Bank Plain in Norwich opens its doors and shares its secrets

Barclays Bank used to be housed in OPEN Youth Trust's current building

Barclays Bank used to be housed in OPEN Youth Trust's current building - Credit: Archant

Today a neon green OPEN sign glows on Bank Plain, directly over the spot where 'Barclays Bank Limited' used to be inscribed on the historic brick facade.

Barclays banking hall

Barclays banking hall - Credit: Archant

At OPEN Youth Trust in Norwich, the building that spans two postcodes in its enormity and used to be the home of Barclays bank from 1926 until 2003, the past and the present intertwine on every level.

Over the last week Norfolk has thrown open its doors for heritage events, and free tours of this Norwich landmark were one highlight of the schedule.

Back in 1779, wine merchant Alderman Poole sold banker Barlett Gurney his premises: the plot where OPEN currently sits. Mr Poole's wine cellers turned out to be the perfect place for installing safes for bullion in Gurney Bank.

'Currency, like wine, has to be kept at a dry and ambient temperature,' Hayley Gerrard, marketing manager at OPEN Youth Trust, which owns and runs the venue, said.

Then and now: Barclays banking hall and OPEN's new event space

Then and now: Barclays banking hall and OPEN's new event space - Credit: Archant


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In 1896, Gurney Bank and 20 other smaller banks came together under the name Barclay & Co Ltd, the well-known legacy of the property. As Barclays grew, so did the building, and finally in 1926 the building that stands today was designed, complete with a banking hall, offices and strong rooms. In its heyday, it was said that Barclays had the longest banking counter in the UK.

Fast forward to 2003 and the building switched hands yet again, this time to Lind Trust. The trust created a Youth Forum to meet the needs of young people in Norfolk and the OPEN Youth Trust was born.

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'We got our charitable distinction in 2005 and we asked our young people: 'What would you like to see in this space?' We catered everything specifically to them,' Ms Gerrard said.

The banking hall was converted into an event space fit for 1,400 people standing, including an upper floor for a makeshift VIP section, a screen for conferences and enough room for fashion shows, awards dinners or sports screenings.

Elliott Mulhall of Elmulgraphic 360 took this sweeping shot from the Bank Plain roof

Elliott Mulhall of Elmulgraphic 360 took this sweeping shot from the Bank Plain roof - Credit: Elliott Mulhall / Elmulgraphic 360

The general OPEN facilities include a dance studio, massive climbing wall, media lab, recording studio and a 'drop-in' space for ages 11 to 19. Young people can get help filling out CVs, or just hang out with friends and do a range of fun activities.

Best of all, OPEN turned the legendary bank vaults in the basement, which have seen wine and currency pass through their thick metal doors, into CLOSED - a place where corporations and charities alike can store confidential documents. All profits from the venture go towards the OPEN Youth Trust.

If you own or run a building with an amazing past we'd love to feature them in Norwich Through The Decades. Email david.powles@archant.co.uk

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