An affection for confection: The story of The Chocolate Works

The Chocolate Works is an iconic York landmark. Once home to the legendary Terry’s chocolate brand, its origins date back nearly a century when it was established as the Bishopthorpe Factory – the place where some of the nation’s most beloved chocolate products were crafted.

The site has now been transformed by HBD and its various partners following a long-term, multi-phase, often complex development programme. Today it is a vibrant residential neighbourhood and, our colleague Katie McManus unwraps the journey, delving into its past and exploring how HBD’s approach has carefully preserved the rich heritage for a new generation.

Ask anyone in York about the legacy of Terry’s and they’ll have a story to tell! Much of its history is centred around Bishopthorpe Factory which once employed 2,500 people, before enjoying a new lease of life as HBD’s residential-led development, The Chocolate Works.

Constructed in 1927, Bishopthorpe was the proud emblem of Terry’s incredible  success, accommodating its transition from simple apothecary to the fully-fledged, world famous chocolatier. The factory was the beating heart of Terry’s operations, slowing down only for WW II, before reverting to full production in the 1950s – the decade in which the Chocolate Orange, arguably the business’ best-known product, was presented to the world for tapping and unwrapping.

Sadly, an acquisition by Kraft Foods in the 1990s saw operations moved to Europe and the factory finally closed in 2005.

A challenging new era

Another developer purchased the 27-acre redundant site. While their plans stalled, the building fell into significant disrepair. English Heritage highlighted its plight, adding five of Terry’s former factory buildings to the  ‘at Risk Register’.

Buildings with such powerful legacies often deter developers, fearful of the challenges and viability, but as HBD and our partners have shown over the years, we’re well placed to tackle large-scale mixed use regeneration projects.

With our roots already in Yorkshire, HBD seized the opportunity to acquire this loved landmark and protect and breathe new life into it.

We worked with local community listening to the generational stories that bound so many people with this building’s past. We asked what else they wanted alongside the new homes we would create, and there was a keen desire to see Terry’s iconic clock tower function as the city’s timekeeper once more.

HBD’s vision

Planning had already been secured by the previous owner for mixed-use outline proposals at the site. But the plans didn’t reflect the changing needs of the local population and were heavily weighted to office and retail. Having reassessed the market conditions and consulted the local stakeholders, we committed to delivering something that addressed significant local residential demand.

Exponential population growth – compounded by an ageing population – was addressed with our revised plan.  In 2011, a short time before HBD acquired the site, the UK had created just 146,000 new homes – down 43% on 2008.  We adjusted our proposals accordingly, initially selling 14 acres to the north of the site to David Wilson Homes.

Of the remaining site, we were committed to retaining as much of the brownfield land as possible which came with an element of risk as some of the buildings contained asbestos which needed careful management.

For some, this might cause viability issues, but we drew on our past experience of securing funding to enable us to deliver the scale of remediation works required. We explored options such as grant funding – something we’d done in the past at schemes like Markham Vale – a former colliery where we secured more than £14m funding – and Airport Business Park in Southend – where we secured £20m funding. In the case of Terry’s though, we drew on another HBD asset – cash resources – funding asbestos strip out and all infrastructure work ourselves to unlock development. .

These early works allowed us to create in the first instance high-quality public realm and open green spaces including the public Peace Garden which features a children’s play area and is open to the wider community. This public open space formed part of our placemaking strategy and maximised the value of scheme – not only financial – but through the strong connection it has created between local people and the place.

It’s worth mentioning that we considered the long-term stewardship of the scheme at this early stage too, which resulted in the establishment of the Chocolate Works Management Company (ManCo). This ManCo structure ensures that the public areas of the scheme are sufficiently managed and funded into perpetuity and can be enjoyed for  years to come.

A bitesized approach

We adopted a phased approach to bring The Chocolate Works to life, starting with the Care Village. Delivered in partnership with Springfield Healthcare, this award-winning dementia specialist facility sits within the 40,000 sq ft former Terry’s HQ building – a space well suited to a care home due to its large central atrium for shared services. It’s been a huge success, with Springfield’s CEO calling our collaboration “seamless”.

Next, we turned our attention to The Residence – a former 160,000 sq ft multi-storey factory space. Collaboration was once again key, partnering with PJ Livesey to create 163 apartments and a commercial unit. The partnership continued, turning The Clock Tower into 21 superb new apartments and, as promised to the local community, the working clock. We responded to the community engagement further by creating a museum space behind the clock faces that will be open to the public on certain days throughout the year. We also offered some great added extras for residents like bus passes and £400 bike reimbursements to promote sustainable transport around the city.

Next came The Liquor Store. We sold this 20,000 sq ft space to a local developer, and worked with them to devise a that would create more great neighbourhood amenities. Covid threw us some curveballs, but The Liquor Store now exists as home to a café , a dentist, and flexible office space.

Most recently we completed a turnkey Acquired Brain Injury (ABI) hospital, for Brainkind – a 40-year-old charity which provides care facilities for people with brain injuries, physical disabilities, autism and learning difficulties. The charity had struggled to find new premises, but HBD made the ABI hospital a reality, with 40 bedrooms (36 beds and a further 4 “step down” assessment flats), therapy and treatment rooms, communal areas, internal courtyards, landscaping and parking.

The ABI hospital is a prime example of low carbon by design, achieving BREEAM “Excellent” rating, and 29% betterment of Part L. It is also designed in accordance with AIMS Standards for Inpatient Mental Health Rehabilitation Services to be CQC compliant and is designed in the spirit of the NHS’s HTMs and HBNs, demonstrating how we adopt best practice guidance and industry standards.

The people make the place

HBD is able to deliver at scale for many reasons; our 135-year history, our partners, our access to funding, but the standout factor for me is our people. The Chocolate Works has had its challenges, but when we commit to something, we’re in it for the long-haul. The tenacity and experience of HBD’s colleagues and our partners has paid off – we are proud of the vibrant successful neighbourhood we’ve created.

We were also supported by brilliant consultants who brought much-needed technical expertise– from planners and quantity surveyors – through to specialist horologists, who helped us put this much-loved timepiece back into use on the city’s skyline. I’d like to thank each and every one of them who’s helped our vision become a reality.

The Chocolate Works is a great example of how HBD collaborates  with multiple stakeholders from start to finish. I’m proud that our occupiers and residents can now echo Dawn French’s immortal line and say, “It’s not Terrys, it’s mine!”