Adrian Farmer - Derwent Valley Mills World Heritage Site Heritage Coordinator
PUBLISHED: 00:00 16 October 2018
Adrian Farmer can certainly be said to 'put his money where his mouth is', backing his role as Heritage Coordinator for the DVMWHS with support for Belper's history and heritage.
It can be said that Adrian Farmer couldn’t be more involved in his local community. Not only is he the Vice Chair of Belper Historical Society, he also leads the Belper in Wartime group, volunteers for Belper North Mill and Belper in Bloom, creates exhibitions, leads guided walks and gives talks, as well as running the Historic Belper Facebook page.
Adrian says, ‘There are a surprising number of requests for information. A lot of people ask for information about Belper and its history and I try to respond to as many as I can.’ He fits all these around his full-time work as the Derwent Valley Mills World Heritage Site (DVMWHS) Heritage Coordinator, whilst also finding time to research and write books – his latest, due to be published in November, is about Belper in wartime.
Adrian was recognised for his community and volunteering work earlier this year when he was presented with a British Empire Medal by the Lord-Lieutenant of Derbyshire William Tucker at a ceremony in Belper. He remarks, ‘A medal wasn’t something I’d ever thought about. I was just getting on and doing what I can, when I can, for whom I can, so it was quite a moment – I quite literally was honoured.’ Almost as surprising was the letter of congratulations he subsequently received from his former history teacher. ‘My interest in history was really down to Mrs White. In my first year at Junior School she would come in once a week and talk about early British history. I was completely wowed by that so I saved up and bought my first history book!’
Born in Derby, Adrian grew up in Mickleover before pursuing a career in journalism. In 1990 he became the editor of Belper News and moved to Belper with his wife Mary in 1993. Three years later the newspaper celebrated its centenary and Adrian marked this important milestone by reading every one of its back issues. After six months of close reading he published a special centenary edition.
Adrian says, ‘I am a great lover of minutiae and as I read every paper I came across lots of little stories. One that appeared in Belper News in 1908 featured complaints about the sheer size of the potholes on Bridge Street. It was reported that a man was cycling along when his bicycle dropped down into a pothole. His false teeth shot out and bit a dog, causing a sensation in the street.’ Adrian laughs, ‘I love stories like that. It’s nice to think little things like that got reported, although they must have been desperate for news in those days!’
Publishing the centenary edition gave Adrian an appreciation of the richness of Belper’s history and through his editorship the newspaper became involved in campaigns to save local buildings as well as regularly featuring stories from bygone years. Yet Adrian’s involvement in Belper’s local history was only just beginning.
He says, ‘In 2001 Mary Smedley, then manager of the town’s North Mill, said to me, “If you’re that interested in history do something at the Mill!” So I volunteered as their press officer and it wasn’t long before Mary then said, “If you really want to know what’s going on, become a guide!” I went from never saying boo to a goose to taking people round the mill and town. It was terrifying for a few weeks, then it became remarkably easy!’
After 14 years at Belper News Adrian felt it was time to move on but he was keen to remain in Belper. Securing the job of Communications and Outreach Officer for the DVMWHS, he exchanged what he describes as one dream job for another. Now World Heritage Site Heritage Coordinator, his role involves conservation and planning issues in order to protect this special area as well as publicity, event management and training people about its significance.
Adrian enjoys sharing his knowledge through guided walks as well as exhibitions and illustrated talks. ‘I always try to show new photos at my talks and never give the same talk twice. Why would I?’ he smiles. ‘There is too much to tell!’
The same is true of his exhibitions – the next one, featuring Edwardian Belper, takes place this month during the annual Discovery Days Festival.
Adrian says, ‘Because people come to my talks and exhibitions it encourages them to find their own photos and many let me copy them. It amazes me how many photos crop up in a year.’ He adds, ‘The best possible way of ensuring we understand the stories better is to keep telling them. History is so rich and complicated that it’s good fun trying to unpick it from the evidence that remains. You can never be 100 per cent sure of what you’re piecing together but it’s fun trying!’