WHEN Titus Salt built Saltaire 166 years ago, he could not have imagined how it would draw visitors in their thousands from across the world.

Built to house workers at Salt’s textile mill, the model village has changed little over time and still serves its original purpose as a community with homes, places of work, schools and shops.

Visitors are captivated by Saltaire’s neat streets and landmark mill. Then, in December 2001 -150 years after its creation - Saltaire was designated a World Heritage Site by UNESCO, throwing it into the global spotlight.

That prestigious label has led visitors in growing numbers to the village, with an estimated 250,000 arriving annually, many from other parts of the UK and abroad. A Bradford Council survey carried out last year found that Saltaire was visited by a larger proportion of non-local people (59 per cent) travelling from outside the Bradford district than locals (41 per cent).

The survey found that 57.5 per cent of visitors were from West Yorkshire, compared with 74.7 after a similar study in 2013. Last year 5.8 per cent were overseas visitors, in contrast to 2013 when there were none.

“The spend per head has improved - now standing at an average of £15.72 - and so has the amount of time people spend in the village,” says Bradford Council’s heritage officer Helen Thornton. “People are now seeing Saltaire as a destination to shop, with its vintage and boutique outlets.”

This year once again promises to be busy, particularly during World Heritage Weekend on April 22 to 23, one of two such weekends held annually. Around 2,000 people are expected to attend the event, delivered by local groups including Shipley Glen Tramway, the Friends of Roberts Park and the United Reformed Church.

The theme of the weekend is People’s Stories, focusing on how people lived, worked and relaxed. Events and activities - most of which are free - are taking place at a number of locations, including a Victorian fancy dress parade, games of croquet and music from a brass band.

“There are many community groups in Saltaire and arts and craft groups, so we are bringing them together that weekend. It is very exciting,” says Helen.

In late 2014 Saltaire World Heritage Site had a completely revised management plan - a document which contained more than 50 projects and actions to develop, protect and make the most out of the village. Many local people got involved and had their say.

Since the plan came into being, changes have included substantial improvements to Victoria Road, including laying high quality York stone flags to replace pavements in a poor state of repair, new finger posts and information boards and new street furniture.

As part of the £720,000 scheme traditional cobbles and an accessible crossing were installed.

“The investment has paid off,” says deputy leader of Bradford Council Val Slater, “Saltaire is unique, it is very special to us.”

She stresses that it is important to remember that it is not a museum, but a living village.

Many villagers have embraced the chance to become volunteers at events and many activities have been based around the UNESCO listing.

Saltaire Primary School has become a UNESCO Associated School to recognise its involvement with World Heritage issues, using them creatively in their daily curriculum. Today the school has a world heritage theme.

“Pupils are choosing a World Heritage Site and asking questions about it,” says Helen.

Following on from World Heritage Weekend, the Dragon Boat Festival takes place on the River Aire at Roberts Park, from Friday May 5 to Sunday May 7. Now in its third year, around 30 teams will be taking part.

September sees Saltaire's lively, colourful festival.

Last year’s survey found that for both local and non-local visitors, the most common motive for a visit was an interest in Salt’s Mill, with a general interest in the history and heritage of the village of equal importance for non-locals..

This year marks the 30th anniversary of the date Jonathan Silver purchased the Mill in 1987, receiving the keys on July 9, David Hockney’s birthday.

This year showcases The Arrival of Spring, a detailed study of the changing seasons on Woldgate, near Bridlington, East Yorkshire. David Hockney believes this is one of his major works, with each separate image depicting a specific day between January 1 and May 31, 2011.

Just a mile away, Cartwright Hall Art Gallery in Lister Park celebrates the artist’s 80th birthday in July with a new gallery in honour of the city’s most famous son.

For information on events visit saltairestories.org/world-heritage-weekend; visitbradford.com.