The Merseyside village of Port Sunlight has launched a bid to be inscribed as a Unesco world heritage site.
Announced at the Association of Independent Museums (AIM) conference this week, the site’s bid comes a year after close neighbour Liverpool had its world heritage status revoked due to developments around the city’s historic docklands.
The model village was built by the Lever Brothers company in the late 19th century to accommodate workers at the Sunlight Soap Factory, which went on to become the Unilever multinational company.
The Lever brothers, William and James, had a vision to provide materially decent living conditions and wages for working class people. However their company has a complex legacy and was also known to have utilised forced labour on its palm oil plantations in Belgian Congo.
Port Sunlight village features the Lady Lever Art Gallery and Hulme Hall – the concert venue where Ringo Starr played his first official gig with the Beatles in 1962 – as well as a local history museum, open air swimming pool, public gardens, schools and other amenities.
The village has around 900 homes influenced by the architectural values of William Morris and the Arts & Crafts Movement. Each block was built by a different architect and no two houses are exactly the same. Around 1,450 people live in the village today.
Speaking at the AIM conference, Paul Harris, chief executive of the Port Sunlight Village Trust, acknowledged that there had been questions asked of the bid in light of what happened in Liverpool. He said the trust had undertaken extensive research and “fully understood the pros and cons” of gaining world heritage status.
He said the bid would act as a lever “to really get behind changing the site for the better”. The village is planning to build 50 new homes to attract more young families to the area.
Harris said that as a small, self-contained site, Port Sunlight ticked a lot of boxes for world heritage status. “We’re not under development pressures, which is important for Unesco,” he said.
Harris said he wanted to show visitors that the site was more than just a “ye olde worlde” village. “Some of the conversations around the building of the site are really relevant to today,” he said.
Working with strategic partners Wirral Council, National Museums Liverpool and Unilever, the Port Sunlight Village Trust will submit a formal bid to Unesco in July.
Other UK sites currently seeking world heritage status include the Flow Country blanket bog system in northern Scotland, which announced a bid last week.
Relations have been strained between the UK Government and Unesco in recent years, with British ministers reportedly furious at the international agency’s warning that Stonehenge would be placed on its Heritage in Danger list if a planned road tunnel next to the neolithic site went ahead. The tunnel project is awaiting the outcome of a fresh planning application after the High Court quashed a previous planning decision last year.
The two parties have also been at odds in the longrunning dispute between the UK and Greece over the Parthenon sculptures, with a Unesco advisory group recently backing Greece’s claim to the marbles.