Opinion: Pauline Latham “Belper Deserves To Attract Further Tourism”

I was fascinated to read on this website of the Heritage Lottery Fund’s support for the wonderful Belper Arts Festival and its part in marking the First World War centenary.

The £4,800 has enabled an exhibition IN WARTIME 1917-1922 to go ahead in Belper.

The project, being curated by the excellent Belper In Wartime Group will focus on life in the town during the last two years of the First World War and the aftermath.

Volunteers will collect photographs, newspaper clippings, documents, letters and photos of keepsakes, as well as family tales passed down to help them build a clear picture of what life was really like between 1917 and 1922.

It is sobering today, as it was 100 years ago, to understand the effects of the war on soldiers, their families and the people who stayed at home.

The success of the bid to support Belper In Wartime, prompted me to analyse the positive contribution of the Heritage Lottery Fund to local life.

The fund, which was established in 1994 with the launch of the National Lottery, is the largest dedicated funder of heritage in the UK and grants £375 million a year to heritage projects involving new museums, parks and historic places to archaeology, the natural environment and cultural traditions.

Among the 42,000 projects which it has backed nationwide to the tune of £7.7bn are four relating to Belper North Mill.

In 2015, The North Mill’s Trust successfully applied to the Heritage Lottery Fund for a project entitled ‘Rescue, Restore, Revitalise: new beginnings for the Belper North Mill’.

The trust needed funding to look at ways in which the Belper mills site might be restored and brought back to life.

The result of this work is an outline masterplan for the future of the whole of the Belper Mills site, completed last year.

The Trust now has the confidence to believe that there can be sustainable business plan for the regeneration of this part of the town and that such a plan can respect the history of the site and its critical importance within the Derwent Valley Mills World Heritage Site.

I agree with the trust that there is the possibility of mixed use development across both sites, which would be of benefit to tourism and to the economic future of Belper and the wider area.

My delving through the funding for Belper projects led me to believe that the town had considerable success attracting money from the late 90s to the early 2000s but has not seen many grants since then.

Back then, those to benefit ranged from Belper Historical Society to Belper Poetry People, while the greatest emphasis was on conservation work and the needs of the World Heritage Site.

However, just as Belper deserves to attract further tourism, the funding to allow it to do so seems to have been reduced.

There could be two reasons for this – either Belper was more pro-active in putting together bids in the past or the fund is passing over the area.

My investigations have prompted me to look more deeply into the subject.

I am a passionate advocate of Belper and I know how hard its community groups work. There is clear evidence of this in the brilliant arts festival which I have attended and the wonderful floral displays which I, like many, look forward to every year.

But I am sure the town could stand out even more if it could attract further funding.

I am delighted that Belper In Wartime Group and the North Mill Trust have received their money but we should definitely not rest on their or our laurels.

By Pauline Latham MP

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