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Wednesday, 16 April 2014

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Cockermouth gallery is a picture of health 10 years on

Ten years ago a derelict building with filthy floors and no staircase was transformed into a quaint gallery showcasing a wealth of Cumbrian and national artists.

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GALLERY MILESTONE: Owners Viv Austin and Karen Cottier, owners of Cockermouth’s Percy House, which is 10 years old, with a piece by Angie Flynn titled Hanging Out Her Smalls

Percy House, on Market Place in Cockermouth, is a building steeped in history and was taken over by friends Karen Cottier and Viv Austin.

Now the pair are marking a milestone for the businesses.

Karen and Viv were made redundant from their roles running a gallery for Groundwork Trust and a few months later decided to open their own art space.

Karen says: “We both thought ‘If we don’t give it a go we will regret it’ and here we are 10 years on.”

“We’d looked around a lot of places but we really wanted an interesting building. This one just felt right and we kept coming back to it.

“When we first saw it, it was a derelict building at the time, the floors were filthy, in fact everything was, and there was no staircase. We put that in later.”

When they first started out the pair only had 20 artists on their books and now have more than 150, including Robert Askew, Linda Ryle, Alan Richmond and Shirley Shackleton.

They also sell ceramics, photographs, metalwork and jewellery.

Viv says: “The first week we were open the gallery was packed and we were really worried we were going to sell out of everything.

“The gallery has gone from strength to strength over the years. Even after we were flooded in 2009, people commented about how much we had been missed and how good it was to see us back.”

Over the years the pair have done minor alterations to the grade two listed building, including extending out into the cottage at the back, putting in stairs and painting the outside.

However, the oak beams, which date from 1390, and the original flagstone floor remain.

The upstairs, which has a Tudor ceiling from 1598, was once lived in by the Percy Bayliff, who worked for Henry Percy, the ninth Earl of Northumberland.

In the early 1900s the building was turned into three shops.

Karen added: “We’ve always had to be really careful when doing any work on the building because it’s listed.

“It is steeped in history and that’s always something we’ve tried to maintain because we think it adds to the character of the gallery.”

Viv says: “It feels great to have reached our 10-year anniversary. Running the gallery is something we both enjoy and we hope to go on for many years to come.”

The gallery is currently showcasing work by Angie Flynn called Women in Textiles until May 31.

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