Maximising the value of industrial heritage in historic towns: restoration, regeneration & reuse

Report of the Annual Conference held in Newcastle 17-19 October 2007

In his summary at the end of the conference, Brian Human (Chair) said that it had been wide-ranging and international, demonstrating that this was not a new idea but an ongoing tradition.

The conference began with networking opportunities on Wednesday, and the proceedings were opened on Thursday by Cllr Peter Arnold, Lord Mayor of Newcastle, after which Keith Falconer of English Heritage, looked at the value and relevance of heritage and the benefits of working with English Partnerships and the RDAs, as well as specialist developers, to make the most of opportunities for adventurous change.

Rob Colley, of Drivers Jonas, explained his contribution to 'Heritage Works' and the transition from the original economic use of a building to a new economic use, and the importance of measuring indirect value.

Michael Coupe, representing The Prince's Regeneration Trust, looked at examples of adaptive reuse and the importance of community engagement. This was a theme which was entertainingly demonstrated by Ian Ayris, of Newcastle City Council, with songs and images which portrayed the perceptions of industrial towns, which often needed to be overcome whilst retaining local distinctiveness and the pride of the people living and working with the buildings. Kate Edwards gave a detailed account of a local example of restoration, regeneration & reuse in the development of the Seven Stories national centre for children's books. She explained the practical difficulties which had been overcome through passion and dedication and had achieved both the conservation and enhancement in the Ouseburn Valley.

In the afternoon, delegates were offered guided tours of the local projects, followed by facilitated discussions with the expert speakers. The conference dinner featured a local performance artist and poet, Ira Lightman, well known locally for his work at Spennymoor.

On Friday speakers from Europe and each country in the UK offered examples supporting the theme of the conference. Following Brian Smith's presentation on the INHERIT project which connected Newcastle, Gdansk, Verona and Goteborg, Anders Svensson explained the conversion of an old industrial area in Goteborg. They talked about the key themes of the project: identity and diversity, partnership working and strategic thinking.

The vital cultural associations of the Stephenson Quarter, which had been teased out through extensive research and site analysis, were illustrated by Andy Roberts of Waring & Netts, Architects. He emphasised the importance of working from a strategic overview to the fine detail in order to achieve a successful project. The importance of respecting and recording the past was reiterated by Eleanor McAllister, from Clydebank Rebuilt. Although, she said, people did not want to return to it, but to 'reference heritage' whilst moving forward.

Judith Alfrey, representing CADW, talked about the project to restore industrial workers' housing in South Wales, which offers a very direct route into understanding how people lived. She was able to admit that sometimes compromises had to be made but that local distinctiveness could still be maintained.

From Ireland, Paul McTernan of Colin Buchanan, made a passionate contribution looking at the Irish Industrial Heritage within the context of the new Ireland. Rapid growth and a booming economy had offered little protection for historic buildings, and the impact of short break tourism was driving a consumerist approach. The emergence of good practice could be seen in the Shannon Navigation case study, but many challenges remain.

Brian expressed his thanks to all of the speakers on a fascinating topic and offered those delegates staying on after lunch further guided tours of Newcastle highlights.

Speakers presentations are available here.