Shrewsbury Flaxmill Maltings: Another European Commission/Europa Nostra award winner

Shrewsbury Flaxmill Maltings – (previously known as Ditherington Flax Mill) – has been brought back to life as an adaptable workspace, leisure destination and social enterprise hub, securing a top award from The European Commission and Europa Nostra.

image for illustration: IHBC Context 

… Funding….was raised through crowdfunding, charitable trusts and individual philanthropy…

Europa Nostra writes:

… The flagship heritage regeneration project for Historic England was funded from a variety of sources, including the National Lottery Heritage Fund, Historic England, Local Enterprise Partnership, and Shropshire Council. Funding for training and special projects was raised through crowdfunding, charitable trusts and individual philanthropy. Volunteers dedicated over 17,000 hours of their time to bring the story of this special place to life…

Shrewsbury Flaxmill Maltings (previously known as Ditherington Flax Mill) has been referred to as the ‘grandparent of skyscrapers’. When built in 1797, it was the world’s first iron-framed building, a new technology developed to give better fire protection that paved the way for modern-day buildings. For nearly a century, the site operated as a state-of-the-art steam-powered flax mill. It was later converted into a maltings and was then used as a temporary military barracks. Following the closure of the maltings in 1987, the future of the site became increasingly uncertain. Vandalism, poor maintenance and under investment had left the building fabric in a perilous condition and top of the ‘Heritage at Risk’ Register. In 2005, Historic England stepped in as ‘owner of last resort’ to reverse the decline and lead a partnership to find a new use for the site.

The project was designed and broken down into three single stage construction contracts. Historic England’s in-house project manager, the design team and main contractor were in constant liaison. Historic building risks were managed through extensive surveys, on site trials, and specialist input. An especially innovative aspect of this project was a new method of strengthening the masonry around the existing iron to enable it to act as an alternative load path in the event of failure. Visitors can now visit the restored Jubilee Tower and a new exhibition space called The Mill, which tells the story of the site’s role in the Industrial Revolution and in world architecture. Flexible office space on the upper stories and the Kiln hosts commercial tenants.

The local community was engaged to help energise interest in the project by hosting events, art exhibitions, and Heritage Open Days. The project also delivered volunteering, training and local employment opportunities, ranging from construction skills to archival research. This engagement has resulted in an increasingly involved community, who fully appreciate the impact the restoration of this important national landmark site will have on the area’s regeneration.

‘The restoration of Shrewsbury Flaxmill Maltings’ iconic building serves as a beacon for the conservation and adaptive reuse for industrial heritage sites in Europe. Through innovative project management, logistical complexities were navigated, and risks were mitigated effectively, ensuring its success’, the Awards’ Jury said. ‘Beyond its architectural significance, the project had a profound community impact, fostering engagement and skill development while creating employment opportunities. By carefully preserving original features and repurposing the building’s original materials where possible, its historical integrity was honoured. It sets a pioneering example for future projects of its kind’, the Jury added.

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