View of the Toffee Factory lit up
The Toffee Factory in the Lower Ouseburn Valley in Newcastle is home to digital and creative businesses © Garrod Kirkwood
The Toffee Factory in the Lower Ouseburn Valley in Newcastle is home to digital and creative businesses © Garrod Kirkwood

New Report: Rise in Number of Businesses Occupying Listed Buildings

  • Research shows increase in number of listed buildings occupied by branded retailers, particularly in food and drink
  • Drop in number of independent retailers in listed buildings, but they still outnumber the branded chains
  • Rise in number of commercial businesses choosing listed buildings for office space
  • New research also reveals the vital contribution of heritage to the nation’s economy – providing jobs, new homes and attracting tourists
  • England’s heritage sector generates a larger GVA than arts and culture, the aerospace industry, defence industry and security industry
  • Report will be launched today at the key annual event for the heritage sector

A new report published today by Historic England on behalf of the Historic Environment Forum, has revealed that businesses, big and small, are choosing to trade from listed buildings. Research carried out for Heritage Counts in 50 cities and town centres in England shows that the number of listed buildings occupied by a business has increased by 18% since 2012, from 10,465 to 12,353. When applied to all towns and cities, estimates suggest that there are now approximately 142,000 businesses operating in listed buildings across England.

The increase is due, in part, to a rise in the number of branded retailers choosing to trade from listed buildings. Since 2012 the number of listed buildings occupied by a brand has increased by 154% to 18,550.

Pub chains Greene King and Marstons top the table as the largest branded retail occupiers of listed buildings. They are closely followed by large coffee chains like Caffe Nero, Starbucks and Costa. There has been a surge in well-known food and drink brands trading from listed buildings – between 2012 and 2018 they increased occupation by 173% to 4,754.

The research reveals that whilst there has been a decline in the number of independent retailers occupying listed buildings since 2012, (down by 18% to 51,151) they are still much more likely than branded retailers to be found in these types of properties on our high streets and in our towns and cities (51,151 vs 18,550).

Commercial businesses say that historic buildings convey a positive image

The findings also show a rise in the number of commercial businesses operating from listing buildings, up 50% to 36,749 in 2018. Businesses in professional and non-professional services and the creative industries (including advertising, architecture, art, crafts, design, fashion, film and music) are also choosing historic settings.

A survey of commercial occupiers of listed buildings found that for two thirds of respondents (69%) historic buildings convey a positive image to customers and clients. According to the report, the value and comparative advantage of historic buildings arises from the ‘cache’ of these often unique places that are full of character. They can also offer businesses and brands something different, and are an alternative to average corporate office buildings.

Some historic buildings can also accommodate modern agile business spaces. Buildings once designed for industrial use can adapt well to contemporary uses. For example, old factory buildings, rectangular with high ceilings and windows, can be subdivided to create large, private open plan spaces. Generous floor to ceiling heights are often attractive and allow for mezzanine insertion.

The Toffee Factory, Newcastle

The restored Toffee Factory in the Lower Ouseburn Valley in Newcastle is now home to digital and creative businesses. The valley, once home to the coal, glass and pottery industries, is today an established hub for cultural industries, home to a wide range of art, music, design and print studios. Rich in heritage, the valley is one of Newcastle’s prime regeneration areas and sits on the edge of the city centre.

Canada House, Manchester

Canada House (Grade II listed) on Chepstow Street in Manchester was built in 1908-09 for J.S. Booth & Company, a major Manchester textile company. Canada House was designed in an ‘Art Nouveau’ style and many of these features remain, making an important contribution to the character of the building. The refurbishment of Canada House has combined the building’s original historic features with the best of modern design, placing an emphasis on sustainability and wellbeing, and incorporating energy saving measures. Canada House is now a co-working space with meetings rooms, a café, gym and swimming pool.

Heritage is benefitting the economy

New research for Heritage Counts also reveals the vital contribution of heritage to the nation’s economy. The latest figures show that:

  • The heritage sector is an important source of economic prosperity and growth in England. Between 2011 and 2016 the heritage sector contribution to Gross Value Added has increased by 37%, from £21.1bn to £29bn (equivalent to 2% of national GVA).
  • When direct GVA is compared, England’s heritage sector generated a larger GVA (12.7bn) than the arts and culture industry (10.6bn), aerospace industry (10bn), defence industry (9.4bn) and security industry (5.3bn) in the UK.
  • Heritage is an important employer in England, providing more than 459,000 jobs, an increase of 18% since 2011.
  • Heritage tourism generated £16.9bn in spending by domestic and international tourists who made 236.6m visits.

Converted historic properties (pre-1919) provided 51,110 new homes between 2012 and 2018, up from 5,053,970 to 5,105,080. Historic properties are now the second largest provider of new housing stock in England, after new builds. A fifth (22%) of all residential stock in England was built before 1919.

The report comes after a £55 million boost to high street heritage assets across the country, which was announced as part of the £675 million Future High Streets Fund in this year’s Autumn budget.

The report will be launched today at ‘Heritage Day’ the key annual event for the heritage sector. Speakers will include Historic England’s Chief Executive, Duncan Wilson, and the National Trust Director-General, Hilary McGrady.

The increase in businesses trading from listed buildings shows that heritage remains at the heart of our high streets and society. It proves that these buildings are not just attractive, but also adaptable for the modern world.
We are committed to promoting and protecting the nation’s historic architecture and through our £55 million package for heritage on the high street, will work with businesses to help breathe new life into our listed buildings.
Heritage Minister, Michael Ellis
These findings tell us that listed buildings are an increasingly popular choice for big brand retailers and commercial businesses who want to be in attractive spaces that have a distinctive local identity. It’s interesting to see historic buildings being used by food and drink chains that are providing their customers with surroundings which reinforce character and distinctiveness.
We welcome the news that listed buildings are being occupied and enjoyed, but we don’t want to see independent businesses squeezed out as historic buildings become more attractive to much larger brands that have greater purchasing power. England’s historic buildings make our towns and cities special and have a vital role to play in the regeneration of our high streets. Listed buildings can help to power up England’s local economies.
Duncan Wilson, Chief Executive at Historic England
Towns and cities must protect their heritage as an essential resource for existing and emerging economic activity. Heritage Counts details examples of how planning and conservation policies can combine with community engagement, developers and entrepreneurs to deliver economic growth through regeneration of historic areas. The art of a successful place is to get the right balance; the right balance between old and new; the right balance between commercial and residential. The challenge is only partly about re-using the historic buildings themselves; it is also about creating interesting, dynamic and imaginative environments that allow the past to provide the foundation for a successful future.
John Sell CBE, Chairman of the Historic Environment Forum

Heritage Statement

In 2017 the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport launched the first Heritage Statement that set out the UK Government’s priorities for the heritage sector building on the commitments made in the 2016 Culture White Paper. The Heritage Statement established the Heritage Council, chaired by Heritage Minister Michael Ellis, and set out the government’s plans to link heritage to wider strategies: for industry, for regeneration of communities, for skills, for the environment, and for an internationalist, outward-looking Britain.

In November 2018 the Government published a revised principles of selection for listed buildings to ensure their significance is recognised and protected for future generations.