Like so many of our valued historic sites, Islington Mill only survives today as a result of the tenacity of a small group of committed custodians.
Since 2000 it has been the home of a creative community, supporting over 5,000 artists from 35 countries. But after many years of the artists doing everything they could to make the buildings fit for purpose and engage partners and audiences, they realised they needed outside help. Without a full understanding of the conservation issues or a knowledge of funding processes, they were stuck.
Problems with the roof construction were making the space more and more space unusable, and it was clear that significant investment would be needed to secure the mill’s future. It had been constructed in 1823 as a working mill where individual textile workers could hire a space, which is reflected in its current use as artists’ studios. As the only listed mill in Salford, it retains not only the early fireproof mill building but also the complex of later structures around a courtyard. It was well worth saving.
200 years of heritage
With the 200th anniversary of the mill coming up in 2023, they were keen to get the funding in place and the project completed by that date. The Architectural Heritage Fund had already given them money, and this allowed me to put together an Assessment of Heritage Values for the entire site. With this completed, they could then approach the National Lottery Heritage Fund (NLHF), and I came back on board once more to undertake the targeted condition survey that they needed, assessing and communicating the severity of the fabric condition.
Now, with a much clearer understanding of the importance of Islington Mill and the risks it faced, the funders were on board. We successfully received first-round funding from the NLHF in December 2018.
Project potential unlocked
But our journey wasn’t over yet. I continued to work with the mill throughout 2019 on the development of their proposals, including putting together an Activity Plan. This involved communicating the aims and aspirations of the mill and developing proposals for engagement around the heritage aspects to widen their audiences.
Getting the Activity Plan right has opened up opportunities for people to engage with our historic site in completely new ways and connect with their local stories in ways they’d never done before. This is what really unlocked the project and enabled the NLHF to support it with a second round of funding. By January 2020 we knew that the future of the mill – and its community of artists – was safe.
We will shortly be starting the works on site and have started to work on the delivery of the Activity Plan which, even with the challenges that have come along in 2020, is providing some really exciting opportunities. Watch this space …