Torfaen – the Eastern Valley of the South Wales coalfield – has a wonderfully rich industrial heritage.   I am proud to be from Blaenavon, the northernmost town in my constituency.  My father was born in Stack Square in Blaenavon Ironworks – which, with its wonderful Balance Arch, is one of Blaenavon’s great tourist modern-day attractions.

Blaenavon’s industrial landscape is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. After all, Blaenavon is where Sidney Gilchrist Thomas and Percy Carlyle Gilchrist perfected the process for the consistent mass production of steel, paving the way for the building of the modern world. The great American industrialist Andrew Carnegie put it best when he said that Gilchrist and Thomas “did more for Britain’s greatness than all the Kings and Queens put together”.

This Friday, I will be at a ceremony to name Blaenavon Town Council’s Meeting Chamber after Neil Lewis, a great friend of mine who served as Torfaen County Borough Council’s Executive Member for Regeneration and as Chair of the UK Local Authority World Heritage Forum.  Neil wanted to build on Blaenavon’s World Heritage Status and make a difference to the modern-day town. 

Neil’s approach was to celebrate our industrial heritage, to learn lessons from our history, but not merely for the sake of living in the past.  Rather, Neil’s approach was to recognize that our unique heritage needs to be made accessible to people in the town as well as beyond, to inspire Blaenavon’s future as well as to celebrate its past.

Neil knew that international recognition would open up opportunities for the future.  When I recently spoke in Blaenavon at the UNESCO UK World Heritage Youth Summit, and met so many inspirational young people, it was evidence of the positive effect that our World Heritage Sites can have on future generations.

Unfortunately, Neil did not live to see his friend become the Member of Parliament for Torfaen.  But, as the Chair of Parliament’s All-Party Parliamentary Group on Industrial Heritage, I will continue to take inspiration from him.



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