Putting on the hard hats in the Hat District


Following Luton Culture Trust’s successful funding bids to bring over £6million of new investment to Luton, work has recently begun to transform three former hat factories into 25,000 sq. ft. of new workspaces for creative industries enabling 133 additional jobs and providing a vibrant district that will attract 135,000 new visitors by 2022.

The Hat District development comprises three key buildings: the formerly derelict Hat House at 32 Guildford Street, Hat Works at 47 Guildford Street and the existing Hat Factory Arts Centre situated in the Plaiters Lea Conservation area. The vision of the project is to create more work opportunities, amplify cultural vibrancy, preserve important heritage buildings and breathe new life into the heart of the town, by creating a bustling neighbourhood where artists, makers, students, producers, audiences, visitors, learners and creative businesses can share their knowledge and skills. The creative ecosystem created by the Trust will allow for nurturing and development of the work of startups and entrepreneurs, whilst also providing small to mid-sized creative companies with an environment in which to grow and thrive. 

Hat District Map - Peter Laponder, 2016

Hat District Map - Peter Laponder, 2016


The Creative Ecosystem
The journey begins at Hat Works which will house workshop and co-working spaces ideal for start- ups and entrepreneurs who want to develop their creative ideas, services or designed products. The building will also provide a reception area for all Hat District visitors, bookable meeting rooms, and a made in Luton showcase area. As successful start-ups grow, they’ll step up to the Hat Factory, a regional arts and cultural venue with opportunities to collaborate with other like-minded creative practitioners and SMEs. The Hat Factory also offers a theatre, comedy bar, café, workshops and learning spaces, start-up retail units, and a diverse and stimulating year-round arts programme.
At Hat House, more established creative businesses can lease professional workspace in the light, bright and inspiring former factory building. Here, whilst businesses will be independent, they are serviced by the Hat District cluster and conditions are designed for growth. At Hat House, creative businesses will offer their professional experience and insight to help start-ups, and in turn, draw upon the energy and ideas of fresh talent based in the other factories.

Luton Culture Trust is a charity so all rental income will be re-invested back into arts activity, events and promotions to support and grow the District’s offer in the future.

Design & Architecture
A dynamic team of cutting edge and experienced designers, architects and consultants have been brought together to deliver the Hat District project, focusing on celebrating the heritage of the old buildings whilst creating inspiring, fit-for-purpose workspaces and facilities.

The Hat Factory
Design development is already underway at the Hat Factory Arts Centre with appointed architects Fabric Space bringing their expertise in architecture, interior design, urbanism and research to re- design an imaginative arts centre that will offer an enriched experience for both audiences and artists.
The arts centre will be partially refurbished to transform public spaces and improve visitor experience. Works will start at the Hat Factory on 1st April 2018, re-opening again in Spring 2019 with a new entrance, reception, theatre foyer and skills and learning spaces.
During closure, Luton Culture is committed to continuing to deliver its outstanding artistic programme in offsite locations across its other sites including Wardown House, Museum and Gallery, Stockwood Discovery Centre and the Central Library.

Visualisation of Hat Factory - Fabric Space, 2017

Visualisation of Hat Factory - Fabric Space, 2017



Hat House
Award-winning architects Fleet have been appointed with project partners Y O U & M E to breathe new life into this abandoned hat factory. They are working closely with Luton Culture as a collaborative design team to refurbish Hat House. The team has extensive expertise in public realm, heritage-led regeneration, arts and community projects. They also have a shared interest in creating unique spaces and transforming urban environments for new and contemporary uses.

At Hat House, the team will deliver a varied offer for the site with three upper floors of individual studios and workspaces ranging in size. These will house established creative, design, tech and digital businesses. Completing the offer will be a ground floor cultural retail space and a vibrant basement area providing a contemporary food and beverage destination for tenants, visitors, Hat District members and the general public.  In November 2017, Luton firm Neville Construction Group began the strip out of the interior of Hat House including removing asbestos from the building in preparation for the planned works.

Hat House Top Floor visualisation – MF3D, 2017

Hat House Top Floor visualisation – MF3D, 2017



Parent company T & E Neville Ltd has established a reputation for quality and service with a track record of 140 years in the construction industry, across a wide range of building and maintenance works.

Hat Works

Work has started on Hat Works at 47 Guildford Street, the oldest listed hat factory in Luton, to deliver much needed emergency repairs to protect its fragile fabric. In November 2017, the windows of this historic property opened for the first time in more than ten years as part of the treatment of infestation and severe damp, which was supported by Historic England. This work is to ensure that no further deterioration occurs prior to the planned redevelopment works starting in late 2018.

Hat District Management

Consultants Hewitt Freeborn have been appointed to project manage the delivery of the Hat District and provide quantity surveying services, and are working closely with the Trust and all key partners to ensure the successful completion of all works.

The Hat District Brand

In addition, graphic design and brand specialists, Them have worked with Luton Culture to develop a dynamic and progressive brand for the Hat District and its various buildings, based on a geometric grid which takes inspiration from the traditional hat-making processes of straw plaiting and stitching that are a key part of Luton’s rich hat-making heritage. At the core of the brand identity is the idea of various elements coming together to create a finished piece. The individual building logos are layered up in the chronological order in which each hat factory was originally built to create the Hat District logo and represent the journey through the Hat District from ‘start up’ to established business.
Major funding for the Hat District has come from the SEMLEP local growth fund, National Lottery players through the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) and Arts Council England. This adds to project capital funding from Luton Borough Council and grant funding from Historic England and The Architectural Heritage Fund.

Marie Kirbyshaw, Chief Executive of Luton Culture and Hat District Project Lead, said of the vision for the Hat District:

“I look at this stunning straw hatters clock in my office every day - it is broken and doesn’t tick so I have set it to 20:22 which is when the Hat District creative workspace project will be delivered. By then we will have achieved 158 new jobs, 25,000sqft of new creative workspace, a sustainable financial model for the Trust, 193,000 new visitors and we will have regenerated an incredibly important area of Luton. I am determined to transform these empty and broken resources into vibrant and culturally relevant assets once more.”

Luton Culture Hat District Clock Face 2022.jpg


With a history of delivering large public and private sector construction projects in the UK, Hewitt Freeborn help assess, procure, deliver and manage complex projects, setting them in great stead to deliver this key programme of developments for Luton.