Capitalising on Industrial Heritage

English Heritage's Swindon Office and the NMR Archive StoresAppreciation of the cultural value of Britain's industrial heritage has grown immensely over the last thirty years. Hundreds of historic industrial sites are visited by millions of visitors each year and more than half a dozen industrial landscapes are inscribed as World Heritage Sites, yet the potential of historic industrial buildings as drivers of regeneration still seems to surprise us and the case still has to be made time over time.

Sustainable re-use of industrial sites is nothing new - industrial sites have a very long record of being re-used for entirely different purposes from that for which they were built. They have been re-used, often with minimal intervention, because they offered cheap, easily utilised, space but there was seldom any respect for the character and integrity of the building. Recent decades have, however, witnessed more regard for sympathetic treatment of historic industrial buildings hugely influenced by public intervention (by statutory protection and public funding) and the results have been impressive. The retention of so much of the original fabric and features in the re-development of Albert Dock, Liverpool in the late 1980s was a turning point. Initially Albert Dock, the centre-piece of the regenerated South Docks and the Liverpool Maritime City World Heritage site, was saved by its Grade I listing and by public funding now the surrounding developments are commercially driven.

The regeneration of GWR Railway Works at Swindon followed a very different path - speculative, piecemeal and opportunist - but with similar positive results. The catalyst for regeneration may have been the conversion of the GWR General Offices into the RCHME headquarters but the conversion by McArthurGlen of the huge Grade II* sheds of the locomotive works into the Great Western Designer Outlet Village revitalised this part of central Swindon. The site now comprises the largest campus of heritage bodies in Europe with the English Heritage Swindon office and NMR, the National Trust and STEAM: the Museum of the GWR.

Now with many of England's most significant historic industrial sites such as Saltaire, Manningham Mills and King William Yard being sympathetically re-used, along with countless other sites such as Dean Clough Mills, the Custard Factory and the Match Factory, the industrial heritage is truly at the heart of regeneration.

Keith Falconer
Head of Industrial Archaeology
English Heritage