The second Yorkshire Heritage Summit, organised by The Yorkshire Society, took place on May 18th at the Victoria Hall in Saltaire, the world heritage site.

More than 40 organisations concerned with the protection and promotion of Yorkshire’s heritage, environment and culture, many of them members of the Society’s own network of Yorkshire Heritage Guardians, presented themselves and their work at a major exhibition open to the public, and over 120 delegates attended a symposium that was held alongside it – it was an event more than twice the size of the first Heritage Summit held in Pontefract last year.

For those who did not attend, here’s a brief summary of what you missed:

The exhibition gave a wide variety of organisations, large and small, an opportunity to meet with the public and network with each other.

Magnificent Victoria Hall was filled with stalls, representative of the different organisations within the Yorkshire Heritage Guardians’ network and beyond. Organisations varied in size from large regional bodies such as the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust and National Trust, to smaller local and village groups and charities. They had come from as far away as York, Snaith near Goole and Kirkbymoorside in the North York Moors to network with each other and present themselves to the public, who this year were welcomed into the Exhibition with one group coming from as far as Derby.

A highlight of the day was a demonstration, by the Yorkshire branch of the Cinema Organ Society, of the remarkable Victoria Hall Wurlitzer organ, with an impromptu recital by COS member David Lowe who rose from under the stage floor to the strains of the unofficial Yorkshire National anthem – On Ilkla Moor Baht At.

A lunchtime performance of Victoria Hall’s Wurlitzer organ was a special treat for those attending the exhibition.

Whilst the exhibition was taking place in the main hall, in the Evans Room next door, the symposium comprised a number of keynote speakers who presenting to a large audience on themes and issues relevant to the conservation of the natural and built environment of Yorkshire, each prompting a vibrant Q&A session and an open panel discussion to finish.

Delegates to the Symposium were welcomed by Councillor Alex Ross-Shaw, Portfolio Holder for Regeneration, Planning and Transport for Bradford City Council, and Chair of the Saltaire World Heritage Site. Cllrs Ross-Shaw, whilst welcoming delegates, spoke of the vital importance of Bradford’s cultural heritage, and particularly of the city’s rich architectural heritage in helping to spearhead Bradford’s environmental, economic and social regeneration, and environmental enhancements that are bringing new business and jobs to the city – all forming a crucial part of the city’s 2025 UK City of Culture activity.

The Symposium itself was opened by The Yorkshire Society’s heritage lead, Colin Speakman, who offered a definition of heritage from the Museum of Corsica, suggesting  that “Heritage” means something far more dynamic than mere rose-tinted nostalgia:

“A set of inherited resources from the past that are considered to be a reflection and an expression of our constantly changing values, beliefs, knowledge and traditions.  Heritage, or more precisely heritages, constitute a rich inspiration for the emancipation of individuals and societies. Whilst it maintains a close relationship with time, heritage is also defined in terms of space, due to its close connection with a particular territory.” …The territory in our case, is Yorkshire.

There was a full house for the two sessions of the symposium, and a lively discussion to end the day.

This was echoed by Saltaire World Heritage Site Officer Sheena Campbell, in her presentation: Saltaire World Heritage Site and how it can deliver social, economic and wider heritage goals for the people of Bradford and Yorkshire. Sheena outlined the history of Saltaire and how this unique model industrial village fitted the WHS criteria.  But as well as inevitable development and planning constraints Sheena emphasised how the village was benefiting with high property occupancy rates, a growing number of successful independent small businesses, not just tourist businesses, the further educational use of premises such as the old School and Victoria Hall, and the huge contribution made by voluntary organisations to the achievement of WHS objectives and to the local economy.

David Butterworth, CEO of the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority, spoke about The role of Yorkshire’s National Parks and protected landscapes in protecting the Region’s landscape heritage and delivering a wider well-being and health agenda.  Outlining the many threats to our wildest landscapes, including moorland, David highlighted several key threats to nature, such as global warming and the catastrophic loss of biodiversity in the UK – in particular birds, insects and small mammals. He referred his audience to the powerful David Attenborough TV Series Wild Isles but especially the sixth and last programme in the Series, which for some reason was not shown on mainstream TV and is only available on BBC I-Player – hidden under “Extras” of Wild Isles Series 1. It is also available as a book.

David suggested there needs to be key changes to the way the uplands in the UK are managed, perhaps giving these areas priority for carbon sequestration and biodiversity, as well as human wellbeing through recreation in green spaces, rather than food production. Government had yet to recognise the full extent of challenges caused by Climate Change, nor the key role upland areas such as National Parks could play in mitigating these challenges. Despite the many problems caused by Brexit, freedom from the Common Agricultural Policy could allow more adventurous and radical policies to be implemented as indeed was happening under the devolved Welsh and Scottish Governments.

One of several groups taking a guided tour of Saltaire during the lunch break.

Lunchtime was an opportunity for those wanting to know more abvout Saltaire enjoy a walking tour of Saltaire, provided by Yorkshire Associtaion of Blue Badge Guides. And many did.

After lunch there was a brief change of mood when Professor Tim Thornton, Deputy Vice Chancellor at the University of Huddersfield, presented the awards to the winners of the 2023 Harry Gration History Prize, namely Rachael Whitbread in the 18 and over category, and Jamie White in the under 18 category. You can read more about that HERE.

Left to right: Prof Tim Thornton, Jamie White, Rachael Whitbread and Colin Speakman

The afternoon session of the symposium brought equally thought-provoking talks from key figures in Yorkshire’s  voluntary heritage sector. Jeff Davitt, Chair of Yorkshire Rewilding Network spoke about The role of the voluntary sector in raising public awareness of the value of natural heritage and in delivering rewilding projects. Jeff’s focus was on the many tangible benefits of rewilding, including the restoration of biodiversity, and the importance of allowing nature to reclaim and recover in areas of less intensively managed land, no matter how small and seemingly insignificant. Beavers were exampled as a re-introduced native species which massively encourage biodiversity recovery.

Encouragingly, more farmers, estate managers and landowners were beginning to recognise the economic as well as the aesthetic and biodiverse value of rewilding, and he used contrasting images of a typical valley in the Yorkshire Dales to suggest how much more productive and beautiful such an area would be if the emphasis was switched away from the production of low value sheep towards nature-rich landscapes.

Kevin Trickett, Chair of the Yorkshire & Humber Association of Civic Societies was introduced by Paul Cartwright, Chair of Pontefract Civic Society. Kevin spoke about The work of the Yorkshire & Humber Region Civic Trusts in supporting urban conservation and renewal. He offered delegates a brief but fascinating history of the Civic Society movement in the UK, from modest beginnings to the now comprehensive network in over 40 towns and cities in Yorkshire alone. He went on to illustrate some of the remarkable success stories in the Region, including the point being reached when rather than just being objectors to various schemes, local Trusts and Societies were often consulted by local authorities and developers on design issues. Good quality development was also encouraged, Trusts and Societies making Awards for good design practice. He was able to offer all amenity organisations, not just Civic Trusts, useful advice, for example, using the press and the power of public opinion, on those occasions when developers, supported by local authorities, fail to reflect the wishes of the local community in order to maximise profit.

In the Plenary Session, speakers and their chairs responded to questions and comments from the audience, in most cases expanding on points already made, with some people also stressing the need for great Regionalism, in ensuring that priorities for the future were met.

There was general consensus that this had been a highly successful day. Whilst it was accepted that Saltaire’s Victoria Hall had been an outstanding location for the event, it was also felt that the event should move around Yorkshire. Tim Barber, who had earlier chaired the Rewilding session, spoke of the need for more volunteers to help The Yorkshire Society with such events, who would be warmly welcomed. He suggested any people willing and able to help should please get in touch with The Yorkshire Society.

The event concluded after a long and productive day with all speakers, the Yorkshire Society volunteer helpers, Victoria Hall staff being warmly thanked by a very appreciative audience and participants.

Yorkshire Heritage Summit 2024

Next year’s event is already being planned with the location and venue to be decided. Expressions of interest and requests to be involved, should be sent to

Colin Speakman, The Yorkshire Society (volunteer)

The Yorkshire Society wishes to thank Colin, and the team of volunteers, for all their work in organising this event.


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