Steve Bowyer, Head of Economic Development at Opportunity Peterborough, started his lecture with a slight name change ‘Back to the Future’ alongside the original ‘Heritage, History and Regeneration’ moniker.
Steve manages the Heritage Regeneration Officer in the city and has a strong heritage background, having worked for English Heritage in previous roles. He started the presentation with an examination of the nature of ‘heritage value’: for example, the highly valued fine main portico of the Grade I British Museum, which actually replaced the demolished Montague House that would surely have been considered ‘heritage’ at the time. The question of ‘value’ highlights the central feature of heritage generally, the definition that it is ‘that which we have inherited that should be passed onto our children’. Steve pointed out that the key word here was ‘should’, and that decisions had to be made on informed value assessment and reality. The context within which a building is situated is crucial, and the changing settings of retained historic buildings can lead to some jarring juxtapositions.
He also highlighted that heritage moves beyond physical structures to encompass the stories that people leave behind as well and the idea that the best regeneration projects target not just physical regeneration but everything, so also social, economic and intellectual connections to regeneration.
He gave some examples of buildings not valued in previous years but now the centrepieces to regeneration programmes, such as the impressive Gilbert-Scott designed Midland Hotel in St Pancras. Once potentially slated for demolition the hotel has now had 500 million pounds spent on its regeneration. Steve questioned whether it had had the full impact it could have had, as people who use St Pancras are directed to the underground and often miss the heritage asset and its fine interiors.
The need for people to retain and continue to learn traditional skills was highlighted as one of the ways heritage and regeneration go beyond just the buildings. This has been done inPeterboroughwith the Dry Stone Walling courses for example. Steve described how heritage regeneration schemes benefit from the more aspects that can be regenerated, such as culture and skills.
One of the areas he used as a case study wasLondon’s Southbank and theOxoTower, as well as the neighbouring Gabriel’s Wharf, owned by a Community Interest Company (CIC) and a really successful use of what was once car parks and empty lots. He drew comparisons withPeterborough’s Southbank, which he described as one of the best riverside frontages not yet regenerated: the listed railway infrastructure there could provide a solid base for heritage-led regeneration (with those wider cross-discipline approaches). He also described how the Millfield andNew Englandareas could benefit from regeneration which makes use of the solid Victorian architecture and railway heritage of its past, and the stories relating to that, to aid identity and take it into the future.