What we’re about

Heritage is the future. But it needs protecting. And that’s the aim of Great Northern Classics: to preserve and propagate crucial skills for the classic vehicle industry.


Full planning permission granted

We’re thrilled to announce that our planning application for change of use has been approved.

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Great Northern Classics addresses this pressing skills shortage crisis by providing world-class specialist training.

Ross Allerton from Aston Engineering said: “We find recruitment quite difficult. There is a skills shortage in the industry so for us Great Northern Classics is a fantastic opportunity. The project allows core skills to be brought together to create a hub of excellence.”

Why we’re doing it

The need for a project such as this has never been greater. The heritage vehicle industry is booming – in the UK alone it is estimated to be worth around £6bn. Yet, paradoxically, it faces a skills crisis: many restoration specialists are well beyond retirement age, with little opportunity to pass on their skills to a younger generation.

How we’re doing it

Great Northern Classics is a centre for the transference of vital skills. Young apprentices undertake on-site training and serve apprenticeships alongside existing specialists, all under one roof.

“It’s a real worry, because all of the people with the skills are in their 60s and 70s.”

Jonathan Holmes, Peak 2CV

The site

Great Northern Classics is based at the former Victoria Ironworks foundry, which until recently served as the Rolls Royce Heritage Centre.



This vast site – which encompasses four conjoined factory buildings – enables us to house a fully-equipped training school, workshops for around 30 specialists, a car storage area, exhibition and entertainment space, along with a number of small multi use units. The sheer scale of the Victoria Ironworks allows Great Northern Classics to operate as an efficient working site while serving as a destination attraction at the same time.


A heritage project in a heritage building


Victoria Ironworks has witnessed – and contributed to – some of the most momentous events of the twentieth century.

The foundry was built in the 1850s by Eastwood & Swingler Ltd, a five-man partnership which ran an extensive iron casting business. The company’s commissions included beams for Sydney Harbour Bridge, the market hall in Singapore, Bennerley Viaduct, railways in Japan, Sweden and St Petersburg and as many as 235 bridges in India. Much of this infrastructure still stands today – and it was cast here, at Victoria Ironworks.

In 1917 part of the building was requisitioned by the British Government as part of the war effort and Rolls Royce moved in to support the large scale production of its Eagle engine.

The engine proved to be a game-changer producing more than half of  the allies airborne horsepower and was used in around 50 different aircraft and airships during WW1. As many as 4681 Eagle engines were produced during this period at numerous sites, including Victoria Ironworks.


In 1924 Eastwood & Swingler Ltd ceased trading and in 1928 the ‘Swingler’ section (GNC’s building) of the Ironworks was converted into a bus garage and later, a trolley bus depot, for Derby Corporation.

Throughout this period Royce operated in the rest of Victoria Ironworks and during the Second World War used the site as the base for its research into large structural castings in magnesium alloys. This ultimately led to work on compressor castings for early centrifugal jet engines. Victoria Ironworks was home to this development.

The bus depot closed in 1961, whereupon Rolls-Royce took over the entire site, basing their light alloy foundry in the section of the site to be occupied by Great Northern Classics. Rolls-Royce used the foundry to produce advanced jet and gas turbine engine components throughout the Cold War, including the Spey engines which powered Thrust  SSC to the current world land speed record of 763mph. Since 1981 the site has been home to the Rolls Royce Heritage Trust.

The value of heritage buildings


The legacy of Britain’s industrial revolution lives on in buildings such as Victoria Ironworks. But the Ironworks is not merely a vestige of a bygone era – it is a vehicle for re-appropriation, stacked with social, financial and cultural potential.

Research by Historic England (2016) found the gross value of the heritage industry to be around £21.7bn. In the East Midlands alone the heritage industry contributes £1.26 bn to the local economy, generating as many as 22,000 jobs in the region.

Great Northern Classics’s plans for the Ironworks will further contribute to the East Midland’s economy. It will help revive the surrounding community, generate local jobs and create a cultural destination centre in the heart of Derby.


On the doorstep of great drives

Great Northern Classics is located just 16 miles from the Peak District National Park. This area of Outstanding Natural Beauty has whetted the appetites of drivers for decades with its abundance of scenic routes, such as the epic Winnat’s Pass.

Success stories

The positive impact of repurposing industrial heritage buildings cannot be overstated. There are dozens, if not hundreds, of industrial heritage success stories across the UK and Europe.

These include Liverpool’s Albert Dock – once a no-go area now listed as one of UNESCO’s World Heritage Sites, complete with world-class art galleries and museums (Tate Liverpool and the Maritime Museum) and Sheffield’s Kelham Island, the regeneration of which started with the establishment of its industrial museum. Now, Kelham Island – with its bars, cafes and art galleries – is listed in The Guardian’s top ten ‘coolest’ places to live in the UK.

In both cases, it was a museum or heritage centre that spurred on further – and continuing – development. Like Kelham Island and the Albert Dock, Great Northern Classics will improve the Osmaston community: providing employment, career opportunities as well as a heritage-focused visitor attraction.

A haven for business and enthusiasts

Great Northern Classics is a destination attraction with a host of services and events for classic vehicle enthusiasts and general visitors alike.


Great Northern Classics is a working hub for specialists in the classic vehicle industry, providing workshops at competitive rates for businesses in the sector. Whether upholsterers, auto electricians, engine builders, body shops, marque specialists, car photographers, fabricators, panel beaters, tool-makers, instrument specialists, chassis technicians, suspension experts or wheelwrights, GNC will tailor its flexible accommodation for each business.

A unique meeting space

The spectacle of Great Northern Classics makes for a striking event and meeting space. The business can boast a series of areas that can be sealed off to allow for events of varying sizes – from small-scale meetings to weddings and corporate events such as car launches. The car park and indoor facilities also provide an ideal, geographically-central rendezvous point for the hundreds of car clubs throughout the UK.

Vehicle concierge

Great Northern Classics also offers a range of optional vehicle concierge services for storage customers. These services range from valeting and general maintenance to major repairs. We also offer a vehicle race and road preparation service which – if required – includes delivery to events such as Goodwood, Classic Le Mans or track days. Rates will be competitively priced and will vary according to the service required.


Our training centre – GNC Heritage Skills Centre Ltd – is a separate, not for profit Community Interest Company (CIC) established for the sole purpose of harvesting heritage engineering skills from ageing specialists. Our programme aims to retain skills and transfer them on to the next generation, extending both expertise and the longevity of historic vehicles.

The centre will consist of a multiple-bay training school complete with body shop and classroom area. Here, trainees will embark on Heritage Engineering Technician apprenticeships, which will encompass both mechanical work and coachwork. The centre will also offer a range of professional development courses and programmes tailored for enthusiast owners and drivers. GNC Heritage Skills Centre Ltd will be managed by Matt Curtis, an award-winning classic car restorer, seasoned motor vehicle technician and tutor (formerly Head of Motor Vehicle and Engineering at Derby College).
The Heritage Skills Centre will be located onsite in the current Rolls Royce STEM centre. Our layout will incorporate a public viewing gallery.


GNC Heritage Skill Centre will directly employ six-to-eight apprentices each year. These individuals will benefit from a work experience programme in which placements work with up to 30 different specialist vehicle businesses on a rota basis. This will provide a broad training opportunity for trainees and potential employers alike, allowing both specialist and trainee to find their ideal fit. The programme provides businesses with affordable and practical access to apprentices.

One of our apprenticeships per annum will be offered to a young person from Osmaston.

We also have capacity for and anticipate providing similar training to a number of third party employed apprentices. Our target is a total of 10 to 12 per annum via the combined routes.

Training will be overseen by an appropriate college – this may be local or a specialist remote provider.

Funding for training

GNC Heritage Skills Centre Ltd will be funded by its training income with additional support from Great Northern Classics in terms of promotion, opportunity, management, subsidised premises, running costs and access to GNC’s tenants and customers. The goal is to achieve financial self sufficiency over a period of two to three years. Any surplus in income will be reinvested in skills retention.

Education for enthusiasts

Great Northern Classics  network of specialists allows us to host informal workshops for classic vehicle enthusiasts with time-based access to workshop equipment.

Public support

The motoring press, the restoration industry and regional organisations have shown significant support for Great Northern Classics. Among the project’s many advocates is The Classic Motorcycle editor James Robinson, who said: “Great Northern Classics will be a brilliant project and a huge asset to the classic motorcycle world. Its location in the centre of Derby, with its emphasis on training people with heritage vehicle skills, makes it an invaluable resource for the classic vehicle industry. Added to that, the heritage of the building will provide a tourist attraction in its own right. I look forward to seeing it flourish.”

“Great Northern Classics will be a brilliant project and a huge asset to the classic motorcycle world.”

James Robinson
Editor – The Classic Motorcycle

Support from the city

East Midlands Chamber of Commerce and Marketing Derby also stressed their support for Great Northern Classics. John Forkin of Marketing Derby said: “Derby is the UK Capital of Innovation, with a history of manufacturing excellence stretching back for hundreds of years to the birth of the Industrial Revolution at the Silk Mill – the worlds first factory.  I believe the facility you are proposing would be an outstanding addition to this history’



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