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Impact of COVID-19 on the UK industrial heritage sector

The wider industrial heritage and industrial archaeology sector has been severely hit by the COVID-19 health crisis. Between the 23rd March and the end of June 2020 all the 600+ listed and scheduled industrial sites preserved as heritage attractions in England have been closed, as have the hundreds of protected industrial heritage sites in Scotland, Northern Ireland, and Wales normally open to the public. Most full-time industrial heritage museum staff have been furloughed (including staff in Historic Environment Scotland), all local meetings and events of the 100+ industrial heritage and industrial archaeology societies and groups in Britain cancelled, and universities campuses are closed with institutions working remotely. The advice for the Council for British Archaeology is for voluntary fieldwork to remain closed for the moment. Professional archaeology fieldwork has continued under strict social distancing guidelines (with input from CIfA) and planning archaeologists have continued to work remotely, but some fieldwork has been curtailed and office-based staff furloughed in many organisations.

Emergency support funding for industrial heritage groups has been available through the variety of Government grant schemes, with funds set up by NLHF, the Arts Council, Historic England and third-sector resilience funding in Wales. Furthermore, both the Heritage Alliance and the Association of Independent Museums have set up information hubs since the COVID-19 crisis began. Both Historic Environment Scotland and Historic England have undertaken surveys assessing the immediate impact on the heritage sector and highlighting potential problems over the next few months. Many industrial heritage sites, from railways to windmills, have set up their own appeal for funds. The full impact of the pandemic on the sustainability of Industrial Heritage sites will not be known until the restrictions start to ease and the temporary financial support mechanisms are removed.

Mike Nevell

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