Warwick was a construction worker working on the First White Cloth Hall building in Leeds. He was tasked with raising it from the dead back to its former glory and beyond. Warwick was a brusque character from Australia, who said things as they were, there were no frills to Warwick’s rhetoric.
“I saw it coming” he said ‘ I had read about it before it got here, I knew something was coming, but didn’t quite expect it to be this bloody bad”
He told me stories of the constant balancing he had had to do to keep the site going. Breathing the life back into a building during a lockdown was a challenge. He told me “guys were frightened for their lives and their families lives, and they didn’t want to come into work at first. I could understand it, I too had a son who was vulnerable, so although we could work, there was a constant fear of doing so” There was this sense of glad to be working and earning money, but fearful of taking Covid home.
Supplies were hard to find too he told me and I got the feeling that Warwick was under tremendous pressure from all sides, both at home and at work, to achieve what he had to, but also to keep himself and his men safe too.
The site was always busy when I was there, men working as best they could under the circumstances. Sometimes there was an eerie silence amongst them all, not the usual banter of a building site. People just doing what they had to do then going home.
I only met Warwick twice. The last time we met was in a near completed building, he told me that they were nearly done, and that the building was both his pain and his passion, but it would always be his baby.
Warwick sadly moved on before we could finish the other shoots.
Steve stepped in for Warwick, a senior technical manager at Rushbond the company that owned and rebuilt the building. A really lovely man who knows everything there is to know about First White Cloth Hall. He can tell you so many facts and stories about the building that it makes you wonder how it is standing here at all. He told me “Warwick should be here now to see this building in all its glory, he was on this journey with it, and he suffered the trials and tribulations of it all during the pandemic, he should be here”
I had a sense that the building was person number 13 in the project 19cm. It had been a pile of rubble before Covid. It too had had its own journey through the pandemic. It was recently taken off the historic at risk buildings register, something Rushbond is brilliant at, rescuing our architectural heritage, and I think that there is something quite poetic about that.
A building with its own story of resilience and strength whilst coming through a global disaster, qualities we have all needed these last 18 months.