April saw the second round of COVID-19 recovery grants, with Historic England (HE) distributing over £8m to 64 sites, and Arts Council England (ACE) distributing £13.5 million to 72 sites. Railways accounted for over 50% of the sites receiving support from HE in April, whilst ACE support was spread across a wider range of industrial sites in this round.
Smaller sites such as wind and watermills are notable absentees from both lists. However, it should be noted that application for funds in both rounds was entirely voluntary. There are limited reports of further redundancies in the first five months of 2021, but there were fewer reports of vandalism and trespass on industrial heritage sites.
The 17th May saw further easing of the COVID restrictions for indoor venues and marked the beginning of a mass re-opening of industrial heritage sites in England. As during the summer re-opening of 2020, this was led by the larger open-air industrial museums and the Heritage Railways sector. A rapid online review of industrial archaeology and heritage websites and facebook pages was undertaken at the end of June to assess the level of re-opening of sites. Many industrial sites re-opened between mid-May and the end of June, with roughly 50% open by 30 June. More are planning on re-opening in July and August as restrictions are lifted.
The Industrial Heritage Networks (IHNs) are a key part of the Industrial Heritage Support project, and were set up in 2018 with the help of the Association for Industrial Archaeology and the Association of Independent Museums. These IHNs meet twice a year, online, to discuss current issues and opportunities for those running industrial heritage sites. The first round of online IHN meetings for London, the North West, West Midlands, South West, North East, Cornwall & Devon, and South East were held between October 2020 and April 2021. 82 individuals from 60 organisations took part in these network meetings, with a key theme being the impact of the pandemic on volunteers. A further round of online meetings will be held in the autumn and winter of 2021/22.
IHNs are currently being set up for the East Midlands, East of England, and Yorkshire with online meetings planned for July, August, and September. If you work or volunteer in industrial heritage in these regions and want to get involved in sharing knowledge and experience through the new IHNs, please contact the IHSO, Dr Mike Nevell.