A virtual heritage open day

When we developed the Islington Mill Activity Plan as part of our National Lottery Heritage Funded development phase, we fully intended to host a Heritage Open Day to take place in real life onsite.

While we have been disappointed that Covid has derailed our plans for in-person events, we have been pleasantly surprised how successful and rewarding our virtual open day was.

Despite there being a number of activities that we haven’t been able to offer, thanks to technology we were able to do three things really well!

From Industry to Art

Our first activity was the first public screening of ‘From Industry to Art’, our hard-hat film tour that looked at the mill’s history and replaced our onsite hard-hat tours.

Islington Mill is the only listed mill building remaining in Salford, and, as I say in the film, it has seen communities come and go throughout history, including through the Industrial Revolution.

Because the mill has been home to so many artists over the years, it has had a very light touch, and we have still got a lot of the building archeology that tells us the story of how it was used.

In the film, Chris Wild from Salford Archeology explains how the building helped create the perfect conditions for spinning cotton and shows off some of the curious finds that have been uncovered over the years. We have everything from horsehair dating back to the 1820s to a little cross in a circle nailed into one of the beams, possibly as a symbol of superstition.

As conservation architect, one of the challenges for me is ensuring that we do not lose these important bits of building archaeology as we manage the process of change and make the building safe and useful for the future.

We are just starting our capital HLF project to deliver the construction works which will include a complete transformation of the fifth and sixth floors.

Making this film instead of doing onsite tours has been a wonderful opportunity to visually record the building prior to the construction works starting. The challenge for IMPA TV was editing all the footage that they took, so we are thinking about other ways we can use this amazing resource.

Q&A panel discussion

After the film screening, I took part in a Q&A panel discussion hosted by the mill’s general manager Stef Wyke alongside Chris Wild of Salford Archaeology and Bill Campbell, owner of the mill.

We answered varied and really interesting questions about the heritage and architecture of the mill, as well as about artists’ experiences of the mill and what its future might look like.

Islington Mill open day panel
The panel in full flow!

Bill pointed out that most mills across the city are in a precarious situation, not just the buildings themselves but also in terms of ownership, which creates instability for the artists who occupy the spaces.

Thanks to funding the mill has received from sources such as the National Lottery Heritage Fund, the Arts Council, Historic England and the Architectural Heritage Fund, Islington Mill can now plan for the future. Bill pointed out that the owners are addressing things like governance and legal structures while trying to ensure the long-term security of studio space for artists.

I highlighted that the past two decades of the mill’s history as an artists’ studio are what we now see as its current heritage, alongside its deep heritage from when it was built in 1823.

It was a great discussion, and it felt really good to share our love for the space with people interested in the heritage and work on/in the mill.

Virtual tours of the building on Instagram

Islington Mill finds.
Some of the curious finds uncovered at Islington Mill. We share more about these on Instagram.

Soon it was time to don my hard hat again and join Stef for a walkabout of the mill on Instagram.

You can join us for the walk on Instagram, where we show off some graffiti (who knows a Kelly whose name might have been carved into the hoists on the sixth floor in the 60s or 70s?), unusual brackets on the cast iron columns, and everything from the lath and plaster and dolly blue paint to unusual objects discovered at the mill over the years.

I also show off my favourite space at the mill, the courtyard. We are currently doing some drainage work and lifted up the setts, so you can see some of that in the video tour. I love this part of the mill because you can see the seven stages of construction: not just the original 1823 building, but also the later engine house and the later New Islington Mill.

Well worth a look on Instagram!

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