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Running an Industrial Site

There are around 650 former industrial sites in England preserved for public access, which allow people to appreciate, understand and enjoy our industrial heritage. 

These sites provide one of the few opportunities to understand the processes and working conditions of those who were once employed in these industries.

Queen Street Mill, Burnley is the last surviving working steam-powered weaving shed in the world.  It provides a vivid insight into the workings of a typical Victorian mill
Queen Street Mill, Burnley is the last surviving working steam-powered weaving shed in the world. It provides a vivid insight into the workings of a typical Victorian mill

They range from preserved ruins to sites that contain important and sometimes working historic machinery. Examples include the Bowes Railway in Gateshead; Wortley Top Forge in South Yorkshire; Queen Street Mill in Burnley; Magpie Mine in Derbyshire; Kew Bridge Steam Museum in London; Fakenham Gas Museum in Norfolk and Coldharbour Mill in Devon.

Many of these sites are managed or run by charitable trusts, local authorities and committed volunteers whose efforts have ensured their preservation and survival. 

However, research commissioned by English Heritage (now Historic England) has highlighted a number of underlying problems which may threaten their long-term viability.

Bowes Railway, Tyne and Wear was built in the 1820s to take coal from the local pits to the River Tyne. Historic England is working with the Bowes Railway Trust to secure a sustainable future for the site and on plans to repair the wagon shed
Bowes Railway, Tyne and Wear was built in the 1820s to take coal from the local pits to the River Tyne. Historic England is working with the Bowes Railway Trust to secure a sustainable future for the site and on plans to repair the wagon shed

What is the outlook for industrial attractions?

The research focused on issues such as volunteer recruitment, training and succession planning, audience development and fund-raising, as well as the longer term business planning, maintenance and governance of industrial sites.

Key findings from the research revealed:

  • Difficulties in attracting new volunteers and the loss of skills
  • Many sites do not generate adequate funds to cover basic maintenance and have an increasing backlog of repairs
  • The challenge of making sure that the visitor offer would continue to attract new and existing audiences
  • The need to adopt modern conservation standards
  • An absence of business plans, interpretation and marketing strategies
  • Few opportunities for networking, capacity building and the sharing of best practice

You can download a copy of the report, 'Sustaining England's Industrial Heritage: A future for preserved industrial sites', from the bottom of this page.

Earlier research into industrial visitor attractions carried out in 1998 revealed similar findings and issue 67 of Conservation Bulletin, which you can download below, includes an article by one of the authors of this report.

Industrial support officer

In response to some of these concerns and to help build capacity within the sector Historic England part-funded a support officer as part of its 2011 Industrial Heritage at Risk Project. 

The post sits within an existing body in the sector and the role includes the following:

  • Assessing the needs of the sector
  • Developing a national strategy for historic industrial sites that are open or accessible to the general public so they are sustainable in the long-term
  • Identifying support mechanisms and sources of funding for both existing sites and those community groups who are looking at taking them on
  • Identifying gaps in existing information and advice, and seeing how these can be addressed
  • Setting up a training programme and establishing a network to make sure that the strategy is continued, developed and maintained at the end of the grant programme

London has one of the finest collections of steam powered water and sewage pumping stations in the world, including Kew Bridge Steam Museum, which has been carefully restored for public display
London has one of the finest collections of steam powered water and sewage pumping stations in the world, including Kew Bridge Steam Museum, which has been carefully restored for public display

Making changes to your site

Where a site is protected as a scheduled monument, permission must first be obtained from the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport for any work that affects that monument. Further advice on what it means when a monument is scheduled and guidance on how to manage your monument can be obtained from Historic England.

For those sites that contain listed buildings, any alterations or extensions that affect its character as a building of special interest will require Listed Building Consent from your local authority. We strongly recommend that you consult your local authority conservation officer at an early stage in the process to discuss any proposed changes and to gain a better understanding of what the listing status will mean for you.  

You can find further practical advice on the steps you need to take if you want to make changes to a listed building or scheduled monument on the website. This also explains the role of Historic England and the service we provide.

Further advice and information

The Association for Independent Museums has prepared a range of advice notes that may be helpful in running your site. These cover various topics such as governance, fundraising, and recruiting and retaining volunteers.

Although aimed at potential grant applicants, the guidance prepared by the Heritage Lottery Fund may also be useful. This covers subjects such as conservation, interpretation, learning, training, volunteers, and management.

For those who are responsible for wind and watermills the SPAB website is particularly useful.

We have also produced an edition of the Conservation Bulletin which focuses on the industrial heritage. This includes articles on preserved sites and from some of the key grant providers. It is available on the right-hand side of the page. 

Grants

Various organisations provide grants including:

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