Thirty years of expertise and creativity now in the heart of Amble
A creative gem is nestling in the middle of Amble, in the form of a glass conservation business. Started in 1986 by husband and wife Chris and Sarah Chesney, the company now employs 8 people, including two apprentices.
On the site of the former police station, Iona Art Glass provides expertise in mending, restoring and helping to conserve old glass windows. Mostly they come from churches or civic buildings around the North East, Cumbria and the Borders, and the team carefully removes damaged windows, bringing them back to the workshops where they are lovingly cleaned, reglazed and releaded, then repositioned, sometimes with added protective glazing.
Sarah’s background is in glass restoration painting, and Chris previously worked in construction. He explained how Iona Art Glass began.
“Sarah had trained with Patrick Martin, the head restoration painter at John Hardman, a large Victorian stained glass company in Birmingham. I saw only three stained glass companies in the phone book, so we embarked on glass restoration and new windows.”
The workshops were in Chris and Sarah’s garage in Warkworth until very recently – handy for their five years of work on Warkworth Church. Bill Read and Alison Milligan joined the team in the 1990s, and gradually everyone’s roles developed.
“Bill started by giving me a hand in the workshop. Now he does most of the site work; taking things down, putting them back and putting in specialist protective glazing systems. Alison came to us from Edinburgh College of Art. 20 years later she’s still here! She’s a real expert.”
Alison’s work comprises everything for the workshop, paint, leading, soldering, cutting glass.
“My role has changed over the years,” said Chris. “There’s more consultation and assessing jobs for lottery bids, as well as getting the work in. Sarah is probably the best glass artist in the country.”
A £50,000 grant from Northumberland Coast and Lowlands LEADER programme meant that the company could move to better premises, and the old police station in Amble provided the perfect place. “We really needed the space, and the money was used to refit the building, build specialist furniture and buy a new kiln. We’ve also got two apprentices, Dylan Ferries and Natasha Carr, both from Amble.”
Some of the projects they’re most proud of include windows made by Morris and Co, Reed Millican of Newcastle, Harry Clarke, and a huge window by J. Edgar Mitchell, which had been lying in storage for 50 years, and is now in pride of place on the staircase in the Laing art gallery.
“No-one else has the level of expertise we’ve got here,” said Chris.