Speaking up for Industrial Archaeology

Helmshore_Higher_Mill

Helmshore Higher Mill: one of the Lancashire County Museum textile mills threatened with closure in 2016. Campaigning has delayed its closure until at least September 2016 whilst negotiations are held about the mill’s future.

Help the Association for Industrial Archaeology save our shared industrial past. Join the Association in a training day aimed at improving our heritage campaigning skills.

http://industrial-archaeology.org/aia-practical-weekend-2016-announced/

To explain further. The closure of the Snibston Mining Museum in Leicestershire late last year, the subsequent dispersal of its coal mining collection, and the imminent demolition of the purpose-built museum building leaving the headstocks surrounded by a sea of housing, is a call to conservation and heritage arms equal to loss of the Euston Arch, demolished with UK Government approval in 1962. It showed that in the current economic climate of heritage funding cuts (including cuts to local authority archaeology and conservation services) historic industrial sites, buildings and collections are more at risk than at any time since the 1970s. How we react, as people passionate about the importance of the past to today’s society, will set the tone of the archaeology and conservation debate for a generation. I would argue that all those campaigning to save the remains of our industrial past will need to learn, or in some cases relearn, the campaigning techniques used in the 1960s and 1970s that were so successful in preserving industrial monuments and landscapes after the Euston Arch fiasco. The legacy of that period of activism is dozens of volunteer-run industrial archaeology and heritage societies, more than 600 volunteer-run industrial museums and thousands of protected industrial sites throughout Britain.

Although these sites themselves face their own issues of survival, in the form of sustaining their volunteer base as well as their buildings, my interest here is in how we reboot our campaign efforts in a digital age to help save the wider industrial heritage landscape. At the forefront of speaking up for industrial sites in Britain, putting its members money where its mouth is so to speak, is the Association for Industrial Archaeology, founded iaia a4 flyern 1973 during the conservation heyday after the loss of the Euston Arch. Since 2009 the Association has provided grant aid in excess of £250,000 towards the rescue and restoration of industrial sites across Britain. Heritage groups and sites saved include the North East Maritime Trust, the South Tynesdale Railway, the Coker Rope and Sail Trust in Somerset and the Lion Salt Works in Cheshire. For the last three years it has been a partner in the Ironbridge-based Industrial Heritage Support Officer post, and funded by Historic England a training and support role for local industrial volunteer groups.

Now the AIA is stepping up its campaigning role by running what, as a Council member of the AIA, I hope will be a series of training workshops over the next few years aimed at exploring and passing on key campaigning skills but for the digital age. We can and will draw up the vast experience of groups such as the Council for British Archaeology (founded in 1944) and the champions of the anti-bull-dozer brigand of the 1970s, RESCUE (the Trust for British Archaeology), both still active in the early 21st century. However, we will also be looking at case studies from newer groups, local groups, specialist one-site campaign groups for their experiences and advice, and how these can be translated into effective action for industrial heritage; in other words speaking up for Industrial Archaeology.

The first of these seminars, on April 23rd at Ironbridge, will bring together a series of case studies around individual sites and approaches with a focus on using mass media as a campaigning tool. We will hear from the CBA about their LHEN project and practical insights provided by the Save Old Oswestry Hill campaign; from the experience of the Butterly Spillway campaigners about fighting on the ground for local industrial heritage; and from the creators of the Dig Discover Enjoy website about creating a local online archaeology community active in training and engagement. Booking can be done online here:

http://industrial-archaeology.org/aia-practical-weekend-2016-announced/

To quote the UK’s Culture Secretary John Whittingdale “Removing places and things that have helped to give people a shared sense of history and identity helps to undermine social cohesion”: it’s just a pity he wasn’t talking about UK archaeology and heritage.

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