Local Community History Month – Belper
In December 2001, the Derwent Valley Mills in Derbyshire were added to the World Heritage List.
This international designation confirms the outstanding importance of the area as the birthplace of the factory system where in the 18th Century water power was successfully harnessed for textile production.
Stretching 15 miles down the river valley from Matlock Bath to Derby, the World Heritage Site contains a fascinating series of historic mill complexes, including some of the world’s first ‘modern’ factories. Within the Derwent Valley Mills UNESCO World Heritage Site and Belper and Milford conservation area, Countryside in conjunction with Derbyshire Council, has undertaken the creation of 114 new homes using modern methods of construction, sitting alongside a new library, café and care home complex created through the regeneration of the former Thornton’s confectionary factory, which was badly damaged by fire in 2013.
Too often, the creation of affordable homes involves a focus purely on cost. But in the effort to preserve the historical essence, Countryside has been working to demonstrate how modern methods of construction can sit hand in hand with bespoke design that reflects an area’s past. Rather than taking a standard design, Countryside’s internal architects and wider team have been working with the conservation officer, Amber Valley’s heritage consultants and Historic England to develop designs that referenced mill buildings in the area and the local textile industry.
It is rare for affordable housing to demonstrate such attention to detail and respect for heritage. Often, developers shy away from developing affordable homes where listed buildings, conservation areas or world heritage site status exist, perceiving that the volume of engagement required, the compromises needed, and the level of scrutiny make such projects unworkable. Yet here, Countryside has met multiple stakeholders’ complex needs while not just respecting the site’s heritage, but making it a key part of the scheme’s identity, pushing boundaries of what is possible through modular construction and what expectations should be for affordable homes.