Context 171 - March 2022

20 C O N T E X T 1 7 1 : M A R C H 2 0 2 2 Will Holborow is an associate and senior heritage consultant with Purcell. Archie Williams, who is currently studying Islamic art and architecture, spent the summer of 2021 working as a heritage researcher for Purcell. Cannington Shaw Bottle Shop, St Helens. This derelict, at-risk heritage asset is planned to become a visitor centre where ‘glass past meets glass futures’. (Photo: Wikimedia) application, while HAZ money was put towards creating the new signage and crossings to make it more accessible. The regeneration of heritage assets through these more ambitious initiatives also has much to offer for the high street. One issue which many Towns Fund proposals address is the lack of space for live performance. In some cases old theatres are being brought back into use, such as the derelict Grade-II-listed EmpireTheatre in Burnley. In Grimsby, there is a plan to transform the abandoned Grade-II*-listed Ice Factory, supported by an offer of £95 million through the Grimsby Town Deal. In Prescot, Lancashire, the Kemble Street cinema, used in recent years as a community church, is to be turned back into a cinema. In other cases, theatres are being created anew, such as in Oldham, where an old post office and Friends’ meeting house are being converted into a performance space. Integrating these venues into town centres not only serves to help diversify the high street’s leisure offering, but also will provide a welcome boost to the evening economy which many towns lack. Elsewhere, heritage assets are being renovated as attractions in their own right, aiming to draw visitors and uncover neglected aspects of a town’s heritage. As part of the St Helens town plan, Cannington Shaw – the world’s first regenerative glass furnace for the continuous manufacture of glass bottles – is being redeveloped as the centre of a glass heritage and research centre. According to the proposal, it will be the place ‘where glass past meets glass futures’ and will serve to connect the city’s history with its continued status as a centre of glass manufacture. Centres like this will also provide a platform for local artists and artisans to share their work, further boosting the local economy even as it fosters civic pride. The schemes and initiatives mentioned above thus have much to offer for high streets. The two types of heritage action zone administered with Historic England, together with the Future High Streets Fund, offer a set of solutions to the problems faced by many high streets in the UK.These serve not only to preserve the historic fabric of the high street, but also to ease necessary transitions towards a new civic environment. Many approved town deals also make similar commitments to high-street regeneration, with far-reaching ambitions to improve the lives of the inhabitants of these towns. It is encouraging to see how many of them share the conviction that heritage has an important role to play in creating distinctive and vibrant town centres. However, few schemes so far explicitly link investment to the government’s zero-carbon agenda. Currently an exceptionally large number of projects are being pursued or supported through the programmes mentioned above. Some local authorities have been much more effective than others in grasping the opportunities offered and developing the necessary partnerships, including joint ventures with the private sector. Ultimately their success will depend on translating the quick hit of fixed-term funding into long-term sustainable solutions.

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