Land of Oak & Iron, an area rich in industrial, natural and cultural heritage in the North East of England and the name of a local landscape partnership. Land of Oak & Iron are also one of the members of the Industrial Heritage Network North East (IHNNE) who hosted our second network meeting yesterday.
The area, south of River Tyne and along the River Derwent, was at serious risk of loss and the partnership received a grant from the National Lottery Heritage Fund to enable the heritage of the area to be conserved, enhanced and celebrated. The partnership is hosted by Groundwork NE & Cumbria, consists of a wide range of partners and works closely with numerous volunteers. Amongst other activities, the partners and volunteers work together to improve access to local industrial heritage sites without compromising the wider landscape, making the sites safe for access, taking them of the heritage at risk register and helping grow awareness of industrial heritage sites and the wider natural and cultural heritage in the local area.
As a National Lottery funded project, the partnership needs to think about its future, how it will continue to deliver its activities and engage with the local community ‘post-funding’. The key aspect to consider is how will the partnership become a sustainable, commercial operation without compromising the delivery of its charitable objectives.
Each of the Industrial Heritage Networks (IHNs) meetings focuses on a specific theme chosen by the meeting host. Yesterday, our theme was ‘Balancing commercial vs charitable for long term sustainability’, a topic relevant to many industrial heritage organisations across England. Karen Daglish, Partnership Manager, and Kath Marshall-Ivens, Community Engagement Officer have chosen the theme and Karen delivered a talk focusing on it. After telling us about the partnership’s activities and successes to date, including the development of a thriving team of volunteers from the local community and the recent opening of the new Land of Oak & Iron Heritage Centre, Karen talked about the future of the partnership, and the challenge of deciding what products and activities will ensure the project’s sustainability in the years to come after the funding has stopped.
Karen has compared their current grant funding to a safety blanket, their comfort zone which is an accurate metaphor for how many funded sites, projects or organisations might feel. However, what happens when the funding stops?
Funded projects must plan for ‘post-funding’ future and ensure they know as early as possible how their project, and the assets or activities the project created or delivered will continue and become sustainable. As Karen mentioned in her talk, ‘to survive you have to be able to trade’.
In case of the Land of Oak & Iron, the project is looking at establishing what commercial will look like for them, and what product they will offer to their visitors. The product offered is not only the tangible things you can sell but also the experiences. Visitors nowadays search for new, exciting activities to try and experience instead of just passively watch. Land of Oak & Iron has a café and a shop in the Heritage Centre, but they are also considering offering working holidays and learning more about the domestic and international tourism markets.
Karen’s talk offered a great starting point for further discussions in smaller groups where members shared their thoughts and ideas about balancing commercial and charitable. Two keys areas emerged which, according to members, will help achieve a sustainable commercial operation and balance it with an organisation’s, or project’s charitable objectives.
The first area is knowing your audiences. Understanding who your customers are, who already visits you, buys in your shop or comes to your café is crucial. It will help you clarify who you have already successfully attracted and who you are relevant to. Knowing that, will then help you establish your market gap, who you are not engaging with and who you can target going forward.
The second area is working in partnerships. Engaging with other attractions in the local area, other local businesses and local authorities to search for ways of helping each other. This might be by delivering combined events, promoting each other’s sites or developing joint admission options. Working in silos is outdated, builds barriers and stops growth. It is important to know your competition and consider it in your business plans, but it is also important to remember your competition doesn’t need to be one of your challenges. It can be an opportunity. Instead of competing for visitors why not share them? Through joined admissions, events or tours? Or simply by mentioning to your visitors that there are other brilliant places they should see in the area.
The IHNNE met for the second time yesterday and we’ll be meeting again in October at the National Museum of the Royal Navy in Hartlepool. If you’re in the North East and would like to join us – do get in touch!
The IHNNE is one of the 11 regional networks currently in development across England. The Industrial Heritage Network West Midlands (IHNWM) is meeting for the second time on Monday the 8th April at the Coffin Works in Birmingham. The Industrial Heritage Network London (IHNL) will have its inaugural meeting at the Crossness Engines on the 3rd May, the Industrial Heritage Network South East (IHNSE) will meet for the first time at Amberley Museum on the 30th May and the Industrial Heritage Network North West (IHNNW) is meeting on the 6th June at the National Waterways Museum. The remaining three networks for Yorkshire, East Midlands and East of England will be developed throughout 2019.
The IHSO, Joanna Turska, brings industrial heritage sites and organisations together, organises inaugural meetings, facilitates each network’s development and provides tools and resources for networks’ growth including the dedicated IHNs website for promotion, awareness and knowledge sharing:
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For more information about a network in your region, contact the IHSO on: firstname.lastname@example.org