Challenges in Industrial Heritage
Adapting to change – together!
One of the challenges in the industrial heritage sector is sustainable planning. There are several aspects to consider when it comes to building sustainability into any business plan, but there is one major social issue when it comes to industrial monuments – the need to address the decline of industrial archaeology and heritage knowledge in the popular consciousness.
The original movement motivated by ‘Industrial Heritage is Worth Saving’, has been heard and responded to.
It has been successful and we have much to thank the pioneers of industrial archaeology in the 60s and 70s for. As they pass on the baton to younger generations, we must consolidate our efforts on the next phase; I suggest a subtle shift to ‘Industrial Heritage Has Value’ or ‘Is Valuable’.
Despite many of our industrial structures and sites being nationally recognised and some even adopted onto the UNESCO List of World Heritage Sites, there are still an alarming number of sites on the English Heritage At Risk Register. Fortunately, there has been a surge in niche enthusiast groups displaying their committed interest and collective knowledge in the form of website and social media groups and indeed digital photography has played a very important role in visually mapping the locations and conditions of our relics; this has been particularly important for the unmanned relics for which there are few effective protections.
Now we need to educate and share the solutions for adaptive reuse that we have seen to be successful. We need to be driven by the idea of saving our important brownfield sites from modern development. And although I don’t think for a moment banners depicting the slogan “Save our Brownfields” would hold any sway, I do believe that industry leaders could work together to inspire property owners, developers, and community groups to be creative with their visions and capitalise on the added values that heritage-led regeneration can bring, and not just the financial incentives!
There are many ways in which our built heritage enriches our culture; their very existence was often responsible for the formation of ‘the town’ and forms the narrative for its ongoing development. As an integral part of the local story, to eradicate the evidence is an irreversible loss to communities. Regional identities play a key role in civic pride. Not only that, but in many cases the authenticity of the real thing cannot be successfully recreated. Yes, there are rules and restrictions, but clever solutions are being devised all the time.
The solutions are as varied as the sites themselves and some highly innovative solutions can be seen on the continent. In the Netherlands, a dockside crane has been successfully reorganised into a luxury hideaway for two for paying guests. Back in the UK, we already have limekilns playing host to cafés and engine houses turned into dwellings.
So, let’s make it easier, let’s share what works – decades of successful adaptive reuse ideas. Let’s re-inject the notion of heritage-led regeneration into the popular consciousness, to save our favourite brownfield sites!
By Maryann Soper, April 2017