A Priceless but Vulnerable Asset

Valuing and Sustaining Britain’s Industrial Heritage

By Dr Michael Nevell, MCIfA, FSA
AIA Vice Chairman
Co-Editor of Industrial Archaeology Review
Head of Archaeology, School of Environmental & Life Sciences, University of Salford

This year’s Association for Industrial Archaeology annual conference was held at Brighton, on the University of Sussex campus. The theme of our regular research seminar was the challenges facing the future of industrial heritage and archaeology, inspired by the 2015 European Year of Industrial Heritage.

The morning session took the theme of Valuing our Industrial Heritage, focusing exclusively on the built heritage:

Ben Greener of the Heritage Lottery Fund looked at the role of HLF in the last 21 years in promoting industrial heritage. It focussed on structures rather than HLF’s role in community archaeology support. 17,000 buildings and monuments have received funding from the HLF since 1994. This is a total investment of £1.8 billion in Industrial Heritage sites including all the UK World Heritage Sites. HLF continues to be particularly interested in local people taking on local buildings for local benefits. Thus, Ben described the HLF Heritage Enterprise scheme, begun in 2013, aimed at community-led projects saving at-risk, under-used, buildings in economically disadvantaged areas. The scheme was partly inspired by Jane Jacobs’ 1961 work ‘The death and life of great American cities’. £47 billion per annum is the contribution of businesses based in listed buildings, whilst 1.4 million people in the UK work in listed buildings. At the heart of this approach is the conservation deficit which is the value of a historic building, plus the cost of the project, minus the building’s post-project value. Case studies included the Harland and Wolff HQ in Belfast – a £5 million regeneration scheme has turned this into a boutique hotel generating 109 jobs but this is just part of a bigger waterside regeneration project. A second case study was the North British Rubber Company in Edinburgh – where the Wellington boot was created and manufactured. Here a £5 million redevelopment regenerated the historic industrial buildings into printmakers, arts centre, cafe and workshops. Ben also looked ahead at some future projects, since the fund will run until 2018, including the Ancoats Dispensary in Manchester and sites with smaller grants in the hundreds of thousands. All are key to regenerating their local areas.

Miles Oglethorpe of Historic Scotland talked about the new Industrial Heritage Strategy for Scotland. This has been led by Historic Scotland and is part of the National Performance Framework published by the Scottish Government. More a manifesto than a strategy it looks at advocacy, sustainability, understanding, protecting and public benefits. The background is the high profile of industrial heritage in the public consciousness in Scotland provided by the opening ceremonies of the London Olympics in 2012 and the Glasgow Commonwealth Games in 2014. It addresses inclusiveness, the image of the discipline, its economic foundations, access to sites and collections, and the shrinking pool of expertise in traditional industries. The document provides an outline manifesto for the future study of industrial heritage, though it does largely overlook the develop-funded archaeology sector. Miles also talked about the role of TICCIH in advising UNESCO on the five new World Heritage Sites inscribed in 2015, from the Fray Bentos site in Uruguay and Norwegian hydropower schemes to the inscription of the UK’s latest one, the Forth Bridge.

Wayne Cocroft of Historic England looked at the protection of Industrial Heritage in England since the 1930s. The first protected industrial monument was iron bridge at Ironbridge in the 1930s. In 1947 the ministry of works suggested that Industrial Archaeology sites could be worthy of scheduling. But the next head of the ministry was against taking such sites into public care, and favoured local solutions, a policy that remained in place until the 1970s and helped to create hundreds of independent voluntary-run industrial museums. Active surveying of industrial monuments with a view to protection began in the mid-1960s. English Heritage from 1984 and the RCHME, until 1997, and RCHMS all worked on recording and understanding industrial monuments particularly through the Monuments Protection Programme, begun in the late 1980s and which ended in 2004, by which time 43 industrial topics had been identified. Prominence from 1990s was given to the role of industrial heritage in local regeneration and so 29 books have been published in the English Heritage/Historic England informed conservation series. Landscape characterisation, begun in 1994 with a pilot in Cornwall was used to support the Cornish WHS mining bid. Since 2000 renewal and expansion of the UK’s infrastructure, particularly power generation and transport, have increasing threatened 19th and 20th historic utility sites. Around 16,500 industrial buildings are now listed in England, 4.4% of the listed stock, with many types described in the EH/HE Introduction to Heritage Assets guide. In 2008 the Heritage at Risk programme included for the first time listed buildings and scheduled monuments and in 2011 Industrial Heritage was taken as its theme, and still resonates today.

Kate Clark, Director of CADW, looked at the importance of industrial sites and landscapes in Wales.  Industry has shaped, and industrial heritage continues to shape, peoples’ home and working lives, and is reflected in the huge range of workers’ housing in Wales. Of the three World Heritage Sites in Wales two are industrial (Blaenavon and Pontcysyllte) with the Welsh slate industry is due for nomination soon. The buildings types in Wales most at risk are farms, chapels and industrial structures and Kate went on to focus on the values and significance of industrial heritage and archaeology. She argued that there is a gap between those of us who are passionate about these sites and the rest. We need to articulate why it matters. What is it that is important about industrial archaeology and industrial heritage?  Kate then got the delegates to mind map this! The result was a list of words valuing industrial heritage from architecture, associations, historical value, and rarity (all protection terms) to benefits such as quirky, fun, identity, use, volunteering, new skills, friendships, keeps you fit, bringing generations together, put something back into community, ecological value and embodied energy value. These terms, which go beyond the usual four themes of evidential, historic, aesthetic, and communal importance, helped to identify significance, sustainability and service (the public value triangle), as well as describing how and why industrial heritage and archaeology is important.

Sue Seville of the Princes Regeneration Trust talked about the Trust’s philosophy as shown through its recent involvement at the Middleport Pottery. The Trust was founded in 1996 around the themes of using regeneration and heritage to strengthen local communities. She suggested that finding a solution together through local community collaboration is key with three main ways to do this; ownership, as at Middleport which was purchased in 2011, as community advisors, and as enablers. The vision at Middleport was to buy the site and its archive in order to restore the model factory, record the pottery archive, whilst retaining the Denby pottery business in the works and also setting aside part of the site for other community workshops and engagement. So far this has cost £9 million. However, the trust’s aims are as much about the regeneration of people as it is about the buildings. Sue explained that at Middleport they are aiming next to restore the steam engine with volunteer help using crowd funding. This regeneration is now impacting positively on the surrounding streets and townscape.

At the end of the morning the discussion session touched on archaeology and conservation planning as regarding industrial sites and buildings. Local government funding cuts since 2010 has meant that there is a serious and growing knowledge gap in some local authorities regarding the knowledge of the local building stock and the requirements of planning legislation. This is due to the loss of staff and the loss of heritage planning posts. There was a feeling that to secure the future of industrial heritage and archaeology there needs to be a radical rethink as to how voluntary organisations such as the AIA engage with local government, industrial heritage conservation and archaeology protection.

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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