Aerial view of the coastline at Weston-super-Mare
Weston-super-Mare © Historic England Archive
Weston-super-Mare © Historic England Archive

Successful Heritage Regeneration Programme Has Revived Historic Towns Across England

From Weston-super-Mare to Sunderland, 10 Historic England-funded Heritage Action Zones have been a powerful catalyst for regeneration.

Since 2016/17, Historic England has put £6 million into funding 10 Heritage Action Zone projects around the country, breathing new life into historic places that are rich in heritage but need a boost to make them more attractive to residents, businesses, visitors and investors.

This funding has acted as a powerful catalyst for regeneration in these areas, successfully leveraging a further £60 million in investment and has demonstrated that heritage can be a powerful force for levelling up.

The 10 completed Heritage Action Zones are in:

The scheme has regenerated 77 historic buildings, helped to remove 13 buildings from the Heritage at Risk Register and brought back into use more than 8,400 square metres (equivalent to 13 large supermarkets) of commercial floor space, boosting local economies. In Sunderland, two sets of Grade II listed buildings in High Street West have been repaired with new independent shops opening, as well as the creation of a music and culture venue knowns as Pop Recs.

The scheme has also led to new housing opportunities. In Nottingham’s Lace Market, the restoration of the Birkin Building has been converted to prime office space for creative industries. Supporting economic growth is one of the key aims of the scheme.

540 community engagement volunteers have been trained, connecting them with their local heritage and helping to increase a sense of local pride and identity. In total, more than 100 community projects have benefitted from the scheme.

The first Heritage Action Zones, which complete this year, have given 10 places a new lease of life. Working with local councils and community partners has been crucial to their success.

Historic buildings that were deteriorating through decades of neglect have been restored and put back into use, providing employment and volunteering opportunities; conservation areas have been improved, kick-starting regeneration and renewal that has helped attract significant investment and meet local housing targets. These unsung places are now being recognised and celebrated for their unique character and heritage.

Heritage Action Zones bring value to places, revive communities and help to engage people in learning more about their local heritage. Over the past five years, working with local councils and partners, this scheme has helped spread prosperity and opportunity to historic places in England that were in need of a boost.

Old and familiar places that are rich in heritage and full of promise have been invigorated to make them more attractive to residents, businesses, tourists and investors. This has been done through joint-working, grant funding and sharing Historic England’s skills and knowledge. Heritage is a powerful tool for delivering economic and social benefits and has an important role to play in levelling up. We look forward to continuing to create opportunities for local communities through our remaining Heritage Action Zone programmes.
Duncan Wilson, Chief Executive Historic England

There are a further 10 Heritage Actions Zones that are currently helping to revive the fortunes of local places as well as the £95 million government-funded High Streets Heritage Action Zones, where Historic England is working with local authorities to regenerate more than 60 high streets through the restoration of historic buildings, a cultural programme and community engagement.

The case studies below show the relevance of schemes which address today’s challenges. They engage young people, help to tackle the housing crisis and the climate change agenda by finding new uses for historic buildings.

Sunderland Heritage Action Zone

The Sunderland Heritage Action Zone has enabled the repair and conversion of listed buildings which have played an important part in Sunderland’s past and are now set to play a role in a vibrant future, demonstrating the importance of heritage in re-inventing the high street and attracting visitors.

Two sets of Grade II listed buildings in High Street West – numbers 170 -175 and the Hutchinson’s Buildings have been repaired and reinvigorated for the 21st century while repair work is taking place on the Grade I listed Phoenix Hall, so it can continue to play an important role in the community.

The Hutchinson’s Buildings - constructed as Sunderland's first purpose-built shops, bringing commercial fashion to Wearside’s mid-19th-century inhabitants – is once again occupied by a range of independent businesses. The prestigious corner store, originally occupied by Mackie’s the hat maker, is now home to the award-winning men’s fashion retailer Master Debonair.

The former Binns department store at number 173 has been transformed into a music and culture venue knowns as Pop Recs.

In Queen Street East, the 237-year-old Grade I Listed Georgian Phoenix Hall has received £180,000 funding from Historic England, enabling repairs to take place so that it can continue to play a key role in the history of the city and local community, with opportunities for local people to try their hand at traditional craft building skills. It is the oldest surviving purpose-built masonic lodge still in use by the Freemasons in England. Although extended over time, its original structure and interior has remained remarkably intact, with the original organ, ceremonial chairs and furnishings still in place. It bears witness to centuries of change, when the area now known as the East End was once the commercial heart of Sunderland.

A Heritage Schools programme has also been delivered to pupils at Grangetown Primary School, Valley Road Primary School and Hudson Road Primary School. This project has been followed up with research being undertaken as to whether heritage can improve people’s wellbeing, which has not only re-engaged the Hudson Road Primary School pupils, who are now in year 5, but is also working with residents of the three tower blocks around Phoenix Hall to capture the impact of the Heritage Action Zone.

Ramsgate Heritage Action Zone

The Ramsgate Heritage Action Zone resulted in nine historic sites being listed, a new book and community projects including repairs to the town’s impressive Pulhamite artificial rockwork which stretches along the promenade.

New Historic England research was undertaken to better understand the history, heritage, and changing face of this dynamic coastal town. This resulted in nine historic sites gaining listed status, a book with beautiful new photography and repairs to the town’s impressive Pulhamite – artificial rock – stretching along the promenade. Training was also given to help local people look after this unique landscape.

Community engagement work saw the retiling of public steps with Pugin-inspired tiles designed by local school children, a memory-mapping project about the seafront, and a podcast series created in partnership with the Ramsgate Festival of Sound which uncovers stories and lived experience of the town through a sonic trail.

Ramsgate’s conservation area covers the whole town and it needed reviewing. The Heritage Action Zone (HAZ) funded a conservation area appraisal, community consultation, and a guide with practical advice for residents and businesses. The appraisal is one of the first to include a chapter on climate considerations which will serve as a model for others.

The HAZ has attracted further funding which will continue to improve the town for all who live or work there, and visitors too. Over the next few years investment through the Ramsgate High Street Heritage Action Zone, the Future High Streets Fund and the Levelling Up Fund will improve the public realm and key buildings, allowing its heritage to shine.

Nottingham Heritage Action Zone

The Birkin Building, 2-10 Broadway, Nottingham Lace Market – a monumental building with a façade inspired by Italian architecture. It started life as a lace factory and has connections with the famed actress, singer and inspiration for the Hermes bag, Jane Birkin, who visited the factory as a child.

The Birkin Building, was designed by local architect T C Hine. It is listed, as is the rest of Broadway, at Grade II. Constructed in 1855 as a lace factory and warehouse by the Birkin family, it is monumental in scale with a façade inspired by Italian architecture. It also has family connections with the famed actress, singer and inspiration for the Hermes bag, Jane Birkin, who visited the factory as a child.

At the height of the lace trade, material was exported from the building across the world. However, as with much of the rest of the Lace Market, the decline in Nottingham’s lace industry left the site redundant. It was saved by local developer Mitch Stevenson in the 1980’s and became a nightclub following restoration. In 2016 his daughters Becky Valentine and Victoria Green, who run the local property company Spenbeck, decided to convert the open spaces inside the building to offices for creative industries, re-naming it the Birkin Building.

The building needed extensive repairs and they applied to the Nottingham Heritage Action Zone for funding and were awarded £110,000 towards the cost of the works.

King’s Lynn Heritage Action Zone

The King’s Lynn Heritage Action Zone has produced three research documents, listed one of England’s earliest reinforced concrete buildings, engaged local schools to better understand local heritage and supported students to write, produce and edit a short film.

The Heritage Action Zone set out to discover more about the history of the town and resulted in three research documents to better understand the areas of Chapel Street, Common Staithe Quay and the Southgates (one of the best-known buildings in King’s Lynn).

As part of the programme, two buildings were listed at Grade II: one of England’s earliest reinforced concrete buildings at 33-39 St James Street (presently the premises for Kwik Fit) and the former Lloyd's Bank at Tuesday Market Place.

The project has engaged many local schools, teaching them about the heritage of the town through hands-on arts and cultural activities under Historic England’s Heritage Schools programme. Students from the College of West Anglia, Historic England and the Borough Council of King’s Lynn and West Norfolk co-produced Building on the Past, a short film telling the story of King’s Lynn’s Chapel Street.

Set in 1964, the film tells the story of former Chapel Street resident Susan Jay as she prepares to be rehoused away from her dilapidated house, which was demolished to create the Chapel Street car park.

Arts and media students from the College of West Anglia were chosen to be part of the film crew, as part of the National Heritage Lottery Fund’s ‘Kick the Dust’ work experience group. They led the project, interviewing former local residents, briefing actors, choosing images and making the final edits, gaining a range of new professional skills in the process.

The film will be shown at the Alive West Norfolk Corn Exchange Cinema in June. 

From the extensive research at the beginning, to the filming in the cold rain at the end, everyone was committed, and I believe that shines through in our final product. Thank you so much for this incredible journey.
Chloe Braithwaite, Student College of West Anglia

Weston-super-Mare Heritage Action Zone

Weston-super-Mare was originally a small village of fishermen’s cottages. During the 19th century, it developed into a major seaside resort due to its convenient location near Bristol and Bath. In its heyday it attracted several hundred thousand visitors a year, and its range of entertainments, including two piers, made it popular with visitors. More recently, its fortunes have fluctuated in response to changes in holiday habits and leisure spending.

The Heritage Action Zone (HAZ) has rekindled public interest in Weston’s heritage and inspired new opportunities for people to get involved, from public talks and walks and an online tour of buildings in the seaside town.

Over the course of the HAZ, local partners have put on several exhibitions at Weston Museum and one on aerial photography and a second celebrating Weston’s historic buildings at the Grand Pier. There has been a self-guided walkabout about Hans Fowler Price, the town’s Victorian architect, a ‘Gems of Weston’ walk and local volunteers have added new research to the free digital mapping resource Know Your Place. There has also been three years of monthly heritage talks hosted by the Weston-super-Mare Civic Society at Weston Museum.

Much of this activity was stimulated by Historic England’s research on the town, culminating in the publication of a book in 2019 about its history and architecture: Weston-super-Mare: the town and its seaside heritage (also available as a pdf online). Written by Allan Brodie, Johanna Roethe and Kate Hudson-McAulay, the book highlighted the special character of the town, including its piers, entertainments and many Victorian buildings. The research and the book, combined with a strong local appetite for Weston’s story, have enabled over 7,000 people to enjoy and celebrate their town’s heritage.

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