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Visitor attraction awarded Europe’s top honour

Posted on October 19th, 2017

The Arkwright Society’s Cromford Mills: Building 17 project has taken top honours in a pan-European heritage competition.

It is one of two two UK winners of the 2017 European Union Prize for Culture Heritage/Europa Nostra Award, Europe’s top honour in the heritage field.

Heritage projects from across Europe competed for the prize.

The Building 17 project at Cromford Mills is one of 29 laureates from 18 countries recognised for their notable achievements in conservation, research, dedicated service and education, training and awareness raising.

Independent juries examined a total of 202 applications, submitted by organisations and individuals from 39 countries across Europe.

Cromford Mills is a large complex of industrial mills set in the Derwent Valley in Derbyshire, a UNESCO World Heritage site.

It consists of 20 buildings, the earliest and most substantial of which were built commencing in 1771 by Sir Richard Arkwright, the inventor and entrepreneur. Arkwright, with his patented water frames, revolutionised the manufacture of cotton from a small cottage industry and created at Cromford Mills what is now regarded as the world’s first successful factory.

The project to recover Building 17 within the Cromford Mills complex was initiated and carried out by The Arkwright Society, a small voluntary organisation.

The charity secured substantial funds through a Heritage Lottery Fund grant of £4m, thanks to National Lottery players, and a European Regional Development Fund grant of £1m to redevelop this Grade I listed mill building.

The scheme has created a ground-floor visitor centre for the Derwent Valley Mills World Heritage Site and office space for tenant businesses on the upper floors in an environment designed to encourage creativity and innovation.

Other charitable donors towards the project include The Monument Trust, AIM Biffa Award, The Garfield Weston Foundation, J P Getty Jr Charitable Trust, Headley Trust, Sylvia Waddilove Foundation, The Wolfson Foundation, and the Architectural Heritage Fund.

Commenting on the project, the jury said: “This project represents a good adaptive reuse of a notable site of industrial heritage and is a key component of an important ensemble of buildings. Had it been demolished or left to further deteriorate, it would have been a scar on this World Heritage Site."

Building 17, the largest of those in the complex, was in a very poor state due to a complete lack of maintenance and unsuitable interventions added by a previous owner. These additions compromised the structural integrity of the building and presented a great challenge.

The conservation works were further complicated by extensive contamination of the site due to its previous use as a colour pigment works. The dedicated team were forced to resolve this and other constraints on the conservation with ingenuity and strategic phasing.

The jury noted this aspect of the project, stating that “the adaptive reuse of this building, which incorporates respectful and reversible interventions, addressed problems of contamination with innovative research. The result is a building with a social function that offers the perfect gateway to the World Heritage Site of the Derwent Valley Mills".

The jury also noted the high quality of the visitor centre and stated that “the interpretive activities and materials for children are a great addition to the site and its educational function is significant for the entire World Heritage Site”.

David Williams, Chair of The Arkwright Society, said: “To win this prestigious award is a phenomenal achievement and testament to the hard work and dedication that has been put in by so many people over many years.

“This award is acknowledged as Europe’s top honour in the heritage field and we are proud to take our place among the 28 other projects from 18 countries across Europe.

“Being at the heart of the Industrial Revolution, ‘Building 17’ is one of the most culturally important buildings in the UK. It will continue the sense of entrepreneurialism, innovation and creativity that characterised Arkwright’s mills.”

Jonathan Platt, Head of HLF, East Midlands said: “I’m really pleased that the excellent work that the Arkwright Society has undertaken with help from Lottery Players has been recognised by this international award. As well as being an important heritage project for Cromford and the World Heritage Site, the finished product is very engaging and well worth a visit.”