Discussing sector challenges and sharing ideas at the inaugural meeting of the Industrial Heritage Network London (IHNL)

A triumph of Victorian innovation, a masterpiece of engineering and a cathedral of ironwork – the Crossness Pumping Station, opened by the Prince of Wales in 1865, hosted the inaugural meeting of the Industrial Heritage Network London (IHNL) last Friday. What a phenomenal location for the launch of the new network!

Octagon room 2
The stunning Octagon room in the centre of the station

The pumping station has been looked after by the Crossness Engines Trust since 1987, and in the recent years has been re-branded as the Crossness Engines. The Trust is fully volunteer run bar one member of staff, Petra Cox, Learning and Outreach Officer, who talked to us about the station’s past, present and future.

After years of grandeur during Victorian times, the station had been left for dereliction and was in a terrible state when the Trust took over in the 1980’s. Many of the metal objects and machinery had been lost or stolen, but fortunately, the engines had been left intact. Most likely due to their enormous size and weight.

The Trust’s volunteers started their journey of bringing Crossness back to life by listing the building. The huge dedication of hundreds of volunteers over the last 30 years have ensured the survival of this stunning monument and their hard work continues today. There are now around 60 volunteers who look after Crossness Engines. They continue to operate the site – including steaming one of the engines – and ensure the station is accessible to current, and future generations.

Petra talk
Petra talking to us about the pumping station

With the support from the Heritage Lottery Fund (now National Lottery Heritage Fund), the Trust was able to employ Petra, the Learning and Outreach Officer, who focused on developing the education programme and other outreach activities such as creative collaborations with artists, group visits to the site and promotion of the station for film locations. Crossness Engines have faced various challenges over the recent years including the closure for 18 months due to asbestos found on site. However, they are now back on track and ready to welcome more visitors.

Our other speaker, Chris Taft, who is the Head of Collections at the Postal Museum, talked to us about the challenges him and his colleagues had faced during the work done to open access to the industrial part of the visitor experience – the Mail Rail. The challenges included fundraising, issues with design which needed to be signed off by multiple stakeholders, managing expectations surrounding the programme of works and being prepared for the unexpected. This is especially relevant for buildings which were not built with modern visitor standards in mind, a challenge many industrial heritage sites are facing across the country.

Chris talk
Chris telling the story of the Mail Rail

The new museum with the train ride opened in 2017 and has been welcoming around 185k visitors a year since. This huge growth, from 2-3k before the project commenced in 2011, has been achieved due to the continued and successful communication between partners and supporters, spreading awareness about the project, using relevant marketing and promotion and appointing dedicated, hardworking staff who believed in the project.

During the interactive group session members had a chance to talk about their challenges and discuss them with their colleagues. The key issues members mentioned were maintaining and operating buildings not meant for public access, health and safety, ensuring sustainability of projects once the funding is gone and changing volunteers’ mind-sets.

Group discussions
Members engaging in the interactive group session

Many industrial heritage sites and organisations focus their efforts on understanding their audiences, enticing visitors and their local communities to engage with their sites, expand their outreach and look towards working in partnerships. In other words, they are working towards, or continuing to be relevant and commercially minded which ensures sustainability.

On the other hand, there are areas of industrial heritage where efforts are only focused on restoration and preservation of the machinery without considering the bigger picture of what happens to that beautifully restored machinery once there is no more funding, and no commercial opportunities have been considered.

Preserving and maintaining the stunning, the fascinating, the unique and the so varied industrial heritage of England is without any doubt important. But if there is no one there to take care of it anymore because we have not thought about succession planning, and if there is no one coming to visit it because we have not thought about current visitor needs and expectations then that amazing heritage will be lost.

Petra demonstration
Petra built the above model of the London sewage system herself and used it for outreach during the time the station closed for 18 months.

Volunteers across the industrial heritage sector have been doing such a fantastic job of ensuring our heritage survives. The hard work and dedication of hundreds of people devoting their time, skills and sharing their experience is beyond commendable. Why not shout about it more? Share what you have achieved with new volunteers and new visitors – the pride you have for your site and the knowledge you have gathered over the years will entice them to come back and get involved.

Open days, local community events, student placements and many more – there are several potential ways of engaging new audiences (IHNs across regions will be covering this topic in future meetings). The key thing is to be open – open to opportunities, partnerships and shouting about your achievements.

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Our schedule on the day at the Crossness Engines was fully packed and there were many areas to cover. Going forward, each meeting will be themed focusing on a specific issue such as volunteer engagement, using social media for promotion, health and safety around large objects and many more.

The bi-annual meetings are ‘igniters’ for further networking, discussions, and development of ideas. The purpose of the IHNL, and the other Industrial Heritage Networks (IHNs) across England, is to offer peer to peer support throughout the year.

IHNL currently has 38 members representing 27 industrial heritage sites and organisations. The full list of member sites and organisations can be viewed on the IHNs website:

https://industrialheritagenetworks.com/ihn-london/

IHNL is one of the 11 regional networks currently in development across England:

The IHSO, Joanna Turska, brings industrial heritage sites and organisations together, organises inaugural meetings, facilitates each network’s development and provides tools and resources for networks’ growth including the dedicated IHNs website for promotion, awareness and knowledge sharing:

https://industrialheritagenetworks.com/

Do subscribe to the IHNs website to stay in touch and receive the most up to date news and stories from across the industrial heritage sector!

For more information about a network in your region, contact the IHSO on: joanna.turska@ironbridge.org.uk

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