Heritage campaigners were understandably elated after the news came through that the Belper Clusters Heritage Group was to receive lottery funding.
The group - which aims to restore and protect the houses and roads of the ‘unique’ neighbourhood the Strutts built for mill workers in the early 1800s - were awarded a start-up grant of £9,600 from the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) in March this year.
However, after the celebrations died down, the group began the hard work of making sure the project could grow and develop in the way they wanted it to.
Trustee, Trevor Burton, who lives in the cluster area himself, said: “We are looking to move the project on and have been busy setting things in place to start to use the grant money we have received - we are making good progress so far.
“We have been working extensively with Derbyshire County Council, the Derwent Valley Mills World Heritage site and a civil engineer who has supplied an extensive report on the condition of the drains,” he said.
“One of the most important things was getting charitable status, which we did with the help of Ben Bourne of East Midlands law firm, Ellis, Fermor and Negus.
“The project won’t happen overnight, but we are confident that it will move forward if we continue to work enthusiastically, as it is something which we think is really important to us and the town.”
The Belper Clusters were built by the Strutt family for workers, and are so called because they feature blocks of four houses, semi-detached and back-to-back, each with a pigsty.
The cluster area was the third phase of workers’ housing, built about 1818-1820 and named in 1896 after Jedediah’s three sons, William, George and Joseph.
A railway cutting, which carries the Midland Mainline, and listed bridges designed by George and Robert Stevenson, also cut through the streets, which retain many historic features.
The start-up grant will enable the volunteers to establish a charity, undertake training, develop educational and outreach activities for the community and undertake essential preparatory work necessary to progress to a full application to the HLF.
The current group started work around two years ago, but the idea behind it has been around for much longer.
“I first got involved in trying to protect and restore the clusters 25 years ago,” explains Trevor.
“There were four of us back then and our group were promised £25,000 from Amber Valley Borough Council but they pulled the plug the day before we were supposed to be getting the money.
“Then two years ago I went to a meeting of some people who wanted to get it started again, and here we are.”
All five members of the current group live in the immediate area, with four of them actually living in the cluster houses themselves.
In the two years since that meeting, Trevor says the group has been working hard to get to where they are now.
Part of this was making sure the people in the local area were ‘on board’ with the idea.
“It was very important to the Heritage Lottery Fund that there was support in the area for the plan,” says Trevor.
“So we surveyed residents and found that the vast majority of the people who lived in the 108 properties of the catchment area supported us.”
Since the grant award, the group have visited Saltaire, near Bradford, which was inspired by what the Strutt’s did in Belper and, at the request of the Duke, Chatsworth Estate, which has examples of the surfaces they are trying to preserve.
Both visits were, Trevor says, ‘really useful’.
Then, in November, the group invited the cluster residents themselves to a meeting in the Drill Hall, on Cluster Road, to keep residents aware of the project’s progress.
Trevor says that there is still, however, a lot of work to do, such as putting together a proposal for the next phase of HLF funding, a development grant.
This, much larger, bid will cover fully designing the new roads, consultation with stakeholders, costing and tendering.
There will also be an extensive educational programme so that the project can create a ‘legacy’ both within the community and beyond it.
“Once we have been successful in the development grant bid, the role of residents becomes much more active,” says Trevor.
“Decisions such as road surface and traffic calming will not be just ours, they will belong to everyone.
“There is no guarantee that the project will succeed, but the commitment of the group will continue.”