18 March 2020: A big thank you – to Lottery Players, and to those that have kept the faith in us.
We’ve just been awarded £4.1m by the National Lottery Heritage Fund to bring ‘Stori Brymbo: A 300 Million Year Journey’ to life.
This is a massive milestone for us at Brymbo Heritage Trust. We’re the group of more than a hundred local people – unpaid trustees, volunteers and paid staff– who are driving a vision for Brymbo’s heritage to be at the centre of our community’s regeneration. This award means we can now give the fossil forest and the remains of the iron and steelworks a new life – and open them to visitors, the community, learners and businesses alike in 2023.
We have come a long way since we started chatting about the potential of this most special of places all those years ago in shadow of the steelworks’ 1990 closure. Let us explain our journey since then, and our justified pride in the scale of investment we’re bringing forward:
We first put a vision document together soon after the Fossil Forest was found in 2003. This discovery seemed to give a uniqueness to the prospect of an industrial heritage tourist attraction – one that could link stories of nature, industry and people. It’s potential was initially considered in 2009, but only as a theoretical concept. In 2012 we worked with Wrexham County Borough Council and the-then Countryside Commission For Wales (now Natural Resources Wales) to commission a detailed feasibility study to look at whether the whole idea of what has come to be known since as the Brymbo Heritage Project had legs.
The 2012 feasibility study said yes. Now, after years of engagement, consultation, development, design, planning, expansion, forming as a charitable trust, becoming the employer of 11 staff, drinking lots of tea, eating lots of biscuits, and through sheer toil, blood, sweat and tears the biggest of the funders of heritage-led regeneration in the UK has agreed, too.
Actually, they (the National Lottery Heritage Fund) had confidence in us way back in 2013 when they gave us an award of £99,750 to get work underway over an initial 3 year period; they then supported masterplanning and business modelling work, and then in September 2017 they decided to award us a project development grant of £839,400 to work with more than 30 experts from disciplines as diverse as mining engineers, transport planners, drainage engineers, conservation architects, quantity surveyors, exhibition designers, solicitors, technical project managers…the list goes on. This stuff is hard – it’s risky and expensive – and it needs people who know their onions.
…and it’s paid off big time. This latest grant of £4,147,200 from the Heritage Fund joins a grant of £1,100,000 that we secured more than two years ago from another arm of the National Lottery – the National Lottery Community Fund. That grant was through their Community Asset Transfer programme to fund works to restore and repurpose the Machine Shop, and we can now combine them to get the project going.
And it joins the £1,996,000 that the National Lottery Community Fund awarded is in 2017 for the Roots to Shoots project that is part of the Wales-specific Create Your Space programme, and the £128,000 we secured in 2018 for the first stage fossil building. We haven’t spent much of either of these grants yet – it turns out that negotiating a land deal takes a lot longer than we’d expected! Oh, and did we mention the £137,000 of support from we secured from CADW between 2014 and 2017 to stop the Agent’s House, Pattern Shop, Cast House and Foundry from falling down? We need to pay special thanks to CADW for believing in our vision from the outset, and for putting funding in at that early stage to make sure the heritage would still be here by now for us to bring back to life.
Back in 2015 we were instrumental in achieving the designation of the Fossil Forest as a site of specific scientific interest, thereby helping the owners to secure £27k to fence it off. Investment in activities and research by rural development agency Cadwyn Clywd has helped prepare us to position the Fossil Forest at the heart of Stori Brymbo. They’ve helped us to explore the way we can play a major role in vocational learning – especially in traditional skills delivery from the site – and to explore how we might incorporate renewable energy into the project.
National Museums Wales has championed the Fossil Forest from the outset, helping provide scientific expertise, find £10,000 to assemble the ‘BIG STIG’ and to mount an exhibition with Wrexham Heritage Service in Wrexham Museum in 2016/17, and to host a year-long exhibition with Brymbo’s fossils at its centre from May 2019 through to May this year in Cardiff. They helped us recruit our full-time Palaeontologist – mainly funded through the lottery funding, and soon to be part-funded by Natural Resources Wales. The chap we chose – Dr Tim Astrop – was one of only 6 UK applicants for the job alongside 5 international candidates who wanted to up-sticks from Thailand, Greece, Hungary, the USA, and Italy to be part of the world’s ‘next big thing’ in terms of geo-conservation. Here in Brymbo. YES, really.
In the last two months we have secured a further £250,000 from Natural Resources Wales, and this will allow us to follow the fossil excavation and expand the currently-funded Fossil Forest building in due course. Quite exciting.
Aside from CADW, the historical environment has benefitted from £12,000 of conservation design development work that has been funded by the Architectural Heritage Fund, and we have recently secured £20,000 from the Pilgrim Trust specifically towards the restoration of the Agent’s House. We have further funding applications being considered at the moment by CADW, the Welsh Government, and a number of Charitable Trusts and Foundations.
Wrexham County Borough Council have been a rock for us, always on hand for advice and support, and in the last couple of years they’ve lent us £170,000 to act as working capital to help us manage the complex grant claims system. We fully repaid this bang on time, and back in February this year they wished us every success.
In total the financial investment that Brymbo Heritage Trust has brought into our community is just over £9.5m. All of it fought for, all of it secured fairly and squarely, not through luck, nor through grace nor favour, but through solid argument and graft. Community organisations like ours don’t ‘win’ the lottery through a randomised draw – they are supported, encouraged and nurtured to the point where their ideas can flourish…and that’s the point we’ve now reached.
The investment doesn’t stop there. When it opens in 2023 Stori Brymbo will turnover more than £600,000 per year, and will have created or sustained more than 30 direct jobs – three of them starting out as high quality apprenticeships. It will be one of North Wales’ premier visitor attractions, and one of Wrexham’s largest social enterprises. It will be always be run as a not for profit charity that generates surpluses to re-invest in its mission of conservation, education and regeneration. No shareholders, no dividends, no profiteering.
We’ll be working with local organisations like Brymbo Enterprise Centre to share the increase in visitors and footfall, with Coleg Cambria and other training organisations to deliver a widely accessible learning programme, with our local primary and high schools to develop detailed content for them and other schools to enjoy, and with Wrexham Glyndwr University’s School of Creative Arts to make the whole thing wonderfully engaging and joyous.
….and all along the way we’ll be continuing to deliver social impact that we’ll report on each year. Great events like Brymbo Rocks, car shows, family fun days. Volunteering opportunities, chances to make new friends, opportunities for people that wouldn’t normally consider heritage to be ‘their bag’, chances to learn new skills and gain fresh insights….people feeling better about living here, you know, important stuff like that.
We won some national Prince’s Regeneration Trust awards two years ago, too – recognising our potential, governance and competence amongst over 300 heritage organisations in the UK.
Pride and identity restored? Well, not quite yet, but to be fair we’re having a bloody good stab at it. Not bad for a bunch of amateurs. We feel good.
Come and join us (virtually for now, in person post coronavirus) and let’s make it happen together.