Port Sunlight’s Global Story

Managing Port Sunlight’s heritage and international story

Port Sunlight Village Trust (PSVT) is committed to learning more about the history of the village and its many international legacies. Discover how we are using this knowledge to better manage Port Sunlight’s heritage, to engage with people, and to connect with others who are interested in our international story and the ambitions we have for an accessible and sustainable future.

In 2021, PSVT began three research-based projects to improve understanding of the international legacies of the village. They focus on:

  • Port Sunlight’s international significance for town planning, community design and stewardship;
  • The post-colonial associations of Port Sunlight’s designers;
  • Ways we can best engage with Port Sunlight’s colonial past and welcome diverse communities in the present
  • Findings from this research have and will continue to inform our work. Keep reading to discover what we’ve learned, our ongoing research and how we’re using it.


Our place in the world

Research demonstrates that Port Sunlight is an internationally unique industrial community. The village and its associated soap manufacturing company Lever Brothers are within a tradition of ‘company towns’, but Port Sunlight’s architecture, town planning and landscapes are a radical departure from the typical communities and facilities created for industrial working-class people. Port Sunlight inspired industrial and suburban communities around the world after it was founded in 1889 and to the present day.


Our World Heritage bid

In July 2022, Port Sunlight Village Trust applied to the UK Government’s Tentative List Review for World Heritage Site inscription. This was done as a possible first step towards a long-term ambition to have Port Sunlight recognised as a World Heritage Site. The application was supported by our strategic partners Wirral Council, National Museums Liverpool, Unilever, and many local people. The bid was part of a 10-year plan to manage the heritage of the village and reflects interest in World Heritage that has been expressed by local people and elected officials since 2001.


The outcome

Unfortunately, Port Sunlight’s bid to the Tentative List was not successful. We received positive feedback from the expert panel reviewing the bid and we hope that local people, residents, and stakeholders remain proud of Port Sunlight.

The Department for Culture, Media, and Sport (DCMS) was the central government department responsible for reviewing the Tentative List, and they noted that Port Sunlight’s application was ‘well-developed and made a convincing case’. They believed that Port Sunlight is ‘an intact and well-maintained site with high levels of strong integrity and authenticity’. They also noted that they believed there was room on the UK’s World Heritage List for Port Sunlight as a ‘distinct phase in the sequence of planned communities and particularly the Garden City movement’, despite the relatively high number of planned industrial communities already inscribed as World Heritage sites.

However, DCMS did not feel that Port Sunlight met its priorities for ‘filling a gap’ in the United Kingdom’s World Heritage List. DCMS published its formal response to the Tentative List review in July 2023. This emphasises that the UK’s priorities for World Heritage site inscription are sites from overseas territories and natural sites, such as Giants Causeway in Northern Ireland. The only cultural site added to the list is our Wirral neighbour, Birkenhead Park. (Two other cultural sites, from the Shetland Islands and York, were added to the list in 2011 and remained on the list.) Birkenhead Park “filled the gap” since it is considered to be one of the first publicly-funded parks in the world and it is a precursor to major urban parks like Central Park in New York City.

While we are disappointed in the result, we do agree with the specific feedback we received. Port Sunlight is an incredible place!


Could we try again for the Tentative List?

If the United Kingdom reviews the Tentative List again in ten years, we will have the option to re-submit. We will review our position and DCMS’s international heritage priorities closer to the time.


The research behind our World Heritage bid

The research and community consultation behind our Tentative List application is presented in a fascinating report by Heather Alcock, PSVT’s Project Officer.


Port Sunlight’s colonial and imperial history

Port Sunlight’s colonial history is just as much a part of the village’s story as the more positive international aspects of its heritage. And, by boldly embracing this fuller story, Port Sunlight maximises its global significance as a place to inspire positive change in the present.


Knowledge Transfer Partnership

Our Knowledge Transfer Partnership with University of Manchester has supported this research into telling the fuller story of Port Sunlight. This 18-month project to transform the ways in which Port Sunlight’s history and collections are interpreted and understood has been led by an Inclusive Heritage Associate. It has resulted in The Sunlighters Project, an ongoing body of activity Bringing together diverse communities linked to Port Sunlight, it collectively faces up to the village’s colonial past as we write the next, exciting chapter in its story – for everyone.

So far, The Sunlighters Project has enabled PSVT to:

  • build relationships with Global Majority community groups in Merseyside;
  • help the public engage reflectively with Port Sunlight’s past and future through creative workshops that also foster new social connections; and
  • provide training that gives PSVT’s workforce the confidence to share the village’s complex history and to champion diversity in all its forms.


The impact of our research

PSVT’s research into international influence and colonial legacies supports several long-term goals for the Port Sunlight conservation area. These include working in partnership to:

  • Deliver a sustainable future for Port Sunlight
  • Better engage with local communities to ensure that they have a voice in decisions that may affect them and Port Sunlight
  • Attract tourists and visitors to Port Sunlight and the wider area
  • Strengthen funding bids for projects in and around the village
  • Increase the sense of pride and belief in the significance of Port Sunlight

Ways we’ve been able to put this research into action include developing our community engagement activities, forging links with local community groups, as well as developing relationships with schools, universities and educational partners as part of our learning programme.


Our future research plans

Port Sunlight Village Trust is working with European and international heritage organisations, institutions of higher learning, research and funding bodies and professional organisations to raise the profile of the village, to commission research and to network with similar sites.

These include the University of Liverpool, Liverpool School of Architecture, University of Manchester, European Route for Industrial Heritage (ERIH), the International Committee for the Conservation of Industrial Heritage (TICCIH), the Industrial Heritage Network, Conservation Areas Wirral, and others.

In November 2023, Heather Alcock, PSVT’s Project Officer, presented a paper on the global legacies of Port Sunlight at the ERIH annual conference in Bilbao.

Welcome to

A self-sustaining piece of history

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