Historic England’s ‘at risk’ register shows ‘we are winning’ the battle to save Suffolk’s heritage landmarks
- Credit: Gregg Brown
Heritage leaders say they are “winning” the battle to save Suffolk’s historic landmarks after a new report showed progress in tackling the threat facing some of the county’s most treasured sites.
Historic England’s at risk register, published today, highlights the success of schemes to preserve heritage assets including the Transmitter Block at Bawdsey Manor, the Guildhall in Bury St Edmunds, and the former RAF Barnham atomic bomb store on Thetford Heath. Other sites removed from the register include All Saints Church in Laxfield and the protected wreck off Dunwich.
The register, which provides an annual “snapshot” of the condition of England’s historic sites to help target resources to those most threatened, shows there are now fewer sites at risk across the East of England.
Historic England’s Simon Buteux said while new challenges were constantly arising, the latest reduction showed “we are winning” the battle.
Conservationists working to protect the sites in Suffolk have praised the register for helping to focus efforts – and attract funding.
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Simon Pott, who is leading the Guildhall Project, said: “It’s really a wake up call for people involved in historic buildings.”
Having received £174,000 in grants through Historic England, the project received a further £669,000 from the Heritage Lottery Fund. Together with local fundraising efforts, the Guildhall – one of the oldest-surviving civic buildings in the country – is undergoing a major renovation, which could be completed by Christmas. Mr Pott said the team was “thrilled to bits” with the progress being made.
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People behind the restoration of All Saints Church in Laxfield have also praised the register’s ability to galvanise efforts.
Churchwarden Liz Hammond said: “The considerable Heritage Lottery Fund grant and the ‘at risk’ status attracted the support of other grant giving bodies, and the parochial church council is enormously grateful.”
Revd David Burrell added that without schemes such as the register, other churches in the county could face closure.
From 2012-17, Historic England awarded more than £2.6m in grants to some 30 projects on the register, including churches, castles, parkland and other historic sites.
The register has been particularly generous to Suffolk’s military heritage. More than £500,000 has been awarded to the former RAF Barnham Atomic Bomb Store on Thetford Heath in the past decade, to repair the once top-secret installation which is the only Cold War facility of its type in England.
The Transmitter Block at Bawdsey Manor, which played a pioneering role in the development of radar, has also moved off the register having undergone repairs with a £196,320 Historic England grant.
There is also a military role to the Guildhall improvements, which saw repairs to the Royal Observer Corps “Ops Room”, built in the months leading up to the outbreak of the Second World War to co-ordinate air defences.
While progress has been made in removing 19 sites from the register in the East of England, including Walden Castle, in Saffron Walden, several new challenges have emerged in the past year.
Eye Town Hall and Drinkstone Smock Mill have both been added due to problems with leaks, while an area around Lowestoft High Street has been added as a conservation area because of “poor quality alterations” to some buildings.
Caroline Byles, from Eye Town Council, says there have already been benefits to being added to the register.
“Historic England were the first people to offer us money back in June and without that grant there’s no way this project would have got off the ground,” she said. “They’ve been incredibly helpful.”
Mr Buteux said the grants supported further regeneration.
“Some people imagine that historic sites must be a drain on the economy, and that the money spent on maintaining them could be better spent on other things,” he added. “They couldn’t be more wrong. England’s historic sites draw millions of visitors, from home and abroad, each year.”
Amanda Bond, manager of Visit Suffolk, said the preservation of the county’s heritage assets was “vital in creating a sustainable and unique tourism experience”.
“It not only has a positive economic and social impact, it reinforces our cultural identity and helps to continue the renewal of our tourism offer,” she added.
“Beneficiaries such as the Transmitter Block at Bawdsey Manor is completely unique and gives us more reasons to talk about Suffolk through our promotions. It also enables us to compete with other leading tourism destinations for that all-important tourism spend.”