York Central Community Heritage Group: first meeting and some plans

York Central Community Heritage Group
2nd June 2018

Follow a series of fascinating heritage events during the Festival of York Central we’ve set up the York Central Community Heritage Group to develop discussions and events linked to the archaeology, history and heritage of the site. We had our first meeting on 2nd June 2018 at Friargate Meeting House and asked ourselves ‘What can we learn by looking at old maps and old photographs?’

Here is a brief summary of the discussions, the questions generated and the next things we’re planning to do. Let us know if you’d like to join the group: myyorkcentral@gmail.com

The Romans!
We had a map of Roman York to look at which shows the roman cemetery that John Oxley referred to in the Festival of York Central event. This raised a few questions for everyone.

Questions about the Romans on York Central.

It also prompted some discussion about the sense of ownership over the Roman history, that it always seems not to be ‘local history’ as such but as history very much stewarded by institutions.

‘Everyday Romans’


Most of the maps and images related to the changes in the area that came with the railways. There was a sense that the signifiance of the loss of the carriageworks had not been acknowledged properly.

‘The closure of the Carriageworks – we’ve not taked about the loss’
Because York Central is available to be developed because of the loss of railway work over the lst 30 years it was said ‘there needs to be jobs, it’s a legacy thing’.

There were some ideas to take here for thinking about future employment and the danger of reliance on big employers.


And ideas about how to reclaim cycling as part of York’s living heritage with a re-enactment.

Bikes use to pour out of the factories and Carriageworks – can we do a re-enactment?

What to do next?

What other York Central-related archives to York Explore and NRM have?
Can we orgainise a re-enactment of shifts ending and cycles pouring out of Holgate works?

How can York Central enable careers and businesses in the railway industry?

Contributions to the Festival of York Central which raised questions about the future of rail in York.

How can York Central enable careers and businesses in the railway industry?
24th May, 6.00-8.00pm
National Railway Museum

Last week we ran an event at the National Railway Museum to explore the question: How can York Central enable careers and businesses in the railway industry?

The event was chaired and introduced by John Nelson who has a long-standing involvement in the railways. In terms of considering the intersection of York Central and rail industry,  John described his interest as motivated by a ‘passion for the rail industry’, that he was still involved with three rail companies, a former trustee of the NRM and is a local resident, based in Holgate.

When John arrived in York in 1987 there were about 8,000 rail employees and about a quarter of the population some way dependent on the rail industry. The Carriageworks was closed due to political decision to “show the benefits of privatisation” and was at the time the most advanced facility in the UK. The loss of the Carriageworks meant the loss of many motivated people. The loss of higher-skilled jobs (and hence higher paid jobs) has lingered. John believes promotion of higher-end employment in York is needed – and that York Central is an opportunity.

Currently around a 1000 people in York work in the rail industry – a massive change in twenty years. Nationally, (via the Rail Industry Association website) it is noted that the rail sector is worth £36bn to the UK annually, with a tax benefit of £11bn annually, bigger than food and drink or pharmaceuticals. Across the UK jobs directly/indirectly associated with rail number just under 600,000, with 115,000 working directly within the system, 42,000 in the retail side, 250,000 in the supply side.

Can we re-find a role in the industry which might allow York to live up to reputation as a rail city?

The next speaker was Lynne Minett, who is Head of Learning and Events at NRM. Lynne’s role is to make collections engaging to all. Lynne said that she knows that people want to engage with the site and collection and acknowledged that in the past they haven’t always told York’s story well. York Central is a catalyst to:-

  • Reinvigorate South Yard and other outdoor spaces
  • Reinvigorate indoor displays
  • Create new central gallery linking two main buildings
  • Create a Wonderlab and a maker/tinkering space

The NRM are conscious of need to fill the STEM skills gap and that both the NRM and whole Science Museum Group have a role in this.

The NRM now working more closely with rail industry via the York Central Partnership and elsewhere. Through the Future Engineers initiative there will be a programme of events to focus on engineering and in particular encouraging young women into STEM.

The NRM very positive about rail industry on York Central giving an opportunity to being the story of railway up to present day.

The final of the three speakers was Alastair Morrison who works for Tracsis in Pride Park, Derby.

Pride Park is bounded by rail lines, river and the station. It is soon to be extended by the extra Triangle site. The initiative was supported politically when it started in 1990’s. It took 20 years (almost) to fill the site. Derby College has a large number of engineering courses and apprenticeships.

Pride Park has very good rail connectivity and road access. Bus services improved after temporary diversion of services demonstrated the need. Tracsis moved there for connectivity. There are the nearby Network Rail offices, a good network of collaborative companies and bigger pool of employees. There are lots of companies working in different aspects of the industry and the East Midlands Rail Forum is very active in promoting the industry. There are other supporting businesses too such as banking, food, property consultants, hotels etc.

Two of the post it notes on the rail industry contributed during the Festival of York Central


The event was then opened up for discussion.

1990s legacy of lack of investment

‘It was difficult during 1990’s. York was relatively prosperous and so it missed out on government funding. There was also in this period an escalation of land values which limited the type of businesses which can be attracted. Inward investment dried up too, which left the city dependent on the region’.

Museum – about the past but also for the future?

‘I am thinking about the ‘museum’ part of the title of the NRM. Does “the past” get in the way of thinking about the present and future?’ Lynne responded that there is a strong commitment that current industry needs to be focus of the museum now. NRM is partnering with companies in the industry to fund events. Alastair added that on Pride Park Roundhouse (College) offers ‘good facilities for events and as a shopfront to the site’.

What kind of railway businesses?

‘Can we generate rail activity?’

‘Any new activity  would probably on supply side – what strategy would deliver on the potential? How can the council as planning authority help drive change and overcome hurdles such as high land value?’

‘I work in the rail industry for Siemens, could HS2 could be brought into York either as station or for maintenance depot?’

‘There is still significant rail employment which will collapse if the issue of future of the industry is not addressed. Neither of the Universities do engineering; could this change? Or could York College grow to fill this gap?’

‘If York wants rail to grow, then all participants need to “sing from the same hymn sheet”. Regional development agencies in midlands very focussed on engineering – not the case in Yorkshire. There was no drive across the board to retain / maintain rail industry in York’.

Lynne noted: ‘York is a “City of Media Arts” which leaves engineering out and often makes NRM a lone voice for engineering’.

So, there is an image problem and a problem of advocacy with the universities. Isn’t there a digital strand to the rail industry? John Nelson replied that ‘yes there is, but we’d need a broader group than this to explore that’.

‘Does the training college at Doncaster create problem by draining skills from region, leaving gap for creation of training facility in York? We need to involve a wide range of partners and explore synergies – universities etc. Need a process to involve immediate partners (Network Rail etc) as a starting point’.

‘How did the HS2 training centre end up in Doncaster? Mainly due to mechanical engineering in Doncaster’.

‘The demise of Virgin Trains East Coast franchise might give a chance for new opportunities – new alliancing arrangement. Can we set up a conference to explore ideas? Local links are useful such as the Institute of Transport Studies in Leeds, and the closeness of Doncaster’.

It was noted that no-one from CoYC Economic Development at the meeting and that Make It York is very focused on tourism.

How to increase the number of people involved in the conversation

‘There is a possibility with York Central, but this needs buy-in from wider range of partners. We need engagement of local people in the process of development. Also the broader industry such as HS2 and construction / civil engineering’.

‘North Yorkshire LEP should be contacted. There is frustration with York in terms of tackling future employment’.

‘We don’t have an equivalent of Midlands Rail Forum. Should we form an equivalent? ‘Railway Industry Association cover supply side across the country, could they be involved in providing member information? ‘The lack of attendance tonight is a symptom of lack of stimulus – so how do we target and engage wider group’.

‘York Central has dominated discussion, but around access etc there has been no real discussion of wider issues of business nor what actually goes on within the site’.

‘Perhaps we need to frame a discussion about the rail industry in York, not just York Central. Perhaps the better question (that the title of this event) would be “Is there a future for the Rail Industry in York?”’

Next steps

  • Develop an advocacy process for the rail industry in York
  • Explore an event on alliancing opportunities and an event asking ‘Is there a future for the Rail Industry in York?’

Build university contacts in this area

The Role of Arts and Culture in York Central

Post it notes jotted during the discussions at The role of Art and Culture in York Central event.

31st April 2018

Robert Powell (former Beam Director and RIBA Honorary Fellow 2018) and Hazel Colquhoun (York Curiouser and independent consultant) introduce the real possibilities for arts, culture and making a brilliant place in York Central.

Robert introduce the cultural wellbeing policy with the local plan.

Hazel gave a series of inspiring and thought-provoking examples of how arts can be used in developments and make new places.

View the slides.

We then opened up for discussion, the aim of the quotes below are to give a real favour of the discuss they’ve been roughly grouped to identify key themes:

York, Heritage, Tourism and Contemporary Culture
‘What kind of culture are we talking about, heritage or contemporary? I am from York and I left. York is dead and that’s why I left. Heritage has it place. But we’ve been kicked over the head by it. The heritage offering is for visitors has been done to death and that is the monolithic overarching problem. There is nothing for me’.

‘Here we house 850 years of the archives of the city and this holds the stories of people of York. The people make the story and make our heritage real. It’s not just about monuments and buildings, we have the stories of the people of York. We have invited artists and creatives to research the rich stories in the archives and to re-tell the story in different and exciting ways. Bringing artists, creatives, digital makers and heritage together to create something new. For example, through our Explore Labs we have worked with young people, hacking stories and creating something else. Both inspirational and aspirational – who knows where it will lead. Explore Labs challenges the imagination – it’s where, artists, tech, heritage and stories collide’.
(Barbara Swinn, from York Explore)

‘We were recently voted in the Sunday Times, the best place to live in England. As far as I am concerned noblesse oblige. If you are given a title, that we have something special, fantastic and wonderful, we need to be optimistic, forward looking and positive. York Central and Castle Gateway and other developments are a fantastic opportunity. This is fantastic future’.

‘This site should be a canvass. Sometimes York is still historic and stodgy’.

‘York that is the sell, the hard tourist sell. I am sick to death of that kind of shtik. You feel like there isn’t anything for you’.

‘There is a lot going on and a lot of independent people getting up and doing things’.

‘I’ve come to York and I can’t quite get in there. York is shared space but where is my bit? I want to do various class and I want to enjoy things but there is such little space for residents. But we don’t make enough money as tax payers to take up that space’.

York Central and Railways
‘The unique thing about York Central is railways. So much of York is about looking backwards, you can combine, shame not to focus in on railways because that is unique. You can combine that heritage with something very modern and incorporating art into it. You can use rail as a motif to direct people through the site. We are looking at many people stories. Phoenix Boulevard, where I live, used to be a foundry but apart from name of the street there is to other reference to it. Before they dismantle the site, can we retain some of those icons. Railways are about travel and movement and you can look forward to what movement might be in the future’.

‘The most exciting thing in the plans is the stream train going backwards and forward’.

‘How do people feel about the railway heritage? We already have a cultural institution on it and playing a role? How do people feel about the railway heritage and can you meld this with the future looking?’

‘Challenges in York Central is to persuade people to come to York Central. Everyone goes to York. Difficulties will be making it less of a island, as there are only limited ways to get into it. One of the things that NRM could thinking about is ‘breaking out of its space’, they should they be thinking of spreading through the space in ways that that would take people further into the space. There could so some quite creative things in other parts of the site’.

‘In terms of the railway theme, there is the Highline in New York. They used a disused rail track, which is elevated. Now become a hugely important outdoors space, hosts music events, arts events, planting. Green space, involved with volunteers, friends of the highline. This would be one way of attracting people to that site. I know its talked about as Great Park but if it’s purely static I don’t think it will survive’.

‘Railway Institute gymnasium. If you go in the is a wonderful magnificent building and that is a building that needs to be retained. It is popular and much loved’.

‘One thing that’s strikes me the culture of the city was not planned and here you’re trying to plan it. I also feel calling is York Central is a misnomer because it is the connection between the city and whole has to be thought of seriously. The culture of the city which grew organically, the concern of the railway, the railway is part of the culture of the site. NRM will expand, absolutely vital but it has to be done in an imaginative way’.

How can culture be democratic?
‘These artists intervention have been about making sense of a space, in this city’s ancient monuments. One thing add, how is that going to affect our children now? With a monument, there is a danger that it is grown over. Or is it going to be something that a community can relate to?’

Hazel: ‘In Cambridge, the Art project included lots education projects. As well as making art that is about the new development, they worked as part of a new school building to link to what the children talked about. There is lots of scope for people of all age as involved. Making a place that can change and making place and spaces that can be used for something’.

‘We make buildings and then the buildings make us. Then it changes us and changes the people that come after that. It’s about having values in minds when they set out. In post-war towns, the approach was ‘build an art gallery’ and ‘build a theatre’ and we’re done. Instead think about embedding capacity for change in the longer term. It is good to have artists in resident but maybe instead of having an art gallery we need an art school!’

‘There has been some talk about digital facilities. Don’t let’s separate artists from the community. We need to encourage them to come from the community, for everyone to be able to explore their talent. If you see that happen then you are getting somewhere close to the ideas for cultural wellbeing’.

‘Picking up on the future and arts of the future, one of the ideas for York Central is the Great Park. I was struck with the Cambridge ideas and trees, the development is growing and evolving as the trees grow. So could we use this Great Park to animate the story, something that is growing and everyone could be involved in it. Because people how move there, future residents and children will grow up with the trees. I like the idea of growth and it being literal’.

‘Language is exclusionary. Particular vocabulary and discourse and if you do not have the way to understand that framework – and therefore it’s not accessible to a lot of people. Topics, complicated not quite able to understand them on an immediate level of what will affect me. We often forget the immediate – the cup of tea – the immediate point of entry, plain English directly, this is how it will hit you. Then I’d be very concerned about the cultural wellbeing plan for York central. I’d worry that you are disenfranchising people right away’.

‘Planning system you do not understand without specialist knowledge but this is how we are going to hit home for you’.

A cultural hub/lab?
‘What if we had an Explore Lab on York Central that could enable artists, creatives, digital/tech and our heritage to collide – re-imagining the stories our history.
An example from our Explore Labs – an 11 year old boy, developed a holder on a 3D printer that could be attached to the base of a takeaway coffee cup – this would be made of biodegradable material and filled with wild flower seeds that would grow and attract pollinators. Who knows where this will lead? We could connect with those young people using the digital labs and ask them what they would like to see and re-visit 20 years later – they could be the very ones using the space in York central – It could be a dynamic and living space. As they grow it grows’.
(Barbara Swinn, York Explore)

How to start to build culture on York Central now?
‘Something mobile or pop up maybe? Could one of the buildings can be used ‘meantime’ to explore making and digital making?’

‘It would be easy to do something tame and has been done before. We are allowed to be risky even if we are York. We’re allowed to think about the future even if we are historic. We have strong roots and therefore we can grow’.

‘But It will be water down if we don’t pull our fingers out’.

‘There are somethings (in Hazel’s presentation) about process and becoming. There were also some things that were something physical in the space. Some of those interventions were about ownership, my brick, my windmill, that’s for them. But there needs to be a longer-term plan too. The cultural plan can have a process, what do we do while it is become, what do we want to become’.

‘We need the process of becoming. But as a community we need that feeling it is ongoing. We also need buildings that can stand the test of time. Good opportunity to have all of them – but we might just get a Windmill!’

‘It is about retaining people and bringing people back. It is about providing space for artists. In Bristol, they have turned themselves around and provide space for artists as a permeant feature. E.g Watershed. We need a place for start ups. If that was in conjunction with the regeneration and the museum itself so much the better. It could be a way of melding old and new, earning a living and stay. That will do well for our native population as well as retain graduates’.

‘Often there is a sense that it’s Leeds you go to for an exiting place to see art. But what about forward thinking art that involves the community. Including communities that are not always wanting to get involved in art’.

‘Retain the element of what it was and what was there and forward looking, NRM is trying to do’.

‘You are talking about people taking ownership over a part of that site, time to box clever to get ongoing funding, that helps to pay for that activity on to the future’.

‘In the Highline in New York, they have kept the essence of what it was I the past, It has sculptural pieces and some of old buildings have been retained and the city has taken ownership over it definitely’.

‘In Birmingham Wharf people can make things. Entrepreneurs can try things out, there are great big tunnels thinking about transport in things at high speed, a place where people can understand things not like a museum, some kind of makers environment where you are doing things because without artists being about to prototype something and try something out. There is a space to prototype then that’s very difficult’.

‘I keep reading your cultural wellbeing plan. You should have a cultural infrastructure plan wellbeing in the result, cultural infrastructure is what underpins it. Physical as well as social. Infrastructure is not just bricks and mortar it’s social. Whatever that infrastructure is it will set the foundation for what follows on. Whatever form it takes it will influences what happens next. Principle area part of an infrastructure and can change – but can give you an infrastructure’.

‘Lots of old building, factories, on the site, I hope there is no suggestions that they should be cleared away as they could be excellent for start of space for artists. Convert them in workshop spaces’.

‘I complete understand its lovely when an arty people get together. But what do you need on a day to day basis is to eat and be outside. I liked the fruit trees idea from Cambridge. As people use the path, they might think about Newton. Railways signify innovation but not everyone will be a maker. They might just wat an apple to immediately take away’.

‘Looking at other tools to describe the space, it uses one kind of language, architectures to tell stories, how people describe, storytelling other way of giving people a chance of places for them’.

‘We can be active with the cultural plan, we want that building for arts and we want to take that. We should be pushing now, to start to use somewhere like the Bullnose Building’.

Next steps:
• Keep in touch: sign up for further discussions about culture and York Central – within the view of starting to make some of these ideas happen?
• Develop ideas about a hub?
• Meantime use of buildings on York Central?
• Arts Council bid to being arts to York Central placemaking?