COLUMN: Challenges and opportunities for heritage site

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By Adrian Farmer

A New Year sometimes brings new challenges and new opportunities, and that’s certainly the case for Belper and the Derwent Valley Mills World Heritage Site in 2014.One of the town’s greatest assets is its museum, Strutt’s North Mill. Have you been lately? So often we don’t visit attractions on our doorstep, thinking we’ve seen it all before. Well, that’s not true for Strutt’s North Mill – it’s well worth re-visiting to see the new additions for 2014. New manager Sarah Skinner and engagement officer Ruth Litton are working with volunteers and trustees to refresh the museum and develop an on-going programme of new displays and exhibitions, thanks to a £10,000 Heritage Lottery Fund grant.Sarah is keen to help Belper people understand it’s their museum, telling the story of their town and its links to the Industrial Revolution. She’s hoping local people will come and offer up anecdotes, photographs and artefacts to help explain the story of the world’s first Cotton Mill Town. Contact her at or on 01773 880474 if you can help. The mills themselves offer a major challenge for Belper. They are central to the reason Belper is in the World Heritage Site, yet clearly need restoration and re-use which will support the local economy. Plans for the electrification of the railway through the town are at an early stage – we won’t see the impact for some years yet – but in 2014 Network Rail will firm up plans for gantries and powerlines through the town’s beautiful Stephenson-built railway cutting. The World Heritage Site Board, headed by Councillor Ellie Wilcox, is being consulted on the electrification project and hopes to be able to positively influence the outcomes and reduce the expected impacts, particularly on the town’s eleven Listed bridges, which may not be high enough to accommodate the changes. Finally, there is the Tesco-owned land around Derwent Street. This could be sold soon, and regeneration of that area can begin at last. It’s a huge opportunity for positive change, and one the town mustn’t let slip through its fingers. Student architects from London’s Kingston University visited recently, exploring ideas for the site, and it was clear from the resulting workshop that the site has bags of potential for providing jobs, homes and improved facilities. A master plan for the town could be massively beneficial in helping to pull this off.
It’s going to be a busy year!