Action to save region’s most historic buildings
Published: Thursday 01 Feb 2024
Vital funding has been handed to some of the region’s most historic buildings to help protect their long-term futures and bring them back into use.
The first four buildings to benefit from the new funding from the West Midlands Combined Authority (WMCA), working in partnership with the Architectural Heritage Fund (AHF), have more than 1,000 years of history between them.
- 16th-century pub The Golden Lion in Cannon Hill Park, Birmingham
- Matthew Boulton’s and James Watts’ Soho Foundry in Smethwick
- Walsall Imperial theatre and cinema
- The Old Print Works in Balsall Health, Birmingham
There are 10,500 historic buildings across the region and the loss of the iconic Crooked House pub in Himley last year brought into sharp focus the affection in which local people hold them, prompting this direct action by the WMCA to help protect and champion them.
As well as financially supporting plans to restore these historic buildings to bring them back into use, the WMCA has set up a Heritage Taskforce as the first regional body to advise on how they can be protected and reused for many generations to come.
The taskforce’s members are drawn from a range of local organisations and national bodies such as West Midlands Historic Buildings Trust, Historic Coventry Trust, Arts Council England, Historic England, the AHF, and local authorities.
Andy Street, Mayor of the West Midlands and Chair of the WMCA, visited The Old Print Works in Balsall Heath today (Thursday 1 February) with representatives of the Heritage Taskforce.
The 125-year-old building has been brought back into use as a workspace having lain empty following the J H Butcher and Co factory closure 15 years ago. In its heyday, JH Butcher employed 300 people as a leading manufacturer and international exporter of water-slide transfers that designed many well-known logos in the 20th century.
Currently leased by charity Make It Sustainable, it now provides studio, meeting, exhibition, event and co-working spaces for 200 creative individuals and organisations and welcomes 1,600 visitors every month to its Balsall Heath Second Saturday festival, café and gallery.
Make It Sustainable will use its grant from the WMCA to draw up plans to protect the Grade II Listed Edwardian building’s long-term future by taking it into community ownership and then bringing it up to modern energy efficiency and accessibility standards.
The Mayor said: “We’re blessed with some 10,500 heritage buildings right across our region. They all have wonderful stories to tell about our past but an equally important role in our future - creatively reimagined as places powering employment, education and social wellbeing.
“That’s why it’s wonderful to see firsthand how new life has been breathed into The Old Print Works - harking back to its heyday in the 20th century. It’s a good example of just what can be achieved where there is a strong will and commitment among local people who care.
“We’ve seen elsewhere in our region the high regard local people have for this everyday heritage when it comes under threat. And it’s through this new funding and the taskforce we’ve set up that we’re demonstrating our determination to continue to do all we can to safeguard our historic buildings, unlock their potential and find new uses to ensure they continue to serve their communities for many more generations to come.”
Hannah Greenwood, interim chief executive of Make It Sustainable, said: “Since 2011 we’ve been transforming this disused print works into a thriving community arts space, now hosting a diverse and growing creative community in a range of enterprise and community spaces.
“We’re grateful for the support from the WMCA and AHF for the next phase which is to secure The OId Print Works in community ownership with a sustainable business model, and to reimagine and redevelop the site as an inclusive, welcoming, vibrant and more environmentally friendly community resource.”
Under the guidance of the WMCA’s Cultural Leadership Board, more than £8 million is being invested into the region’s culture and heritage sectors, which were among the hardest hit by the Covid pandemic.
Three years ago the WMCA also drew up the first ever Cultural Infrastructure Map listing 10,500 locations across the West Midlands that are considered to be of historic or cultural significance, to help raise their profile and attract investment to safeguard their futures.
Matthew Mckeague, chief executive of the Architectural Heritage Fund (AHF) and a member of the WMCA’s Heritage Taskforce, said: “AHF and the WMCA share a belief in the transformative effect that heritage, and in particular the creative reuse of historic buildings, can have on communities and places.
“Over the past few months, our new partnership has enabled grants to four exciting projects aiming to revitalise old buildings. The Old Print Works in Balsall Heath, is a prime example of that, and we’re delighted to help progress their plans to protect this community asset and make it more sustainable.”
Cllr Patrick Harley, WMCA portfolio holder for culture and digital, and leader of Dudley Council, said: “Sadly, action to protect our heritage buildings is not always taken early enough to prevent them from falling into disrepair or being lost for ever, as we saw with the much-loved Crooked House pub.
“We have set up this taskforce as part of an £8million investment in the region’s cultural and creative sector to take a proactive role in advising what we can do sooner to care, protect and most importantly to help write new chapters in the stories of these wonderful buildings.”
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