Interpretation systems plan for the Dearne Valley, Yorkshire, UK

Dearne Valley, Yorkshire, UK

Commissioned by the Dearne Valley Landscape Partnership to develop an interpretation systems plan for the Dearne Valley. Planning involved asset audit and evaluation, visitor analysis, development of LFD objectives, development of the main interpretive theme, program themes and sub themes, story boards, media and exhibit plans, conceptual designs, budgets and implementation plan for 32 sites.

The Dearne Valley is an area of South Yorkshire along the River Dearne. It encompasses the towns of Wombwell, Wath-upon-Dearne, Swinton, Conisbrough and Mexborough, the large villages of Ardsley, Bolton on Dearne, Goldthorpe, Thurnscoe, Darfield, Stairfoot and Brampton Bierlow, and many other smaller villages and hamlets.

In 1995 the area became a regeneration area, as it had suffered much from the sudden decline of the deep coal mining industry in the 1980s. In the 2011 census the ONS-identified Barnsley/Dearne Valley built-up area had a population of 223,281, however this region includes Barnsley and certain other smaller towns and villages that might not historically have considered themselves a part of the Dearne Valley.

Many high-grade coal seams, including the prolific Barnsley seam, lie close to the surface in this area. This meant that by far the most prevalent industry in the area was deep coal mining, indeed much of the economic activity of the region was either directly related to, or reliant on this industry. It was home to the Oaks viaduct, the largest man-made rail bridge in Britain until its demolition in 1965.

In the latter half of the 20th century the industry was declining and becoming deeply unprofitable, but was kept alive by government subsidy. As early as the 1960s local politicians voiced concerns about the high level of reliance of the economy of the area on one single industry. In the 1980s there was a marked change of government economic policy: unprofitable heavy industry was no longer to be subsidised. This caused the collapse of the mining industry, with a knock-on effect in many other local industries, leading to much local hardship.