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Architecture research in North East England boosts tourism and the local economy

Researchers at Northumbria University are using design-based research and innovative technologies to enhance, protect and conserve internationally significant heritage assets within North East England. Their work with organisations such as the National Trust and Historic England is having a far-reaching impact on the local economy, education, environment and policy.

Conservation and preservation of historical buildings is an important investment in our cultural and historical heritage. The built heritage connects people with the past, provides a sense of identity, and promotes the continuation of local traditions and cultural values. Heritage buildings also benefit the economy through tourism, the creation of new jobs, and investment in cultural amenities. In addition, reinvestment in historic buildings is kinder to the environment as it avoids having to use resources to construct new buildings.


Professor Paul Jones and colleagues from Northumbria University’s architecture team are supporting conservation and preservation efforts in North East England through design-focused, historic and scientific research of internationally significant heritage assets. Since 2012, the team has worked with various organisations responsible for heritage assets, including the National Trust, Historic England, Northumberland National ParkLive Theatre and Land of Oak and Iron. This work has had significant creative, cultural, social, economic, educational, environmental and policy-related impacts.


The team’s outstanding design research has resulted in several buildings being reimagined and saved from demolition, as well as enabling civic and cultural heritage buildings to be improved and protected. Materials research into building technologies, particularly through the development of mortar for York Minster and the Roman Wall, has led to important heritage assets being repaired and conserved. The development of ground-breaking digital technologies has also allowed historic estates to be accurately modelled and recorded for the purposes of preservation and facilities management.


At a policy and strategy level, several projects, including one at Gibside Hall and gardens, have resulted in changes to organisational behaviour and policies, particularly in organisations such as the National Trust. The educational contribution of the team’s work is also substantial and can be observed in research carried out for the Manchester Library, Land of Oak and Iron, and Seaton Delaval Hall and Gardens. Through producing new buildings, installations, exhibitions, books and gazetteers, the researchers have help to raise public awareness and understanding of heritage assets and their historic context.


This body of research has helped to attract tens of millions of pounds of funding to improve the visitor experience, as well as preservation and conservation work, making a considerable impact on the local economy. By raising the quality of a heritage asset, the team has improved place-making (a people-focused approach to the planning, design and management of public spaces) and strengthened tourism and leisure activities at these sites. Gibside, for instance, received an investment of £2m in the estate, resulting in 100% increase in visitor numbers, and the same is expected at Seaton Delaval following a £7m investment in the estate.


The researchers continue to work with organisations to enhance and conserve heritage assets in the region and are currently collaborating with the Royal Navy Museum in Hartlepool to develop their estate and visitor experience. Another project involves collaborating with Northumberland National Parks on the design of four interactive bus stops/shelters that engage and educate the public on the history of the Roman Wall.

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