Government, Parliamentarians and Stakeholders raise profile of Industrial Heritage at first-ever UK-wide Summit

The All-Party Parliamentary Group on Industrial Heritage (APPG), chaired by Nick Thomas-Symonds, Member of Parliament for Torfaen, is holding what is thought to be the first-ever national summit to promote the value of the UK’s industrial heritage. As the world’s first industrialised nation, the UK’s place in industrial history is secure, but its industrial heritage has not been given the status it deserves.

Holding this summit at the magnificent Victoria & Albert Museum is a symbol of the importance of our industrial heritage and intended to raise its profile across the UK.

The summit will build on the themes identified in the APPG’s report, which was published in April 2018. Working in collaboration with Historic England, the summit will be taking place at the Victoria & Albert Museum, London, on Thursday 11 July 2019 and will consist of a series of keynote speeches and panel discussions exploring best practice, exemplar case studies and strategies, considering how best to draw on our industrial past and harnessing it for our economic future.

The summit will draw on the expertise of academics, developers, conservationists and archaeologists across the industrial heritage sector and from across all four nations in the UK, with contributions from Historic England (HE), Historic Environment Scotland (HES), Department for Communities (NI) Historic Environment Division, and the Royal Commission on Ancient and Historic Monuments Wales (RCAHMW). By bringing together contributions from such experienced contributors, the APPG hopes to draw up an Action Plan outlining practical next steps on how to harness potential and address challenges in the sector.

As outlined in the report produced by the APPG, the keynote speakers and panellists will approach the challenges thematically in a series of five panels, with introductory speeches from Dr. Tristram Hunt, Director of the V&A; Duncan Wilson, Chief Executive of Historic England; and Nick Thomas-Symonds MP, and a closing plenary session with speakers from HE, HES, Department for Communities (NI) Historic Environment Division, the National Lottery Heritage Fund, and the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS).

Opening the panels, Historic England will be leading a discussion dealing with the reuse of industrial buildings. The growing numbers of historic buildings that have successfully been reused for commercial or residential opportunities can reinvigorate local economies by creating job opportunities, housing or promulgating a wider regeneration of post-industrial communities. Led by Trevor Mitchell, Regional Director for the North East and Yorkshire, Historic England, with their panellists, will address key challenges such as how developers can be encouraged to take on redundant historical industrial buildings; what support Local Authorities and other relevant bodies can provide to support this regeneration; and identification of incentives that could aid this reuse.

Following this, Maybelline Gormley of the Historic Environment Division in Northern Ireland’s Department for Communities will be enabling an exchange of ideas surrounding the presentation of industrial heritage sites to the public. These present the public face of much of UK’s industrial heritage providing a unique opportunity for understanding both historic industrial processes, and the conditions of those who once worked there. However, for some, there are challenges over ensuring traditional skills are not lost, operating historic machinery, volunteer retention and recruitment and adapting to a radically changing funding and visitor environment.

As mechanised assets, industrial heritage sites provide an opportunity for skilling within the sector. Overseen by Christopher Catling, the Secretary of the Royal Commission on Ancient and Historic Monuments of Wales, and led by Keynote Speaker, Mike Nevell, the third panel will address the range of skills needed to understand, preserve and understand industrial heritage. As well as offering an opportunity for education, industrial heritage assets present an opportunity for employment locally for skilled individuals and provide a space in which intangible industrial heritage – such as traditional skills – can be kept alive.

Public engagement is vital to the survival of such heritage assets. By addressing education, material evidence, archives and direct community engagement, Barbara Cummins, Director of Heritage for Historic Environment Scotland, will be leading a panel to explore how stories can be secured, how our industrial past remains relevant to people’s lives, and the resources required to deliver meaningful and repeatable engagement.

Finally, the UK holds some of the world’s most important industrial assets with extraordinary potential. In the final panel of the summit, Ros Kerslake, the Chief Executive of the National Lottery Heritage fund, will be questioning how to tackle industrial heritage at risk, including identifying what can be learned from the success of others; what funding and support is available to at-risk sites; and how strong relationships can be built across the heritage sector and beyond, and why they matter.

When asked about why industrial heritage matters, Nick Thomas-Symonds MP, Chair of the APPG, said:

“We rightly laud the history of our Kings and Queens, but it is high time we saw the history of working people in a similar way. Holding this summit at the Victoria & Albert Museum is a significant moment for the whole industrial heritage sector. I am very grateful to everyone who is making this possible.

“The sharing of best practice and ideas for the future will be vital in terms of taking the sector forward in the years to come. Our industrial heritage is a great resource for the whole of the UK: it is a vital part of our past and a great asset for the economy of the future.”

Dr. Tristram Hunt, Director of the Victoria and Albert Museum, said:

“We are delighted to host this important summit at the V&A, a place intrinsically tied to industry. From the very beginning, starting with the 1851 Great Exhibition, industry was the catalyst that brought this museum into being, and it continues to shape who we are today. Throughout our galleries and stores today lie the unmistakeable signs and legacies of the Industrial Revolution, celebrating the spectacular marriage of art and industry.

“Today, through our nationwide DesignLab Nation programme, we are also proud to celebrate industrial heritage across the country. Object loans from the V&A are on display in Blackburn, Coventry, Sheffield, Sunderland and Stoke-on-Trent, where we are collaborating with secondary schools and local businesses to support the creative industries in each of these areas.”

Christopher Catling, Secretary of the RCAHMW added:

‘Industrial heritage really comes to life if traditional skills are passed on; inspiring examples abound of miners, slate workers, railway and canal engineers passing on their knowledge to future generations, so that heritage is a living one rather than just an empty building or an engine that has no spark of life’.

Ros Kerslake, Chief Executive of the National Lottery Heritage Fund, said:

“Our industrial heritage is one of the most significant chapters of the UK’s story. That’s why over the last 25 years, the National Lottery Heritage Fund has invested in the memories, collections, buildings and landscapes that embody the UK’s role in creating the modern, industrialised world.

“This summit will bring together people and organisations from across multiple disciplines to discuss how we can work together to ensure that these vital elements of our history can be understood and appreciated by current and future generations.”

Barbara Cummins, Director of Heritage for Historic Environment Scotland, said:

“Our industrial heritage is not just in its physical evidence but it’s in the stories we tell about it; the things that connect people to a place.  We need to deliver engagement that reflects our whole society and talk about the past in a way that recognises our modern diversity.

“Our approach must be accessible, inclusive and provide sources of inspiration, enjoyment and learning for all. By empowering communities and broadening participation, we improve outcomes for people and for our historic environment.”

Duncan Wilson, Chief Executive of Historic England, said:

“This is a very important moment which we hope will mark the beginning of UK-wide action to consider, with a wide range of partners, the opportunities presented by our internationally important industrial heritage. The history of industry is knitted into who we are as a nation and whilst our industrial sites may present a challenge, they are full of potential and can be reinvigorated to accommodate new businesses, much needed new homes, or become visitor attractions for public benefit and enjoyment. We very much look forward to helping the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Industrial Heritage in taking up this challenge.”

The Department for Communities, Northern Ireland, said:

“The Department for Communities is delighted to be represented at this summit. Presentation of our industrial heritage is a key element in connecting with out local communities and visitors alike; indeed, industrial heritage sites present opportunities for community engagement in a particular and meaningful way.”

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