URGENT repair works are underway on the historic building which was formerly home to a vibrant Irish centre in Liverpool.
The 202-year-old Wellington Rooms, which are located within the city centre’s Knowledge Quarter on Mount Pleasant, are a Grade II listed landmark.
They have been closed since 1997 and, due to a leaking roof and dry rot, is now in need of “urgent repairs”.
The repair work, which is being jointly funded by Liverpool City Council and Historic England, began on February 12 and is expected to take six weeks to complete.
Following the repairs, a full restoration of the neo-classical building will take place.
Opened in 1816, the Wellington Rooms were initially used for high society balls, but became a focal point for the Irish in Liverpool in 1965, when it officially opened its doors as a community organisation.
For 30 years the Mount Pleasant venue hosted ceilidhs, concerts, drama, and Irish music and language classes, before its closure in 1997.
In his book, Being Irish in Liverpool, Tommy Walsh, the first chairman of the Irish Centre, recalled the community’s 100-year journey to find a “home of our own”.
The Liverpool-born Irishman, who passed away in 2010, described the centre's opening, which was attended by then Tánaiste Frank Aiken, Irish Ambassador Jack Molloy and Senator Tom Mullins, as a “glittering occasion, with massive media coverage”.
In addition, he recalled the fond memories of social events and functions that brought the Irish community in Liverpool together.
The venue, which is recognised by Liverpool city council and Historic England as the city’s top priority heritage building at risk, has been vacant since its closure.
Several previous ventures aimed at restoring it – including a plan to turn it into a function suite and an application for it to become a hotel – all failed.
Restoration specialists Quadriga, who are based in Northwich, have won the contract to carry out the repair work.
They have previously carried out work on the British Museum, the Royal Opera House at Covent Garden and the Royal Liver Building.
Deputy Mayor of Liverpool, Councillor Ann O’Byrne, said: “The Wellington Rooms are right at the top of our priority list for action. It has an amazing history and is hugely important to the people of Liverpool. These urgent repairs are the start of a long journey to return it back to its former glory, but we are now starting to make progress in working with partners to identify a deliverable a sustainable end use.”
Merseyside Building Preservation Trust is currently consulting with local shareholders and businesses on the results of an options appraisal of the building and, in partnership with Liverpool City Council, is hoping to secure a development partner by the summer to oversee the full restoration of the building.
Charles Smith, of Historic England, added: "As a much-loved venue for weddings and events, The Wellington Rooms has featured in the lives of many Liverpudlians over the past 200 years. “These repairs will stop further decay and help to bring about a new use for this quality building that the city can be proud of."