A community group looking after the former Brymbo Iron and Steelworks Site near Wrexham has been awarded just under £1.1m by the BIG Lottery to support its ‘Brymbo Heritage Area: A 300 Million Year Story’ project.
Brymbo Heritage Trust had already secured 2 other major Lottery grants during 2017 worth nearly £3m between them, and this latest grant means work can now start on repairing the works’ main building – ‘the Machine Shop’. This is all part of their £10m vision to restore the site and surrounding landscape as a visitor attraction, learning centre, country park and space for community events, all anchored on the industrial buildings, its associated landscape and the Brymbo Fossil Forest.
The Machine Shop was constructed in 1920 to serve as one of a series of maintenance buildings for the growing steelworks. It housed a series of lathes, drills and milling machines, with skilled mechanical engineers making and mending parts for the rolling mills. It was built right in front of the 19th century ironworks buildings, squeezing in amongst a vast but densely cramped complex of sheds, workshops and offices.
The works closed in 1990 and since 2005 the Machine Shop has stood as the sole steelworks-era building, facing straight onto the new road that opened in 2015.
A spokesperson said: “It’s a large open space with some smaller temporary rooms inside, and anyone who’s been to one of the Trust’s many open days will have been inside it. With its roof full of holes, and more than 2000 panes of smashed glass its a drafty place that’s far from weather-proof.
“Its dereliction has come to symbolise the demise of the works. An eyesore to some, it has become a beacon of hope for the Trust who’ve selected it to be the first building to be put forward for restoration.
“Even in its current condition it’s already in use daily as the base for the Trust’s team of volunteers who relentlessly work to steadily improve the place and find new ways of using it. They make cider there, serve visitors a brew and a piece of cake, exhibit fossils and works memorabilia, and have a seemingly endless stream of meetings with partners and technicians who are now helping to bring the whole project to life.
“Now it can have a new roof, new glazing, and a new floor. The work is scheduled to start this summer, with the building opening in Spring 2019.”
This latest grant provides £800,000 for to cover the repairs. When it opens it will be divided into two distinct halves:
- At the front, the Trust will be putting on a series of arts, exhibition, social and entertainment events. It won’t be fitted out at first, rather they’ll be using the year of 2019 to trial things and see what works. This space could become the reception and main exhibition area for the whole site when it hopefully opens fully in 2021 after the other buildings have been restored.
- At the rear, the building will take the form of a workshop once again, but with a focus on construction trades rather than engineering. It will be operated as a learning space in conjunction with Coleg Cambria and a series of other training providers, upskilling volunteers and serving as an exciting real-world context for young people undertaking vocational learning programmes. Their efforts will help improve the works, and they will be involved in building new facilities within the Heritage Area such as the the narrow gauge railway platforms and garage workshops.
- A further £295,000 of BIG Lottery Funding (taking the total announced today to £1,095,000) will support running costs and the two new posts – a site improvement coordinator and a learning coordinator – to take the project forward. These two posts are in addition to current team of 10 staff who work with the Trustees and volunteers.
They added: “This new life is being made possible because of several things coming together. The Trust’s determination and strength of vision is certainly a major factor, and it wouldn’t be deliverable without the support of players of the National Lottery week in week out. But there’s more to it, a backstory of leaps of faith, of belief and trust that has made sure their vision can see the light of day.”
“Wrexham CBC brokered initial work in 2012 to commission a feasibility study into the Brymbo Heritage Area concept, a study that gave a resounding thumbs up and recommended a series of key steps including the funding of a worker to act as the focal point for progressing the plan, for the trust to form, for the site to be mixed use, for the site to link with the wider commercial development across the road and the new school, for the fossil forest to be an integral part of the industrial heritage story, and for the doors of the place to be opened to the public.”
“WCBC have continued to champion the project at every opportunity and have lent the Trust £170,000 to support their cashflow over the course of 2018 and 2019. They provide officer support and advice and guidance to the Trust to help their vision develop.”
Lead Member for Partnerships and Communities Cllr Hugh Jones and local Councillor Paul Rogers have both been strong advocates of the Trust’s work.
Cllr Rogers said “This is fantastic news for our community, a great sign of the growing confidence in the Trust’s plans for the steelworks and a major coupe in securing additional facilities for residents, learners and visitors alike. I’d like to offer my heartfelt congratulations to the team at Brymbo Heritage for pulling out all the stops to make this happen, well done!”
Since 2014 the Welsh Government have taken a series of investment decisions to help ensure the survival of the buildings and the fossil forest through their CADW, Natural Resources Wales, and National Museums Wales arms. Senior Officers in those divisions have worked alongside local AMs Ken Skates and Mark Isherwood and MP Susan Elan Jones to give the Trust their backing.
Today Susan Elan Jones MP said: “This is truly wonderful news which is a real credit to everyone who has worked so hard to re-develop the old Brymbo Steelworks site.
“The new programme offers great opportunities for education, tourism and jobs. The grant is a testimony to the vision and commitment of everyone involved with Brymbo Heritage. I have always been pleased to support this work through references and in other ways.
“As the daughter of a former Brymbo Steelworks employee as well as as the local MP, I am delighted to express my congratulations to everyone involved in securing this very significant grant.”
The Trust have also published further details of the support, reasoning and destination of the help and support they have received.
In each of the last four financial years CADW have granted £25-40,000 to the Trust to undertake emergency works to the ironworks buildings that are Scheduled Ancient Monuments. The Foundry, Casting House, Pattern Makers Workshop and Agent’s House have all been systematically stabilised through this funding, preserving them for future restoration (hopefully in 2020). Without these early repairs the buildings would have collapsed, and the Trust’s vision could well have collapsed with them.
Natural Resources Wales have spent £27,000 on securing the Fossil Forest following its 2015 designation as a Site of Specific Scientific Interest. National Museum Wales have spent £10,000 conserving one of the prime specimens from the Fossil Forest and helping it feature in a six month exhibition in Wrexham Museum in 2016, and they are a key partner in developing the shape and nature of the visitor attraction to come.
The Welsh European Funding Office is currently assessing a bid from the Trust for £128,000 to put a building over the top of part of the Fossil Forest to allow a scheme of excavation to take place. A decision is due in the next few months and should coincide with the Trust’s latest staff appointment – of an internationally renowned palaeontologist – in May.
The Prince’s Regeneration Trust have played a role behind the scenes in all of this, mentoring the Trustees and Trust Manager, helping develop a masterplan for the site, and providing training and encouragement for the Trust to deliver a series of ‘meanwhile uses’ for the site before its full restoration. It’s a big undertaking, and their ability to bring learning from the rest of the UK to bear here in North East Wales has brought tremendous benefits.
Volunteers from all walks of life, with and without connections to the former works, have joined date Trust and got stuck in with helping it all move forward. From scanning thousands of old photos and recording oral histories, to helping deliver workshops for schools, selling donated goods on eBay to raise small funds, salving old land rovers, opening up the landscape, mowing, streaming and chopping, planting, nurturing and celebrating the ecology, making cider, and clearing the way to establish a railway.
Over the past two years the Trust had £33,000 of funding from the People’s Health Trust to strengthen its work with volunteers, helping the Trust to deliver much of its work with schools in particular, and helping connect volunteers through training and the development of new friendships.
Trust Manager Gary Brown said “This is such wonderful news for everybody involved in Brymbo Heritage Area, not our first major grant award but quite possibly our most important – for it will see us restoring our first building, ahead of schedule, and ahead of expectations”.
Chair of Trustees Nick Amyes added “..and it’s happening because everyone is working together to protect and celebrate Brymbo’s proud heritage. Thank you to all who have been supporting us along the way, and especially to players of the National Lottery for making this all possible”.
“We’d also like to thank the Heritage Lottery Fund for their initial and sustained investment in our vision. From the £97,500 awarded in 2013, to the £10,000 awarded in 2015, £78,000 awarded in June 2017 and £839,400 awarded in October 2017, we’re incredibly excited about now being able to deliver the next stage of our vision with the help of both you and the BIG Lottery, bringing together funds raised by the National Lottery to make a huge difference in our community.”
New volunteers are always welcome and the Trust’s volunteer coordinator can be contacted on 0800 772 0981 or via email at email@example.com.
You can learn more on brymboheritage.co.uk !