UK industrial heritage needs you!

Carole Souter, HLF's Chief Executive
This week, HLF Chief Executive, Carole Souter, addressed the UK Industrial Heritage Conference in Manchester. It explored how former industrial buildings can spur local economic growth. Here, Carole talks about the role the National Lottery is playing in this renaissance.

I grew up in Cornwall, surrounded by dramatic reminders of the Industrial Revolution. Abandoned tin mines dotted the countryside, and, along with the coastal trappings of a once thriving fishing industry hinted at the sources of past  prosperity, when Cornwall stood at the forefront of global technology and engineering.

There was huge pride in the role this remote part of England played in the UK’s past industrial prominence, and sadness and some anger that it was at danger of being lost.   

“Over the past 250 years, the urban landscape of this city and its surroundings has been forged by the rise and fall of its industries.”

I didn’t know it then, but this strong connection to industrial identity stretches right across the UK.  Cornwall is not alone in having shared in the good fortune and hard times that came with the rise and fall of industries and the buildings they inhabited.  Cities like Manchester, Sheffield, Belfast, Bradford, Aberdeen and Leeds are amongst dozens where industry has shaped the way people see themselves and how these cities are perceived by others.

This week, I had the privilege of speaking at the UK Industrial Heritage Conference held at the Museum of Science and Industry in Manchester.  Located on the site of the oldest surviving passenger railway station in the city, it’s a fitting location for a museum dedicated to exploring innovations in science and technology. 

Over the past 250 years, the urban landscape of this city and its surroundings has been forged by the rise and fall of its industries.

In more recent times, Manchester has been remade again by new initiatives for reconstruction, regeneration and renewal. From the redevelopment of magnificent city centre buildings like The Royal Exchange and Corn Exchange, to the conversion of warehouses and mills into attractive places to live and work, Manchester’s old buildings are playing an exciting role in reshaping this thoroughly modern city.  And this is something that I believe can be replicated right across the UK.

Untapped potential

HLF recently undertook some work with the RSA which has focused our minds on the impact of heritage on place and identity. This included the recently published Heritage Index. It has highlighted the untapped potential still out there for using heritage, not least our neglected heritage buildings, for growth.

These buildings are not without issues and in many cases that’s why they have been empty for so long.  

These range from practical concerns - such as what to do with the large warehouses, mills, factories and other industrial relics which were so essential to the growth and development of these places - to then identifying strategies to develop and attract new industries or new ways of working.

But this is where the National Lottery can help.

New ideas need old buildings

At HLF we have always understood the latent power and potential of heritage to drive regeneration and economic growth. In 2013 we published New Ideas Need Old Buildings which highlighted the fact that, rather than inhibiting economic growth, historic buildings and the historic quarters of major towns and cities are the very places where new ideas and new growth are most likely to happen. In fact, across the UK, the businesses based in listed buildings make an estimated annual contribution to UK GDP of £47billion, whilst employing almost 1.5 million people.

“The latent power and potential of heritage to drive regeneration and economic growth.”

New ideas need old buildings provided us with a sound economic argument to support investment in heritage. It also helped us to shape and develop one of our newest grant programmes, Heritage Enterprise, which was launched in 2013.

Heritage Enterprise aims to unlock the potential of derelict, vacant industrial buildings so that they can once again become centres for new ideas and productivity. So that they act not as barriers but as catalysts for regeneration, sparking growth and creating jobs and opportunity.

Sounds great in theory, I’m sure you’re thinking, but how does this work in practice?

Well, I’m sure you can all think of at least one faded historic gem - be it a disused factory or mill building on the edge of town, or a derelict city-centre workshop – in the places where you live or work or visit regularly. Nowhere is the appetite for enterprising community activity more evident than in the desire to rescue these much-loved historic buildings.

By offering grants of up to £5m, Heritage Enterprise funds the ‘conservation deficit’ holding these buildings and places back. That is, where the value of a property is so low and the cost of work is so high that the restoration project simply isn’t commercially viable.

Through Heritage Enterprise, we’re encouraging not-for-profit organisations, such as community groups and social enterprises, to work hand-in-hand with the private sector, to rescue and return these buildings to a viable, productive use, creating income, jobs and wealth that will boost local economies, from Inverness to Cornwall.

Heritage Enterprise in action

It’s early days, but so far we’ve allocated almost £80m of funding through the programme:

In Northern Ireland, £5m has been awarded to conserve and regenerate the former Harland and Wolff Drawing Offices in Belfast. Once one of the largest shipyards in the world, this was where the Titanic and many other famous ships were designed and built. The derelict building will be transformed into an 87-bedroom hotel, creating more than 100 jobs and bringing much wider economic benefits to Belfast through an enhanced tourism offer, encouraging additional investment and regeneration in the area.

In 2014, we awarded over £4m to Harvey’s Foundry, located at the heart of the Cornish Mining World Heritage Site. The project represents the ‘final piece in the jigsaw’ for the local area and will complete the decade-long regeneration of the entire foundry site. Heritage Enterprise funding is helping to adapt a range of listed buildings for commercial use, leveraging an additional £4m of private investment to boost the local economy and creating 80-plus new jobs

And just last month we announced a £2.5m investment in Birmingham’s iconic but underused Roundhouse, a major industrial building at the heart of the city’s canal network, which served many of Birmingham’s vital industries. For the last decade it has sat disused, falling deeper and deeper into disrepair. But the building is now set for a new lease of life as home to a range of businesses, creating up to 20 new jobs and enabling up to 50,000 people to access and enjoy the revitalised Roundhouse.

Over to you

I would argue that HLF has been pretty good at supporting forward movement and progressive thinking over the past 21 years and Heritage Enterprise is a great example of this.  But HLF can’t do this alone.  Only when we join forces – as funders, local authorities, communities, developers, entrepreneurs, investors and businesses – can we ensure that the full value of our heritage is realised.

We must now work together to build the vibrant, viable places we all want to see; to deliver the much-needed regeneration, jobs, and growth which will enable our economy to thrive; and to shape those powerful, positive identities which will help our towns and cities flourish in the future.

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