far and wide looking at new buildings which sit next to historical buildings and the design we settled on has won many awards including being national finalists in the RIBA (architects) competition. We have ashlar stone (handpicked from a quarry in Huddersfield) , glass, rotundas, sails , balconies and fabulous duplexes with wonderful views. The aim was to create a legacy which Bradford, the residents of Victoria Mills and Newmason could be proud of. The planners were delighted, and permission was granted in April 2004.”
He added: “The aim to create a community feeling was based on knowledge of the terraced house communities typical in mill towns; look at Saltaire to see how this works with community facilities, places to meet and people looking out for each other. At Victoria Mills we created landscaped garden areas with a water feature, a tennis court, gymnasium, a yoga centre and wellness rooms for massage and holistic treatments.
“There is a wonderful on-site restaurant/ cafe (Copper and Moss), a parcels room for online deliveries and an onsite team ensuring high standards of maintenance and to deal with residents’ issues. A multi storey car park keeps most cars out of site and soon electric car charging points will be installed.
“Residents have organised walking and running groups and regular charity / fund-raising events take place. On the doorstep are fabulous walks, shops, and restaurants; Victoria Mills is a wonderful place to live we are often told.
“As Bradford looks forward to being the City of Culture in 2025 and to attract new investment and jobs to the city, having good places for people to live is vital and Victoria Mills is important in this respect, offering homes to over a thousand people in 449 apartments.”
Alec said: “It’s now 15 years since Victoria Mills redevelopment was completed and being ‘green’ and aware of environmental issues wasn’t as big a priority then as now. However, it was a big factor for Newmason.
“Converting existing buildings is low energy compared with new build and we ensured the highest possible standards for both heat and noise insulation,” he added.
“Likewise with the new build, sustainability was a key design factor. Solar gain to reduce heating costs, good quality materials ensuring long life, eg solid oak woodwork and efficient water heaters.
“Projects are underway now to reduce energy consumption on site and solar power is being evaluated. A recycling centre was created 15 years ago, and residents are encouraged to use it as much as possible. Grey water is collected and used for watering the garden etc.”
“To further develop the community feel at Victoria Mills, residents and leaseholders are being encouraged to be involved in the site from budgeting to gardening projects and organising events for Victoria Mills 150th anniversary in 2023. The talents and motivation of our residents is fantastic and reflects a broad base from youngsters to retired folks, businesspeople, health workers – all full of great ideas. The future looks good for Victoria Mills and Bradford.”
Victoria Mills is owned by Saltaire Facilities Management Ltd made up of shareholders – Alec and Louise Newsham and Andrew and Jo Mason
SFM is primarily run by Louise with the support of Alec and Andrew who are still very involved and invested.
In 2019 Jo and Louise became shareholders and directors and in 2021 Louise stepped in to oversee the management of the site.
Newmason Properties has always put sustainability and the needs of the community at the heart of its ethos.
And Andrew outlined these ideas in 2011 to a gathering of around 90 West Yorkshire property and construction specialists at a lunch staged jointly by Bradford and Leeds chambers of commerce
He urged them to ensure that new-build and refurbishment projects were sustainable and long-lasting, stressing that great buildings, like great works of art, needed time to be enjoyed and be proud of. Recalling the Native American doctrine of the ‘seventh generation’, he said it meant considering whether decisions made today would affect descendants seven generations into the future.