“The blast furnace is of international significance and too important to simply allow the bulldozers to come in, without at least some understanding of what is possible.”

A few weeks ago the current Tees Valley mayor announced the commissioning of the demolition of our iconic blast furnace, at the former SSI site, previously describing it as a scar on the land. This has created a lot of public outcry.

The original plans for the old SSI site included exploring saving part of the historic and iconic structures on the site as cultural landmarks. This included the most important building, the blast furnace.

Many countries across the globe have repurposed a number of its old industrial sites including their old steel works and blast furnace like Landschaftspark, which is now a world famous tourist attraction.

Landschaftspark, Duisburg, Germany

It is imperative to create the right environment for future business and employment and of course we can’t live in the past. We absolutely need to regenerate to bring new industry and quality jobs, but our steel heritage is a huge asset to the region, one that will also create jobs and prosperity. Given the recklessness with which the steel industry in the UK has been treated, it is something that needs handling with extra care, vision and imagination.

Over the last few weeks we have been hearing from and collecting thoughts from people across Teesside about their views on the blast furnace and former steel works site, which we will share in a special series of posts, called ‘Saving Our Past, Protecting Our Future’.

I began by conducting a survey which had hundreds of responses. 75% of people responding wanted to save at all costs or explore options to save the blast furnace and the other iconic structures on the former site.

In the survey, it was asked what ideas people had for the future of the site. These were some of the answers:

  • A venue for live music, festivals or markets with lighting at the furnace to enhance it. Or having it as an interactive museum of some sorts with a cafe and good views out to the sea. Many people will not have seen the blast furnaces up close.
  • Something similar to the Yorkshire Sculpture Park… art installations that reflect our local history.
  • Certain structures could be repurposed maybe, if they can be combined with new buildings. It would be nice to protect some of the structures within the architecture.
  • A leisure/fun park with museum to our industrial past.
  • The site could be a hub for keeping endangered industrial crafts alive, with little workshops.
  • Make it industrial art and an attraction for those to learn about our former steel works industry/ structures. Create education for children by holding school trips.
  • They should be just left where they are as icons to our history. Let nature take over.
  • You have to look at the German models of repurposing industrial works – which is usually to decontaminate and regreen the landscape. Some have new buildings and shops, others are used as museums to talk about the regional history. Alternatively, consider repurposing them for outdoor sports, zip lines, mountain biking, climbing.

It is clear, people in this area are brimming with creativity and imagination. Now we just need our political leaders to show the same imagination and bravery. The blast furnace is of international significance and too important to simply allow the bulldozers to come in, without at least some understanding of what is possible.

What do you think? If you have thoughts on the blast furnace and its future, please add them to this survey.

Jessie Joe Jacobs is one of the co-founders of The Tees Online. She is also the Labour Party candidate for Metro Mayor of the Tees Valley, former Chief Executive Officer and Co-Founder of A Way Out charity, and Sunday Times social entrepreneur of the year. She is also a co-founder of The Eclipse and I Love Stockton Me, and director for Food and Drink North East.

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