The transformed Leeds Mill which shows how historic Yorkshire buildings can be turned into ‘powerhouses’


The north of England is like nowhere else in the world. Its heritage is an essential element of the region’s unique identity.

The North was a distant frontier of the Roman Empire, the cradle of English Christianity and the cradle of the Industrial Revolution.

The heritage of the North is all around us – from historic houses and terraces to churches, mosques, castles, landscapes, ancient monuments and monumental textile factories.

The vast majority of these sites, although often private, can be freely visited. Heritage is also a dazzling economic asset, yet often overlooked and taken for granted.

The heritage sector adds £ 6.9 billion to the northern economy and supports more than 133,000 jobs. Our breathtaking heritage is the link with our collective past. Much of it is beautiful and inspiring.

However, historic places are far from mere vestiges of the past. They provide a basis here and now for our sense of shared identity, something even more important in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Lockdowns resulting from Covid-19 inevitably damaged the delicate ecosystem of the heritage sector, much of which operates on tight margins and limited financial reserves.

Sir Laurie Magnus, President of Historic England

The pandemic has put the vast network of heritage support under enormous pressure. This includes highly skilled workers such as carpenters, conservation architects and stonemasons, many of whom have been affected by the suspension of work due to lost income at heritage sites.

Help came from the government’s Culture Recovery Fund, a record-breaking bailout that supported the heritage sector during the pandemic and the country’s reopening.

Historic England has already distributed over £ 14.3million to the Northern Culture Recovery Fund for major repair and restoration programs.

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Precious historical places, from castles to churches, ballrooms to beautiful landscapes have received vital grants.

Work has already taken place on sites as colorful and diverse as Blackpool’s iconic Tower Ballroom, the stunning Georgian landscape of Gibside in Gateshead and the peaceful Chapel of Thornton-le-Beans in North Yorkshire.

The latest round of funding will continue to support specialist-led projects across the North, supporting our sector as the North continues to reopen.

Work has already taken place on sites as colorful and diverse as Blackpool's iconic Tower Ballroom, the stunning Georgian landscape of Gibside in Gateshead and the peaceful Chapel of Thornton-le-Beans in North Yorkshire.
Work has already taken place on sites as colorful and diverse as Blackpool’s iconic Tower Ballroom, the stunning Georgian landscape of Gibside in Gateshead and the peaceful Chapel of Thornton-le-Beans in North Yorkshire.

Through another component of the Culture Recovery Fund, Historic England has also allocated around £ 29.7million to more than 175 places in the North through a joint fund with the National Lottery Heritage Fund supporting the heritage sector to recover. of the impacts of Covid-19.

Such support is extremely important because historic places are a source of community belonging, identity and pride that can serve as a foundation for renewal.

Heritage can be an engine of economic growth and social mobility, and engaging in heritage can improve people’s mental and physical health. The government recognized this by funding our High Streets Heritage Action Zone program.

In the north of England, this program sees 26 historic main streets from Hull to Barrow-in-Furness receiving nearly £ 33million of investment over four years to boost local economies and breathe new life into old places .

An essential characteristic of these programs is that they are locally run. They involve an effective partnership between councils, businesses, charities and community groups, with external support from Historic England, and the Arts Council and the National Lottery Heritage Fund on the cultural program we are running as part of the program.

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Investing in our historic shopping streets generates enthusiasm for local history and cultural engagement. Restoring buildings improves the quality of the environment. This in turn attracts economic activity through the creation of new jobs and investment, as people choose this place as a desirable place to live and work – creating a virtuous cycle of regeneration.

The historic textile factories of the North offer a notable example of regeneration in action. Many of these amazing buildings face an uncertain future, but through sensible regeneration they can be engines of growth, attracting investment and creating jobs.

The old mills have been turned into cultural venues such as Sunny Bank Mills in Leeds, and received new inventive uses such as Holmes Mill in Clitheroe, now helping to transform its city center.

New research indicates that vacant floor space at historic factories in the North could accommodate 84,000 jobs, generating around £ 3 billion for local economies.

The Mills are just one example of underused heritage buildings in the North with enormous potential to help regenerate places.

A good example is the Piece Hall in Halifax which was once in danger of being demolished. It is now a successful cultural venue that attracts tourism, creates new jobs and increases the local economy by around £ 26million.

The new Government Upgrade Fund prospectus recognizes the value of culture and heritage in bringing people together and strengthening communities in places that technology and innovation have sometimes left behind.

And regionally, the York & North Yorkshire Local Enterprise Partnership has just released a report, jointly commissioned with Historic England, demonstrating the potential of the historic environment to benefit people, places and the economy.

This report is the first of its kind in the North. We hope it can serve as a model for placing heritage at the heart of recovery in Yorkshire and beyond.

Heritage also offers a vital opportunity to help improve environmental sustainability. By renovating or modernizing existing buildings, we can avoid the significant carbon emissions associated with demolition and the use of materials needed to construct new buildings.

In short, heritage can and will play a crucial role in our recovery, leveling out, reducing our carbon emissions and uniting the whole country, a fact increasingly reflected in government policy making. Our cultural and heritage capital is a national asset of great value.

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