Chatterley Whitfield (Former Colliery)

Refreshing the vision

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    Brittain Adams

    In 1880 E B Wain visited the site and he had a clear vision of what to do, I know this as I have found his notebook that covers this period.

    Strangely when I visited for the first time I had the same, feeling.

    The site is not a coal mine, the coal mining went on in the 25 miles below ground.

    The site is no longer the excellent museum experience it was.

    What the site is now is a centre for re-industrialisation.

    Not in a carbon burning old fashioned way but in an extension of the modern maker movement, that is to make big significant things and profit from them.

    To bring the site back to life requires a lot of separate factors to come together simultaneously.

    It seems that this bricks group may be a good place to initiate some of these processes.


    Brittain Adams

    Using a process of iteration allows us to be wrong and creative as a starting point.

    Though some things may appear self evident there are processes we need to go through to put any ideas into a format that is acceptable to various external organisations.

    These will include heritage impact assessments and a separate plan for each individual project as part of a master planning exercise.

    This section does not try to fit in with these needs but to set out one potentially functional vision for the site.


    Since the cessation of mining at the site there have been five specific roles.

    Heritage display – As a museum and now on the two open days per year
    Workshops and support – For other mines and more recently to provide a backup power resource to the national grid.
    Enterprise Centre – For a number of businesses.
    Country Park – Surrounding countryside.

    Though the main site has been rented out as a film set it is the friends group who visit the site weekly and mainly concern themselves with saving archive material.

    The fact that the site was a coal mine and a museum, distract from the fact that the site has significant workshop space and still has a high potential for productivity in such a way that some of the more interesting parts described as scheduled could actually be fully preserved.

    The vision is to leverage this space to ensure full protection of the heritage section as a by product of industrial regeneration, in the wider area.

    The overall objective would be to create 5000 new jobs in the locality which is within the bottom 4% of the index of multiple deprivation. This is the same number who worked at the mine in the peak.

    Whilst this may seem ambitious, in fact this again should only be a side effect of focusing the site as a centre for national re-industrialisation.

    That is successes here would project out to other areas of the country.

    As well as more standard approaches to dealing with regeneration and training, more modern, or in fact much older learning schemes can be implemented to ensure long term success.

    Previous Work

    In many ways the previous funding has been a success this resulted in the repurposing of the listed building which was the main site offices as an enterprise centre, the resurfacing of the road to the site and to some extent within the site and the flattening of the spoil heap which was the largest in Europe followed by significant local landscaping for a country park.

    Admin Block

    Here is the spoil heap that took many years to reduce seen from a distance.

    spoil heap

    It is clear from the work done that some extensions of the existing vision were intended, but the follow through has not been any where near complete. The Enterprise centre has good occupancy but certain communal areas such as the cafe and conference facilities could be used more.

    Strategy and Challenges

    Where as processes exist for the functional reuse of popular individual buildings in busy areas large projects can offer what may seem an insurmountable challenge.

    However successful examples exist, Chatham docks which has multiple industrial buildings which were in a better state from the outset than ours also in a less deprived area.

    Another local success the Middleport pottery, which is in a more populated area and adheres to an existing vision that is to keep it as a pottery.

    We can not restart coal mining, for practical and political reasons.

    So the main challenge is that individual buildings being fixed up one at a time will not likely attract the success the site requires.

    The solution that a master planning exercise can bring is an order in which building restoration and reuse should occur but also a view of what relationship each building has to the others, that is that they support one another.

    To succeed the site must be seen as worthy destination, with multiple interlocking activities, to serve a much wider community than the immediate population.

    To then devise a funding and governance model which facilitates this is yet another area to be examined.

    The strategy of a heterarchy, where people are given space purpose and permission, will allow for maximum creativity. A good example was given at the recent MOSI conference by Thom Aussems, Managing Director of Dutch developer Trudo, where he boasted that of the thousands of activities at the ex Philips factories that he nurtures, he only organised one.

    A separate section for each building will now be put forward, this will give it purpose as part of the a whole solution.

    It will eventually become apparent that the solutions to all the issues at the site were in fact put in place by the previous operators of the site, through their investments in the future, but you would have to know a lot more to see how.

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