The Iron Bridge within the Ironbridge Gorge World Heritage Site, following the 2017/18 conservation project by English Heritage
The Iron Bridge within the Ironbridge Gorge World Heritage Site, following the 2017/18 conservation project by English Heritage © Ironbridge Gorge World Heritage Site
The Iron Bridge within the Ironbridge Gorge World Heritage Site, following the 2017/18 conservation project by English Heritage © Ironbridge Gorge World Heritage Site

Industrial Heritage Sector: Adaptations in Light of Covid-19

Dr Michael Nevell, Industrial Heritage Support Officer for England

The wider Industrial Heritage and Industrial Archaeology sector has been severely hit by the Covid-19 health crisis. All the 600 plus industrial sites preserved as heritage attractions in England have been closed, most full-time staff furloughed, all local meetings and events of the 100 plus industrial heritage and industrial archaeology societies and groups in England cancelled, universities are closed, and professional archaeology fieldwork as part of the developer-funded world is mostly suspended.

These are worrying times and the financial viability of many heritage attractions and archaeology units, large and small, is in danger of being undermined. As the Association for Independent Museums has highlighted, the local voluntary sector, and in particular industrial heritage and industrial archaeology groups, societies and smaller industrial museums who rely on membership and visitor income, are likely to be under pressure as a result of a loss of income and members. Some grants are available from a number of bodies to support the sector, including The Arts Council, the National Lottery Heritage Fund and Historic England. The Government’s business loan support scheme should be accessible for professional archaeology units, whilst a variety of organisations are providing help, support and advice.

It is, though, very easy just to focus on the immediate damage being done by the economic paralysis. The crisis has also led to innovation, or perhaps has accelerated change, within the industrial heritage and wider archaeology sectors.

The Council for British Archaeology has partnered with the University of Lincoln to launch Dig School, 20 free archaeology-themed workshops to help teachers and home-schooling families inspire children to explore archaeology and local history from their laptops and tablets. Both the Association for Industrial Archaeology (AIA) and Society for Post-Medieval Archaeology (SPMA) are looking at expanding further their online presence. SPMA held their first twitter conference in April, whilst the AIA is promoting its new research funding stream as well as continuing its support for the sector through its conservation grants scheme with a new round of funding available for 2020.

Regional groups such as the Cumbrian Industrial Heritage Society have responded by increasing their online presence through expanding their website pages. Educational charities such as the Workers’ Educational Association though only functioning online, have distance learning courses including heritage topics due to be available later in the spring. Transport heritage societies were quick off the mark – railway trusts such as the Severn Valley Railway, launching online funding appeals within a few days of the lockdown beginning.

Focussing on industrial sites preserved as heritage attractions, the Industrial Heritage Support Project has been acting as an information hub since the Covid-19 crisis began continuing to build on nearly a decade of support for the sector. The Industrial Heritage Support Officer (IHSO) is hosted by the Ironbridge Gorge Museum Trust and funded by Historic England. Regular updates are provided through the project’s Facebook pages, Twitter posts (@IHSOEngland) and through the projects’ two websites: Industrial Heritage Support and Industrial Heritage Networks.

As the industrial heritage sector looks to recover from the pandemic the IHSO project’s Steering Group will be helping in focusing on the needs of the sector and how these can be aided. The IHSO project will also be re-activating the regional Industrial Heritage Support Networks once conditions improve, and extending these to the remaining areas in England not so far covered. Information exchange and remote networking will be key to helping spread best practice as the industrial heritage sector begins to recover from the impact of the pandemic.

Further help and advice for industrial sites preserved as heritage attractions is available by contacting the Industrial Heritage Support Officer - [email protected].

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