WORK has begun on an ambitious project that will breathe new life into Holt’s historic tannery site while creating new homes and business units.

Developer Stonewood has begun converting the historic stone and brick buildings used for washing, drying and trimming sheepskins into offices, studios, workshops and services for up to 100 tenants.

The Castle Combe-based company is also building 44 new houses and flats around them to fulfil a vision of a site that provides somewhere to live, work and play.

The development will feature nine one-bedroomed flats, six two-bedroomed houses, 17 three-bedroomed homes and 11 four-bedroomed homes.

The workspace and residential areas will be linked by a public space to encourage users of both to mix, bringing a sense of community to those who live and work there.

Stonewood has now completed the purchase of the residential part of the site from owner J&T Beaven, which has operated the tannery there since the late 1700s. In its heyday the company employed 600 people and processed 1,500 dozen sheepskins a week to make chamois leathers and leather for gloves and many other uses for export all over the world.

Stonewood commercial director Ben Lang said: “We just fell in love with the site as soon as we saw it. There’s a wonderful sense of history here and we’ll capture and preserve that in this development.

The design of the new buildings will reflect the industrial nature of the site and Stonewood plans to use the remnants of its heritage in a positive way to remind the people living and working there of the 249 years of skill and craftsmanship that went before them.

“We want to use some of the artefacts like the old wooden tanning drums within the design,” said Mr Lang. “It is important to us that we retain the look and feel of all the years of industry that have taken place here.”

This week demolition teams have begun removing around 15 of the more modern workshops and storage buildings.

Contracts director Kris Beasley said great care is being taken to preserve the listed tannery buildings and many of the industrial artefacts lying around the site.

“We are setting aside things like old boilers and the beautiful old tanning drums so that we can incorporate them into the new development in some way,” he said.

Careful provision has also been made to protect slowworms and bats on the site.

The demolition work is expected to last until the end of January and Mr Beasley said as much of the rubble will be used on site as possible for hardcore to prevent as much traffic as possible leaving the development.

The first show home will be completed later this year.

Neighbouring Glove Factory Studios, which is also built on part of the tannery site, will run the new business units in partnership with J&T Beaven owner Guy Colle, who retains ownership of that part of the site.

Glove Factory owner Nick Kirkham sees Holt as pioneering a rural live/work vision where achieving a healthy work life balance, with urban comforts and access to the outdoors is intertwined in the setting.

Co-owner Alix Paiver added: “Holt is a fabulous village with enormous energy and social capital, Holt Tannery’s new village homes and workspace community can only add to that feeling.”

The residential side of the development is being undertaken by Tormarton-based Stonewood Partnerships, while Stonewood Builders of Castle Combe, which has more than 40 years’ experience in refurbishing and converting listed buildings, is taking care of the business units.

Stonewood Partnerships’ first development Somerbrook, a 38-home neighbourhood in Great Somerford, is also now under way.