The Big Heritage Manifesto (part 1)

On the 14th and 15th July the HLF are staging a ‘Heritage Exchange’ event at which professionals and academics from across a wide spectrum of heritage and related fields will come together to discuss some of the most crucial issues facing heritage in Britain today.

The event will be being live streamed and there is information and material for discussion in the form of exploratory papers and blogs on the website at http://www.heritageexchange.co.uk.

As a young person developing my critical understanding and professional skills, I am excited to be attending with so many inspirational characters and I am looking forward to seeing what the discussions hold.

I’ve titled this post the ‘Big Heritage Manifesto’ because the event essentially aims to get to the core of the issues affecting heritage and its place in the world. There are many important things happening in the heritage world at the moment – such as the delivery of a new, broader, NHPP, and the continued struggle to arrest the decline in local authority historic environment services, along with both day to day heritage protection – and this requires keen strategic planning, skilled management and effective lobbying. But in addition to these technical processes, there are more fundamental principles which are in play and which are much less frequently considered with a view to how we might change the direction of travel for the entire sector over the coming decade or more.

In anticipation of what might be said next week, I intend to share just a couple of my thoughts in a few posts and relate where we need to make the greatest efforts in out future heritage work…

1)     Heritage cross-cuts numerous social and environmental sectors: We must be better at linking with other organisations within and outside the historic environment.

Making the sector more politically relevant has been key to political initiatives in heritage for decades, whether it is aligning heritage with environmental rhetoric of the 70s and 80s, New Labour’s social inclusion policies in the 2000s, or the Conservative’s Big Society agenda in the 2010s. However beyond this a far more fundamental recognition of how heritage is implicitly connected to, or how it can be complementary to, other social and environmental issues would be a much more productive step in solidifying the sector as a societally important group.

Partnerships with third sector organisations across education, natural environment, civic, and urban and rural development sectors must be strengthened. They should become standard operating practice. English Heritage now work with Natural England to ensure built heritage is included more seamlessly with natural land management strategies and with CABE on various built environment issues, as well as with others. This is all valuable collaboration, but such partnerships need to be more visible, more vocal, and importantly, be publicly and explicitly codified, providing a basis for agreed principles to support mutually supported policy directions. Politicians and the public need to see that they stare down a broad Social/Environmental sector with combined public support which feeds its political power. Moreover we as professionals need to feel that this is the case. We need to work to create this feeling of unity.

I should like to see multilateral publications with the RSPB, National Trust, CPRE and IHBC on climate change; campaigns by the Heritage Alliance, CABE, Locality and the Civic Trust on urban regeneration; and a network of local and volunteer groups with cross-sectoral connections which could work together wherever an issue required it.

These formal alliances would be a much more powerful force for advocacy, strengthening the position of the small sectors which on their own struggle to gain political traction. The recent example of the ‘Cut the VAT’ campaign highlights how diverse organisations can come together where policy aims cohere. This would be facilitated if more formal discussion of policy positions were had and prior agreements made on priorities and cultural/environmental manifestos agreed.

Combined resources would also make for more flexible campaigning, allowing smaller bodies to operate more complex advocacy strategies. As the National Trust, with its significant resources, took on the government over the NPPF, so could the IHBC, IfA, National Amenity Societies and Heritage Alliance combine together with other organisations in other sectors to ensure a similar resource and combined clout to run savvy public relations campaigns on any particular issue.

Of course, the sector has been deeply riven with historically entrenched ideologies and policy differences. This needs to change. I feel that, rather than these differences being in the ideological DNA of particular sectors, more often they result from a lack of effort or interest in issues outside of one’s own small pigeon-hole. This might be easily reconciled, or it may come down to a new generation to start again from a new point of necessity. Moreover other sectors might be difficult to persuade on grounds that built heritage is probably the smallest and currently most politically isolated and that they need us less than we need them. But nonetheless, firm ethical groundings do exist and could easily form the basis of at least a loose coalition, which could grow in time.

Perhaps more controversially than cross-sector NGO partnership, heritage bodies might also look to develop relationships with developers and businesses with the aim of working with them from the earliest stages of design and planning for developments in order to have the greatest chance of securing positive environmental change (and this goes equally for nature conservation as much as built heritage). Sir Terry Farrell recently said that the era of belief that we must have conservation OR modern architecture is over, but extending that we might posit that we must now change the fundamental relationship that heritage has always had with development, changing it from an adversarial system of comment/judgement, to one where we actively aim to help each other achieve each others goals in service of maximised social, environmental and economic benefit.

Of course, there is a second and equally fundamental portion of the equation which must be tackled simultaneously and that is the need for massive, grass-roots public engagement. I will move on to this in Part 2.

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About Rob Lennox

Currently studying at the University of York, investigating the transition in planning-led cultural heritage policy in the last two decades. I am using this blog to share the findings I make during my research with the hope of stimulating debate and increasing understanding of the implications of government policy on the historic environment in England. In particular, my research focuses on the ways in which the public engage with archaeology and the ways in which we as archaeologists or heritage professionals construct the processes of knowledge gathering, and to what ends. I hope that through this blog other interested parties will be able to influence and be influenced by my observations and findings as they occur in real-time, and that ultimately it will contribute to the overall understanding of the heritage sector.
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