The historic Low Level train station in Wolverhampton closed in 1972. With the progression of electrification work on lines across the region, services to the once-thriving station had gradually been reduced.
Since then it has remained empty. Over the years, there were several proposals for the redevelopment of the site, including a Chinese restaurant, casino and even a plan to convert it into a transport museum. None of these came to fruition, despite a recent two-year restoration project.
Now, over 150 years after it first opened, the Victorian building has been given a remarkable new lease of life thanks to a Fine Arts student with a vision.
Antoinette Allyne has transformed the former station into a public art gallery, the Volte, and has been overwhelmed by the positive response she has received.
Through word of mouth, she ended up with 54 exhibitors for the opening last month – and a waiting list of over 150 for future exhibitions. The old station provides a striking setting for the displays of textiles, paintings, illustrations and digital installations, which have all captured the imagination of the public. A local florist even supplied specially-created floral art.
The seeds for the project were sown during the 51-year-old’s studies at the University’s School of Art & Design.
“I did an exhibition module in my second year. I got a real buzz out of it and absolutely loved it,” says Antoinette. “I just had this idea that I wanted to create, curate and direct a gallery.
“I wanted a challenge and started looking for venues all around Wolverhampton. It’s amazing how everything has taken off.”
Antoinette put together a proposal and contacted the developers, Oswin, who were behind the restoration of the landmark site, which still houses a section of the original Brunel train track.
A year-long lease has been signed for the new makeshift gallery, but bosses are not charging rent.
“I’m just so pleased they had the vision and gave me the support,” says Antoinette, “I couldn’t believe this massive blue-brick building had just been standing there. I used to go for walks around the city with my sons when they were younger and I remember walking near the train tracks and seeing the old building. Even then, I thought it was beautiful.”
As her project has grown, Antoinette, who is from Islington originally but made Wolverhampton her home 20 years ago, is now spending a year out working on it, with the full support of the University. She will return to her studies full-time next year. “The University has been amazing,” she says. “I have had so much encouragement.”
It has become a real team effort with staff and students helping with everything from printing and designing flyers and posters to taking photographs.
“It really has brought together so many people,” she says. “There is no selection process for artists who want to display their work, and no commission on any work sold.
“I just wanted to gather together artists, regardless of their background. It’s just been wonderful; all these people with a common interest.”
She is full of enthusiasm and plans to organise a new exhibition every couple of months.
“Since starting my course, I haven’t looked back.” Her son had graduated with First Class Honours from the University of Wolverhampton and encouraged her to pursue her artistic dreams and sign up for a course. Antoinette was not daunted by the prospect as she has always enjoyed studying.
She made a seamless transition from a mum who loved knitting and being creative into a full-time mature student.
Now, she is excited about her role as gallery curator and exhibition organiser.
“I can’t believe where my studies have taken me,” she says. “I feel like it’s opened up a magical box.”
The next exhibition will be on display from October 30 to November 30. The gallery is open from 10am-8pm Monday to Friday and from 10am-4pm on Saturdays.
For more information call Antoinette on tel: 0779 4459330.