Newsletter January 2009
Conservation - Gorton Monastery: leading by example



“Good urban design interprets and builds upon the historic character, the existing landscape and the aspirations of the local communities, and arrives at a vision of what a place might become”.

This quote was taken from ‘Where We Live’, a recent urban design guide sponsored by the South East England Development Agency amongst others, but it could well have been the sub-title of a two-day conference sponsored by a number of heritage agencies including the Civic Trust which was held at the Monastery of St Francis, Gorton (Manchester) in November: at which BCS was represented thanks to David Luckham Consultants Ltd.

The Place, Space and Conservation – The Regeneration Game conference was organised to explore “the impact of heritage-led regeneration on crime reduction, health and social and community cohesion”, and the delegates came from a wide variety of Conservation organisations including preservation trusts, English Heritage, civic societies, local government, architectural practices, community groups, the Council for British Archaeology and the Institute of Historic Buildings Conservation.

Speakers included Jenny Abramsky (Chair of the Heritage Lottery Fund) and Ian Lush (Chief Executive of the Architectural Heritage Fund) who offered financial advice and support for future projects. Other speakers were leaders of successful regeneration/restoration projects and heritage organisations, who illustrated the variety of Third Sector (voluntary) involvement in this area. An example of regeneration thinking which seemed particularly relevant to Banbury was presented by Paul Hartley, the Conservation and Heritage Manager of Stockport Metropolitan Borough Council. The wide nature and the tangible, and intangible, consequences of regeneration were illustrated by a number of inspiring examples of successful projects, not the least of which was the building in which the conference was held. The Gorton friary, built between 1863 and 1872 by the friars and local community to a design by Edwin Pugin, had become derelict during the 1970s as had the suburb of Gorton, when locally based but major railway engineering companies closed. The friary continued to deteriorate until ten years ago when a handful of local people, with the friars, decided to rescue the buildings and, after the third application to the Heritage Lottery fund, they received a grant towards the cost of converting the much-loved buildings into a successful conference centre with a separate community centre.

This conference offered an inspiring catalogue of achievements across Britain by determined small groups of individuals with vision, who were able to harness the opportunities that exist to create better environments and communities, through the regeneration of their built heritage. Speaker after speaker emphasised the role of the Third Sector in the regeneration of towns and villages in the current financial climate of uncertainty, and the opportunities that it has created. Breaks between sessions offered opportunities for discussion with a wide variety of enthusiastic and experienced individuals. At the final, excellent dinner, Kevin McCloud spoke with humour about his commitment to building conservation and to the built heritage.

Where We Live was written by Deer Park Alpha and published by the Solent Centre for Architecture + Design.
The website of The Monastery is www.gortonmonastery.co.uk.