What is Brierley Hillness?

By Suzanne Carter

Most people share the opinion that the history and heritage of any town is important. Old buildings tell stories of how a town has developed, and certainly in the case of Brierley Hill they speak of a rich social and industrial history that has given this Black Country town its unique character.

A community mural of the buildings, places and spaces that local people said make Brierley Hill distinctive and unique. It was painted in 2011 over fifteen workshops which involved fifty community painters. It now resides in Brierley Hill Library

In 2011 English Heritage funded (and ran through the Outreach team) a project to find out if local people shared the belief that the character of Brierley Hill – evident in its historic buildings – should not only be preserved, but used to inspire and inform the future. Can an old professional market town maintain a strong sense of identity alongside its regeneration?  Does it even matter to communities?

The Brierley Hillness project explored these ideas through a creative arts and heritage project which gave the opportunity for people in Brierley Hill to influence the regeneration process by contributing their thoughts, ideas and creativity about what makes the town distinctive and special.
 
Getting involved with regeneration
As we know regeneration takes time. 2011 was an exciting year for Brierley Hill. The Area Action Plan for the town was adopted; an Urban Design Supplementary Planning Document in relation to the design of the new town centre was up for public consultation, and two stylish new landmark buildings opened to the public; The Health and Social Care Building and Stourbridge Art and Design Centre, pictured here (see their locations in Google Maps here and here). We thought it was the perfect time to empower local people to get more involved in the decision-making process – starting with Urban Design guidance for the town.

Visit www.brierleyhillnesstoolkit.wordpress.com to see the project archive which includes poetry, film, drama, live performance, music, art, survey work and reminiscence. The site is also a community engagement toolkit which outlines and evaluates the methodologies and approaches to community consultation used.

What makes the place?
Trying to define what Brierley Hillness was challenging. For some people it is the old buildings along the High Street, for others it is the memories of a prosperous industrial town that no longer exists. Some express Brierley Hillness in relation to social problems and an altogether much harsher reality.

While the strap line for the Brierley Hillness project said that it was ‘… where the people of Brierley Hill can reflect on the past and help shape the future’, many people also chose to reflect on the present and we had some interesting, and creative responses to the theme.

A booklet Understanding Brierley Hill: A Creative Community Response is available for download from the site.

What makes Brierley Hill distinctive for you?

 

Suzanne Carter is an Outreach and Community Engagement Professional and Project Manager. With English Heritage Outreach Team until March 2011, Suzanne is now working as a freelance consultant (suzannecarter@mail.com).

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