A Priceless but Vulnerable Asset: Valuing and Sustaining Britain’s Industrial Heritage Part 2

The 1736 Great Warehouse on Strand Quay in Rye, Sussex.

The 1736 Great Warehouse on Strand Quay in Rye, Sussex.

This year’s Association for Industrial Archaeology conference seminar looked at the challenges facing the future of industrial heritage and archaeology, in this European year of Industrial Heritage. The first session of the day looked at valuing our industrial heritage (see my previous blog). Keith Falconer, chair of the AIA, introduced the afternoon session on Funding and Sustaining Industrial Heritage. He noted that funding sustainability is something that each generation has had to reinvent.

Sir Neil Cossons of the AIA looked at the sustainability challenge. Author of a 2008 report on small industrial heritage museums and one of the first generation of industrial archaeologists he used his great experience to note the evaporation of industrial archaeology and heritage knowledge in the popular consciousness as the generations changed: this is one of the challenges of future sustainability. He suggested that the arguments used in the 1960s and 1970s to save industrial heritage are not being heard and don’t have the weight they did – perhaps they are out of date themselves. We need to look at and promote the values specific to industrial heritage and landscapes since ‘the chattering classes’ seem to have no understanding of industrial history and heritage. Sir Neil argued that this matters in terms of the popular perception of the subject and further that the second decade of the 21st century is a changing cultural moment and that campaigning for causes may be coming back. HLF has been the best supporter of industrial heritage in the last 21 years but the adaptive reuse approach won’t save everything. There will be orphans, such as the coal mines of Snibston, Clipston and Chatterley Whitfield or the Ditherington Flax Mill (too important to lose but too precious to use) and we need to address this. There are already new and innovative initiatives from bodies such as the Canals and Rivers Trust who have developed a specific industrial heritage policy approach to their heritage building stock, whilst the large number of small volunteer museums might now in the face of government cuts be seen as a strength rather than a weakness. He concluded by stating that we need connectivity, causes and campaigning.

Ian Bapty Industrial Heritage Support Officer for the Ironbridge Gorge Museum Trust spoke about the training support for preserved industrial sites in England. His post is funded by Historic England but is due to end in March 2016. For three years Ian has been supporting the c. 650 small charitable bodies struggling to preserve industrial heritage sites in UK. Ian’s role had included advice on the best places for help on conservation and fund raising (many groups are not aware of this); the promotion of industrial heritage partnerships to deal with practical issues; encouraging and enabling local networks; and providing training especially for succession planning and diversifying funding. We mustn’t forget what is already preserved and protected is at risk, just as other non-designated sites on brownfield and urban sites are under threat from redevelopment. Once again he argued that we need to be specific about value of industrial heritage such as Britain’s role as the world’s first industrial nation and in the development of the factory system, as well as the scale of individual sites and their associated machinery. Ian noted that there is a tension in management between conservation (academic) and restoration for use (volunteers’ aim). He explained that for many of these groups what the machinery did and what the buildings were used for are often two separate problems with attention focused on the machinery. To build support systems, resources and resilience as a legacy of the project has been a key aim of the scheme.

Bill Ferris of the Chatham Historic Dockyard Trust talked about the challenges of preserving big industrial sites. Chatham, the most complete Georgian dockyard in Britain, closed in the early 1980s. It covers 80 acres, 47 scheduled and listed sites, and includes the quarter-of-a-mile-long ropery and the mould loft. Initially the private sector did not want to invest in the site. Instead an independent trust was set up in 1984 with the aims of preservation and education. £11 million pounds of initial funding was provided by the government of the day, but there were millions of pounds in repairs to undertake. £60 million pounds has been raised since 1984 to preserve the site through re-use from a range of funds, including the HLF. Thus the ropery is run as a business to show visitors rope making. That re-use has included workshops, specialist stores and community uses to turn the docks into a place of work and a place to visit.

Ian Morrison from Architectural Heritage Fund looked at the growth of community enterprise through heritage. The fund was set up with a government grant in 1976 on the back of the European Year of Architectural Heritage in 1975. Initially they provided loans but from 1990 this expanded into grant giving UK wide. It has a team of support officers advising on networking and fund raising. Since 1976, 870 projects have been supported with loans worth £121 million, many of these being on industrial sites. The funds aims include supporting communities to repair historic buildings, and to demonstrate the value of heritage-led conservation. This has levered in an additional £278 million from private sector as well as monies from the HLF, local and national government. He used the case study of the Portland Works, a Grade II* cutlery manufactory, as an example of an industrial building saved by the fund in partnership with the local community. This is now an affordable work space for small manufacturers. Measuring impact is increasingly important as AHF moves towards more social investment, so that social outcomes are now central. AHF’s success is tied to the success of its project loans. Common factors for success have been; patience, community support, skilled trustees, proper project management, clear social outcomes, partnerships, mixed uses, and adaptability. Problems have been; the unexpected, losing funding, community apathy, reliance on one individual, poor communication, uncontrolled growth, market forces, inflation, regulation, and complacency.

Nigel Crowe from the Canals and Rivers Trust discussed the organisation’s approach to its 2701 listed buildings and 49 Ancient Monuments. They are the third largest owner of protected heritage sites in the UK and they have a team of 10 heritage advisors working with heritage volunteers in restoration and research. This partnership approach has enabled the Trust to target sites that they would not otherwise have the resources to restore or promote. He discussed the advantages of working with volunteers; such as the socialising, acquiring of new skills and experience, working with heritage, and increasing the local skills capacity. Yet he also noted some of the problems such as the constant need for support, the lengthy start-up time, and the need for more diversity in backgrounds and ability amongst the volunteers. Nigel concluded though that volunteers add huge value to the work of the Trust.

At the end of the afternoon John Rodger talked about the European Route of Industrial Heritage and its contribution to understanding industrial heritage at an international level. ERIH works through promotion and networking was established in 2000 with European Union funding. Since 2008 it has been self-funding, yet the EU regards it as the primary means of promoting EU industrial heritage tourism. The network now covers 13 countries with thematic routes and more than 82 anchor industrial sites (local hubs for exploring industrial sites and landscapes). ERIH works through brand promotion the hub of which is a website which has 2000 hits per day, as well details of all anchor points, thematic routes and dozens of biographies of European industrial pioneers. Events in individual countries have also been useful as has the lobbying of MEPs, EU Commission, and national heritage bodies. The networking is done through pan-European annual conferences, in the UK regular partner meetings, site links and regional routes. ERIH is striving to establish a quality brand for European industrial heritage that can sustain the regional routes and their partners.

Sir Neil summed up the day with some discussion and concluding remarks. He noted that there is funding available for saving and supporting industrial heritage sites but it is increasingly competitive. Whilst volunteer renewal remains very important, we need to get our message out beyond those actively involved and multi-media is a very high profile route.

The AIA will look to publish a summary of this day online and on paper, in the process producing a popular manifesto for industrial heritage supported by case studies, and co-published with the organisations present at the Brighton seminar. This will also allow us to plug the two gaps in the day’s presentations; industrial archaeology discovery through developer-funding (currently threatened in the UK by local government cuts to planning archaeology services and the lack of a statutory status for local HERs); and public engagement through community archaeology, much of which focusses on industrial-period sites. Hopefully, the AIA will be exploring both of these topics in the near future.


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