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Making Our Past Relevant to Our Future - How Industrial Heritage Can Boost Growth

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Three of the UK's leading heritage organisations are teaming up to deliver a two-day conference exploring the challenges and benefits of reusing industrial heritage buildings. 

The Prince's Regeneration Trust, the Heritage Lottery Fund and Historic England are together hosting the conference - Reviving Places By Reusing Industrial Heritage - on the 1st and 2nd December at Manchester's Museum of Science & Industry (MOSI).

Speakers will include:

  • Sir Howard Bernstein, Chief Executive, Manchester City Council
  • Tom Walker, Director of Cities & Local Growth Unit, DCLG/BIS/Cabinet Office
  • Jonathan Robinson, The Guardian
  • Rohan Silva former Number 10 Special Adviser and Co-Founder, Second Home
  • Duncan Wilson OBE, Chief Executive, Historic England
  • Carole Souter CBE, Chief Executive, Heritage Lottery Fund
  • Ros Kerslake, Chief Executive, The Prince's Regeneration Trust
  • Tom Bloxham MBE, Chairman and Co-Founder, Urban Splash
  • Sally MacDonald, Director, MOSI

Rowan Moore, the Observer's architecture critic, is chairing a debate.  

The conference follows the Council of Europe's declaration of 2015 as European Industrial & Technical Heritage Year.

The central theme is the re-use of vacant and at-risk industrial heritage buildings, such as former warehouses and factories. A particular focus is how such buildings are suitable for use by the creative industries - an important growth sector in the UK. The conference aims to offer local authorities, developers, investors, community-led and not-for-profit organisations helpful advice and guidance from leading figures in the sector.

A survey by Historic England (formerly known as English Heritage) in 2011 found that the percentage of Grade I and II* listed industrial buildings at risk (nearly 11%) was three times greater than the national average for Grade I and II* listed buildings at risk in England (3%). The conference will make it clear that the re-use of these types of buildings has the potential to act as a major catalyst for local economic regeneration.

Mill building with canal running alongside
Paragon Mill in Manchester has been restored and converted into apartments © Historic England

Ros Kerslake, Chief Executive of The Prince's Regeneration Trust, said:
"We need to reverse the neglect and abandonment of our industrial buildings because it is not just a terrible waste of resources, but also a missed opportunity.

"With the public, private and charitable sectors working together, we have the stimulus to revive these buildings into active, relevant and engaging spaces once again. By doing so, we create better places to work, new jobs, increased economic activity, and of course, we restore peoples' sense of pride and purpose." 

Duncan Wilson, Chief Executive of Historic England said: "I can't think of a better place to celebrate industrial heritage than Manchester. Britain was the world's first industrial nation and the legacy of this is all around us. It is very encouraging that new uses have been found for important industrial buildings such as Grade II* Paragon Mill in Manchester which has been converted to apartments, the north warehouse at Stanley Dock in Liverpool, now a fantastic hotel; and Battersea Power Station which will be the centre-piece of a large redevelopment.

"But there are a great many more industrial buildings whose future is much less certain. Our industrial heritage offers huge potential for significant economic growth but finding viable new uses for these buildings can be difficult and this conference will help us identify creative and imaginative solutions."

Carole Souter, Chief Executive of HLF, said:  "Historic industrial buildings have always helped define places. That hasn't always been seen positively. But now they are once again spearheading economic success - from the former North British Rubber Company's HQ in Edinburgh, to Harvey's Foundry in Cornwall and many more in between.  When we tap into what makes these buildings distinctive, they can regenerate towns and cities, generate jobs for local people, and create positive new identities."

Revived and re-used industrial buildings can be distinct, adaptable, spaces crucial to stimulating new industries. Creative companies and start-ups often seek premises near like-minded businesses in mixed-use, flexible spaces which can offer attractively-low rents. London's Shoreditch and Manchester's Northern Quarter are good examples of this. Industrial buildings can also be successfully converted to residential use.

Industrial heritage can provide a return on investment for the private sector but the conference will make it clear that it is not just business that benefits. It can also offer local authorities an opportunity to revive their towns and cities, encouraging new investment and growth and restoring local pride. A viable new solution also removes the long-term maintenance and repair costs of looking after a vacant and decaying building.

Cities, regions and communities are able to benefit from the social and economic opportunities derived from regeneration and re-use. Community groups attending the conference will gain knowledge about how they can save cherished local industrial heritage buildings that once gave their city or town a sense of place and identity. They will gain valuable advice from experts on the necessary skills and expertise needed to ensure a successful outcome for their local building, including business planning advice, securing private investment, and engaging with the wider community.

The conference offers expert guidance by leading figures from the regeneration, heritage and architecture sectors as well as influential voices at the top of central and local government. The programme is full of practical examples, examining a number of regeneration projects, including the successful revival of Middleport Pottery in Stoke-on-Trent and the planned restoration of derelict Ancoats Dispensary in Manchester.

The Museum of Science and Industry (MOSI), is an appropriate venue for the conference since it is housed in the former Liverpool Road Station, one of Manchester's most important and historic sites.

The conference will be split into two days, each with a slightly different focus:

  • Day one will explore the role of the public sector in encouraging the creative reuse of industrial heritage and commercial opportunities as well as exploring the challenges presented by historic industrial buildings. The focus will be on creative industries, development and regeneration uses. It aims to connect with businesses, investors and local/national decision makers.
  • Day two will explore opportunities to develop new uses and engage with commercial partners to leverage investment and funding with a focus on not-for-profit groups, community organisations, heritage sector partners and historic building owners.

One- and two-day conference tickets are available. Tickets can be booked online or by calling 020 3262 0560 (during office hours).

Next steps

To learn more about how investment in industrial buildings benefits the economy, read the Heritage Counts report

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