by Iain Nicholson MIPM | Fri 27 June 2022
Proactive partnership working is at the heart of the Institute’s approach to place management and leadership, and is always a priority message we share with local authority, BID, business, property and community stakeholders in the places we work.
So we were very pleased to accept an invitation from colleagues at Historic England to attend a ‘Lessons Learned and Site Visit’ event for their High Streets Heritage Action Zone project in Coventry.
Transforming and restoring heritage
Coventry's Heritage Action Zone (HAZ) was a demonstrator for the now 67-location, £95 million government-funded High Streets Heritage Action Zone programme being delivered by Historic England. The lead partners in each place (mostly local authorities) are working with HE to develop and deliver schemes that will transform and restore disused and dilapidated buildings into new homes, shops, workplaces and community spaces, restoring local historic character and improving public realm.
Attending the event were representatives from HE national and regional HQ and officers from the 67 local HAZ projects. The focus was how the project came about, the journey (including the highs and the lows), the outcome (deliverables) and the legacy, with emphasis on lessons learned and “top tips” for HAZ project officers in running and reporting their own schemes.
The day was hosted by Carol Pyrah, Executive Director at Historic Coventry Trust, which led the HSHAZ project there, and included site visits of the highstreet locations it worked on – The Burges and Hales Street - as well as heritage buildings there that have been carefully restored and repurposed as visitor accommodation.
Engaging with local business
As the £2m Coventry city centre project got underway in 2019, the HAZ team focused on two key threads, the practical heritage, conservation and building techniques work on the properties themselves, but equally importantly, engaging with and involving the business owners and tenants to understand and explore ways to address the operational challenges they faced trading in those buildings and that location. The scale and nature of the works inevitably meant disruption to trade making that business engagement critical to getting the initial permissions and to delivering the best outcome, including working around the limitations posed by working in the circumstances of COVID.
From a placemaking perspective this was among the key takeaways. The “crucial” role played by Coventry’s Business Improvement District in working with the businesses – a message that was highlighted for the HAZ officers with ongoing projects and one IPM can share with its members with Heritage Action Zones in their areas via The BID Foundation. The regeneration value to the place, the importance of having revenue and comms funding as well as capital, ideas for other places on potential new uses for historic town and city centre properties, and the benefits of considering how heritage projects can incorporate changes to enhance the space and improve working conditions for occupier businesses, were among other lessons learned.
Before and after: changing the atmosphere
The project engaged a photographer to capture images of the works as they progressed, delivering a valuable archive, including before and after images of the locations. But in what’s a reminder to place managers and marketeers about the value of this approach, it also commissioned portrait images of business owners and their teams which proved to be a popular initiative.
Above: before and after - images showing the transformation of the Burges St and Hales St area of Coventry
As the location tours part of the day demonstrated, the works have made a striking difference to the look of and atmosphere in the HAZ area, and the strengthened relationship between the Trust team and the businesses was clear to see. There were also insights in terms of empty units here and across the wider HSHAZ for the thinking the Institute is doing with the government department, DLUHC, on a proposal to give councils powers to put highstreet properties that have been vacant for a year through a rental auctions process.
A further option for shared learning is on data gathering and analysis to assess HAZ project outputs, something the Institute has a wealth of historic and current knowledge in, especially through its High Streets Task Force work, including a dozen or so locations where both organisations have a role.
Iain Nicholson, Strategic Development Lead for IPM, who attended the event, says: “It was an enjoyable and insightful day. Great to meet up with Historic England colleagues, to see the impact the HAZ demonstrator project has made in Coventry, and to hear detail on the lessons learned. There is synergy across a range of initiatives IPM is involved with, and we very much look forward to further opportunities to share learning and strengthen our partnership working going forward.”
Lou Brennan, Midlands Regional Director and Programme Director for High Street Heritage Action Zones at Historic England, says: “We are now into year three of the High Street Heritage Action Zone Programme and it’s delivering real improvements across the 67 places involved, replicating the impact of what can be seen in Coventry. Working with local partners, such as community groups, is key to success, ensuring improvements to the High Street are rooted in what local people want to see happening, bolstering a sense of pride of place. I’m really excited to see what will be delivered in the remaining 18 months of the scheme.”