For this week’s #MadeInSandwell Monday feature we look at the Chance Heritage Trust’s plans to transform the derelict yet hugely important Chance Brothers Glassworks site in Smethwick.
If the Trust’s dreams are realised, Sandwell could benefit from a new urban village that will unlock over 20,000m² of regeneration development for business, leisure and housing – while honouring the cultural and historical significance of the site.
Benefiting local communities
From the late 18th century onwards, Smethwick and the surrounding areas were at the forefront of the Industrial Revolution. This remarkable period of activity shaped the streets, neighbourhoods and communities that still exist today.
In its prime, Chance Brothers Glassworks employed 3,500 people, producing specialist glass on an unprecedented scale in the UK.
Chance Brothers Glassworks exported a wide variety of products around the world, including the 956,000 square feet of glass that it produced for the opening of the Crystal Palace in 1851.
The company was also famed for pioneering lighthouse technology. It made over 2,300 lighthouses for 72 countries, many of which still survive today.
It’s easy to understand why Chance Brothers Glassworks should be considered a site of great historical and cultural significance. However, the works closed in 1981 and these days only a few buildings remain at the location. All are Grade II listed and the site is a scheduled monument – meaning it is earmarked as a nationally important archaeological site.
Established in 2015, the community benefit society is dedicated to the restoration and protection of former industrial buildings and assets of cultural and heritage importance. The people behind Chance Heritage Trust believe that it is important to bring the site back into use to benefit local communities, both socially and economically.
In October 2022, Chance Heritage Trust marked 200 years since Chance Brothers Glassworks first opened. It organised special celebrations at West Smethwick Park to show the prominent role that this site and others in Smethwick played in British engineering and technology. Over 400 people attended.
The Trust commissioned a video to capture the bicentenary event:
Video created by the Living Memory Project.
The event not only celebrated the past but showcased a possible future for the glassworks. The Trust hopes to transform the site into a new urban village that will unlock over 20,000m² of regeneration development for business, leisure and housing.
The proposed scheme could bring 2.2 hectares of derelict land and buildings back into use over the next five years. If the plans are realised, they would create over 500 jobs.
The scheme will include 160 two-bed apartments, a small conference facility, café, retail space, heritage educational centre, enterprise space and an iconic 30m lighthouse. The latter would be a reminder of 2000 lighthouses across the world to which Chance Brothers Glassworks supplied specialist lenses and other vital components
To make the project more manageable, Chance Heritage Trust is breaking it down into phases. Phase one will incorporate the most iconic part of the site – the seven-storey building built in 1847 – as well as the adjacent former Chance engineering workshop, and the storage yard.
This phase will include a mix of residential, enterprise and educational space. The project includes feasibility work – engaging and consulting with the local community about the development – and underpinned by a wish to see heritage-led regeneration making a positive impact on the whole area.
BBC Midlands Today recently featured the Chance Brother Glassworks restoration project in a report highlighting the historical importance of the site and the ambitions of Chance Heritage Trust. In the report John Montague of the Chance Heritage Trust explained that the aim of the project is to work out how to “mix housing, culture, work, employment, training in a whole community.”
Mark Davies, Chair of the Chance Heritage Trust said: “The gates on Chance Glassworks closed in 1981 and ever since the buildings have remained derelict and are fast decaying. We need to find a solution, as it is such a waste of one of the West Midlands’ most historical sites.
“It used to be such a vibrant site and played an important part in the Black Country’s industrial heritage. The dream is to create a modern-day urban village that can create jobs, drive investment and become a tourist destination that we can all be proud of.”
You can find out more about Chance Heritage Trust and its exciting plans for the Chance Brothers Glassworks on its website.
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