The Ancoats Dispensary project is embarking on a £33,000 fundraising challenge in the next stage of restoring and developing the Grade II listed former hospital.

Of all the local communities surrounding the periphery of Manchester city centre, Ancoats is arguably the one that has seen the most dramatic transformation in recent years, with a swathe of new apartments and houses, coupled with some adventurous refurbishments of its many mills. Its rebranding as ‘New Islington’ has also given it a new identity and made it a highly fashionable place to set up home.

Amidst all this new development activity stands an iconic building, Ancoats Dispensary, which has been the focal point of Ancoats since it opened in 1874 as a hospital to serve the rapidly urbanised community that emerged from Manchester’s role as the powerhouse of the industrial revolution.

Until 1988, the Ardwick & Ancoats Dispensary played a pivotal role, meeting the healthcare needs of generations of local people who looked upon the building as more than just a local hospital. It became a focal point of community life and a space in which everyone seems to have had a collective memory. The dispensary, a precursor to the NHS decades ahead of its introduction in 1948, was modelled on the principle of delivering free outpatient care to local people in order to reduce the pressure on hospital wards. The philanthropic element came from doctors whose services were provided free of charge, with the expectation that their altruism would secure them respect and esteem within their social and professional circles.

The building was not just pioneering in its philanthropic approach, but also in some of the medical firsts that it achieved along the way. During the interwar period, Britain’s first fracture clinic was created there by Dr Harry Platt, while pioneering work by Charles Harrison Blackley led to the identification of the pollens causing hay fever. The dispensary was also home to Manchester’s first X-ray department, introduced by Alfred Ernest Barclay.

When the NHS finally came into being, it commissioned LS Lowry to paint a scene from the hospital. ‘Ancoats Hospital Outpatients Hall’ provides an important piece of social documentation into the role this building played in the lives of local people.

Fast forward to 2016 and the dispensary is now in a waiting room of a different kind. Its future has been hanging in the balance for far too long, but with a new fundraising campaign underway, the final piece in the Ancoats jigsaw will hopefully come to fruition. Saved from demolition by the people of Ancoats, its future now rests with the Ancoats Dispensary project delivery team, which includes the Ancoats Dispensary Trust (ADT), regeneration development specialists Igloo, and Purcell UK, one of the UK’s leading heritage restoration architects. Together they have pulled together a brave new vision to repurpose the dispensary for a 21st century community with 21st century needs.

As Trevor MacFarlane, chair of the ADT, explains, “With the new dispensary, we want to create a contemporary community space within the remaining structure of the iconic building. The aim is to mix the very old with the very new, so that users can read the history of the building within an open space that is strikingly modern. Our vision is to be as pioneering and brave as the original, with communal areas dedicated to promote health and wellbeing on the ground floor, along with a community cafe, with the upper two floors aimed at tenants who share in the wellbeing ethos of the building.

“In essence, we want everyone who occupies or uses the new dispensary to buy into a community-led space that is for the benefit of everyone. It sounds ambitious, but our vision is to create a community-led building that will become the benchmark for others, both through its social programme and the way the building is designed and operated.”

Ambition comes with a challenging price tag. Ancoats Dispensary’s phoenix-like rise from near-dereliction to a fully operational building requires over £5m in voluntary funding.

“The good news is that we’ve secured an initial grant of £771,000 from the Heritage Lottery Fund, who’ve played a key role in supporting the project so far,” explains Amy-Grace Whillans-Welldrake, a member of the ADT board.

“Our next challenge is to prove that we can win more funders and supporters for a project which we believe will play a pivotal role in changing the lives of a community who have lost all their local facilities. Our immediate goal therefore is to raise £33,000 before the end of November to get us through the next critical stage in our funding with the HLF.

“To achieve this, we have two events coming up in October and November, and we’re also working on a new brand identity for the whole project, as well as promoting the scheme to prospective tenants and occupiers.”

For information about forthcoming events or to get involved, contact Trevor or Amy-Grace on: or, or visit


Tom Warman