Writing in Urban History in the spring of 1991, Peter Borsay considered how the gap between the ‘popular presentations of the urban past’ produced by the growing heritage industry and ‘the booming academic study of urban history’ might be bridged. Heritage, he argued, was ‘deeply bound up with the meanings and functions of towns’ and urban historians should play a crucial role within communities ‘engaged in a complex discourse with the past . . . that for many was fundamental to their livelihood and identity’. Borsay's concerns 27 years later continue to be mirrored in academic discussions surrounding heritage and materiality, echoing wider questions that surround the relevance of urban history beyond the academy. Recent conferences have also demonstrated the continued salience of Borsay's argument, considering the potential of the study of cities to shape approaches to their management through work with local communities, heritage partners, cultural institutions and professional groups. This emphasis on knowledge exchange and partnership has also attracted the support of funding bodies through collaborative doctoral awards that have sought to ‘increase opportunities for all researchers to develop their work in collaboration with public, private and third sector partners that increase the flow, value and impact of world-class arts and humanities research from academia to the UK's wider creative economy and beyond’. This has included the author's own work on the heritage of Middlesbrough's iron and steel industries, which has involved working collaboratively with local archives and heritage partners.