A partnership led by Lancashire County Council and the National Trust is to examine the future of two of the most important industrial heritage sites in the country – Queen Street Mill in Burnley and Helmshore Mills in Rossendale.
The project will explore and develop ways in which the mills can generate income and minimise costs while also conserving the buildings and collections, and providing public benefit.
The work has been supported with a £99,000 grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund. The project has also received funding from Arts Council England.
The Mills capture a crucial part of the story of Britain’s industrial revolution.
Grade I listed Queen Street Mill, which was featured in The King’s Speech and earlier this year in Mike Leigh’s Peterloo, is the last surviving steam powered weaving mill in the world.
Helmshore Mills, made up of Higher Mill and Whitaker’s Mill, are the only mills to still have their original working machinery in situ, with visitors able to see how raw wool and cotton were transformed into yarn ready for cloth to be woven more than a century ago.
Today the county council and the National Trust have announced they have entered into a memorandum of understanding to work together to find solutions for the future of the mills, which were reopened to the public by the council last year after a short period of closure due to budget cuts.
This will enable potential operators or partners, including local community groups and businesses, to understand how they can be part of the future of the mills.
At this stage, the project, which will involve a number of other organisations including the Higher Mill Museum Trust, the National Lottery Heritage Lottery Fund, Historic England and Arts Council England, will not implement any proposals.
Councillor Peter Buckley, Lancashire County Council’s cabinet member for community and cultural services, said: “I very much welcome this partnership with the National Trust.
“Both Queen Street Mill and Helmshore Mills are of immense cultural and historical significance and it is important we seize this opportunity to work together to secure their long term futures.”
Eleanor Underhill, Assistant Director of the National Trust in the North West, said: “The National Trust has recently secured funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund and Arts Council England to undertake a study of the future viability of these mills.
“The mills are a crucial part of Lancashire’s heritage and Britain’s industrial revolution. As a charity that cares for special places, we want to play our part in helping more special places deliver public benefit for all.”
Bernard Rostron, Chairman of the Higher Mill Museum Trust, said: “All my colleagues on the Higher Mill Trust are delighted to learn that the National Trust with its vast experience and knowledge of heritage conservation have agreed to work with us and the county council in finding a way to save this historic site.
“There are very many complicated factors to take into account, but with an organisation of this stature and influence giving its support, we are confident that a way forward can be found.
“The Higher Mill Trust exist primarily to ensure that this ancient mill survives, but during the recent period of anxious anticipation, it has not been an easy role to play. We are a small group and fully aware that we are not geared up to ‘go it alone’, so the announcement of this support is a tremendous boost.”