Heritage, levelling-up and the Thames Estuary

Hadleigh Castle, Essex © Caroline Gill

Four key reports are encouraging us to rethink heritage on both sides of the Thames Estuary. The RSA Heritage Index (2020) provides the data arranged by local authority to explore the contribution heritage makes in a locality. In particular, the accompanying report, Pride in Place by Hannah Webster, identifies the authorities along the Thames Estuary as having ‘heritage potential’. In other words, these areas rank highly in terms of heritage assets, but not so well in terms of heritage activities.

The RSA data for heritage in the two counties of Essex and Kent (and with sections on the Thames Estuary) are further explored in two reports by David Gill and Peter Matthews that have been issued by the Centre for Heritage at the University of Kent (2021). These three heritage reports can now be read against the Thames Heritage Levelling-up Data Atlas (2021) that was commissioned by the Thames Estuary Growth Board. This Atlas explores ten indicators in order ‘to help understand social outcomes and inequalities in a consistent way across the Estuary’.

Can the data from these reports form the starting point for interventions that would help to ‘level up’ local populations especially around the theme of health and well-being? This is particularly important as there is a strong correlation between higher levels of neighbourhood deprivation and lower arts, cultural and heritage engagement (Mak, Coulter and Fancourt 2021), and a significant body of research has demonstrated that the arts and culture can potentially impact both mental and physical health (Fancourt and Finn 2019).

In the Atlas section on ‘Health and Wellbeing’, Canterbury and Brentwood have the most active populations: only 17 and 20 per cent of the population take exercise for less than 30 minutes each week. (The average for England is 25 per cent.) Both these authorities perform well in the Heritage Index for England, ranking at 67 and 123. Specifically, Brentwood is ranked at 25 in the theme of Parks and Open Spaces, and at 95 for Landscape and Natural Heritage, while Canterbury is ranked at 223 and 35. While this could suggest that certain types of heritage asset promote good health through the provision of space for exercise, Castle Point is ranked at 52 in the Heritage Index, but 30 per cent of the population take exercise for less than 30 minutes each week.

The Atlas suggests that Canterbury, Dartford, Castle Point, Brentwood and Rochford, have better mental health than the average for England (17%); Canterbury, Rochford and Castle Point are in the top 100 in the Heritage Index for England. In addition, authorities in the Thames Estuary have a good level of Life Satisfaction with several authorities above the average for England (7.66 ex 10), notably Swale (7.78), Rochford (7.91), and Castle Point (7.99). This may reflect access to heritage assets. Rochford was ranked at 4 in the Heritage Index for Landscape and Natural Heritage; and Castle Point and Swale performed well in the rankings for Parks and Open Spaces (16/27) as well as Landscape and Natural Heritage (20/26).

Two Tree Island, Essex © David Gill

The Levelling-up Atlas and the Heritage Index offer an invaluable starting point for understanding the link between heritage, and health and well-being. The data from the reports should be used by policy-makers to inform the levelling up agenda along the Thames Estuary, but it is clear that there needs to be further research into the way that local populations engage with heritage, and what can be done to improve the local assets for the wider benefit of the local population.

Professor David Gill (University of Kent) and Phil Ward (Eastern ARC)

This post was prepared for the Heritage Alliance debate, “Levelling Up: What does it mean for heritage?”, 30 November 2021.

Sutton Hoo: The Royal Burial Ground

© David Gill

The ground level view of the royal burial ground at Sutton Hoo is completely different to that obtained from the new viewing platform. Visitors may be unaware that the site is criss-crossed by glider ditches that were cut during the Second World War.

Sutton Hoo: a new perspective

Sutton Hoo
Sutton Hoo © David Gill

The new viewing platform at Sutton Hoo provides wonderful views over the burial ground. The mound that contained the key ship-burial is closest to the platform, but it is now clear to the viewer that the mound is placed in a much wider funerary setting. The mounds take on new forms seen from this height.

From the other side of the platform it is possible to see the Deben and Woodbridge, giving a sense of the proximity of the burial-ground to the river.

The temporary tower had provided some new vistas of the mounds but this new platform places the visitor in one of the key locations.

Heritage and the Economy: East of England and the South East

Framlingham Castle © David Gill

The economic value of heritage is not always recognised. The report on Heritage and the Economy 2020 by Historic England makes the point that heritage in England directly generated £14.7 bn GVA in 2019 (and £36.6 bn GVA taking into account direct, indirect and induced income), and directly created 206,000 jobs. Taking direct, indirect and induced GVA, the total generated by heritage for 2019 was £36.6 bn, and created 563,509 jobs.

The dataset accompanying the report, Heritage Economic Estimate Indicators, shows that the heritage sector generated over £5 bn directly and indirectly in the East of England and the South East, and £8 bn if induced income is taken into account. This regional amount represents approximately 20 per cent of heritage GVA for England.

East of England and the South East

The sector also provided over 80,000 jobs, directly and indirectly in the two regions in 2019; taking account of the induced element, this rises to 140,000 regional jobs in 2019. This regional amount represents some 25 per cent of the heritage jobs in England.

East of England and the South East

A healthy heritage sector is one of the keys for the recovery of the national economy.

English Heritage: Top 10 Castles

Bolsover Castle © David Gill

English Heritage has been asking its members for its top 10 castles. The list consists of: Dover, Kenilworth, Tintagel, Bolsover, Portchester, Warkworth, Dunstanburgh, Carisbrooke, Middleham and Beeston.

Many of these would be in my personal top 10 English Heritage castles especially Bolsover. But what would I want to include? Leaving aside the artillery forts like Pendennis and Tilbury, I would want to consider:

Peveril Castle, Castleton, Derbyshire © David Gill

One of the most dramatic castles is Peveril standing above the Derbyshire village of Castleton famous for its Blue John mines.

Scarborough Castle © David Gill

Scarborough Castle has dramatic views over the bays on each side. It also contains a Roman signal station.

Brougham Castle © David Gill

Brougham Castle lies on the site of a Roman fort on the Roman road that crossed the Pennines.

Farnham Castle © David Gill

Farnham Castle dominates the town.

Castle Rising © David Gill

Castle Rising has a wonderful keep standing within earthworks.

Orford Castle © David Gill

Orford provides magnificent views over the Suffolk coast.

Hadleigh Castle © David Gill

Hadleigh Castle provides dramatic views over the Thames estuary.

Helmsley Castle © David Gill

Helmsley Castle lies on the edge of the Yorkshire market town.

The State of the Historic Environment and Kent

Reculver © David Gill

The Centre for Heritage at the University of Kent has published a report on the State of the Historic Environment for Kent (2021). The report explores the data from the RSA Heritage Index (2020) along the themes of Historic Built Environment; Museums, Archives and Artefacts; Industrial Heritage; Parks and Open Spaces; Landscape and Natural Heritage; and Cultures and Memories. The 316 local authorities in England are then ranked on criteria such as the number of historic buildings, funding, and public participation in heritage.

Six authorities in Kent are recognised for their heritage and are placed in the top 100 for heritage in England. Tunbridge Wells at 36 and Dover at 49 are the highest ranked in Kent.

‘This fascinating report has highlighted the huge potential we have in our county. At the Institute, we are developing new interactive, creative ways of engaging our communities with their heritage, and we look forward to working with partners to bring new stories of our built and green environment to life.’

Professor Catherine Richardson, Director of Kent’s Institute of Cultural and Creative Industries

The report is available from the University of Kent [DOI].

2021

Press release from the University of Kent.

Heritage Rankings and Cornwall

Cornwall Mining Landscape © David Gill

The RSA Heritage Index (2020) allows the ranking of local authorities through the analysis of data around key themes: Historic Built Environment, Museums, Archives and Artefacts, Industrial Heritage, Parks and Open Spaces, Landscape and Natural Heritage, Culture and Memories, and a general category.

Cornwall is ranked at 46 for local authorities in England. It is particularly strong in the general category (9), Culture and Memories (31) and Landscape and Natural Heritage (81). Surprisingly it did not have a strong showing for Industrial Heritage (229) even though the UNESCO World Heritage status has a focus on the mining heritage (‘Cornwall and West Devon Mining Landscape‘); the image of the Crowns on the north Cornish coast is a reminder of the dramatic setting for some of this industrial heritage. There is marked fall in the rankings for Museums, Archives and Artefacts (from 185 to 280), but a modest increase for the Historic Built Environment (from 169 to 137).

© David Gill

Heritage impacts of the rationalisation and disposal of the defence estate

The National Audit Office has just published a review of the Defence Estate Optimisation (DEO) programme. Aside from the overarching conclusions that the programme isn’t going as well as it might do – in terms of speed, cost, reduced income generation and overall project management and complexity – the more interesting reading comes from a reminder of some of the facts and figures about the defence estate of relevance for heritage management and natural landscape management.

The defence estate comprises 344,200 hectares of land in the UK, which comprises 1.5% of the country’s landmass.

The built estate comprises 75,400 hectares (32% of the overall holding) containing offices, technical facilities, and storage and support for military equipment and inventory. It consists of 900 sites, which have roughly 96,000 buildings including houses, technical assets, such as storage units and training facilities, and other assets such as runways and electrical networks.

In broader landscape management terms, the rural estate comprises 157,500 hectares (68% of the overall holding) and is used for training and ranges. This land includes designated and protected areas including 13 national parks, 33 Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty and 11 National Scenic Areas.

Around 40% of the Department’s infrastructure is more than 50 years old and it regards 30% as not being in an acceptable condition.

The DEO programme aims for a reduction of the built estate by 30% by 2040.

The Ministry of Defence looks after significant heritage assets in terms of historic buildings/sites and landscapes – the ongoing optimisation and disposals programme presents both challenges and opportunities for its historic environment holdings in terms of ongoing maintenance and renewal needs, survival or protection, and adaptation and change under new management.

Capital, authority, consumer and resident

I have just read a paper by Zhang et al. on the reproduction of consumer spaces as applied to the historic districts of Beijing city centre. It took its cue from theories around the social construction of space for touristic purposes, and further considered the historical development of that space over an extended period. Using some detailed property use analysis, the researchers considered statistically the differing concentrations which developed in the different historic districts of tourism-focused versus resident-focused businesses.

I will freely admit that some of the equations and graphs were beyond me, but the analytical commentary was clearly expressed, and the study showed the importance of looking at the intersection of different capital flows in urban historic districts with the influences of differing types of authority (i.e. control) on development. This in turn affects the agency of residents and behaviour of consumers which in a feedback loop affects the ongoing management and development (and indeed control) of those historic areas.

So what – all very obvious? Maybe, but having recently spent time over in workshops with colleagues thinking about climate vulnerability in Edinburgh’s World Heritage designated area, the paper got me thinking again about how different types of capital (beyond just money) ebbs and flows around the different and distinct historic ‘districts’ of Edinburgh’s WHS and where different types of authority and control are exerted, felt and influenced. Further, it got me wondering how does agency of resident and consumers change across those different districts as a result of those flows of capital, and what are the longer term implications for the city as a result?

Reference: Keer Zhang, Handuo Deng, Fang Wang & Ye Yuan (2021) Reproduction of consumer spaces and historic district touristification in Old Beijing City, Tourism Geographies, DOI: 10.1080/14616688.2021.1934724

Reflecting on the DCMS Tourism Recovery Plan

The DCMS has just published its Tourism Recovery Plan. There is a lot in it, with stats and analysis comparing the pre- and ‘post’-pandemic situation, underlining that tourism is one of most important industries and also one of the industries which has suffered the most in the pandemic.

The multi-faceted nature of the tourism industry means that there cannot be a single guiding mind in public policy terms – different parts of the industry are regulated from within different public policy areas, and various bits of the tourism policy brief are a devolved matter for the Governments in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. What comes through clearly in the Plan is that a post-pandemic recovery is reliant on good data, sharing of knowledge and greater co-ordination and collaboration across those disparate policy briefs, to enable a good (and green) recovery, rather than just an economic rebound which is looked for seemingly in some of the language of the document.

Sustainability and spreading the beneficial impact of tourism does feature in the report, though the messages and aims here could be more ambitious and inclusive. I recognise this is tricky however – but we need to be balancing that looked-for rebound with growth which is inclusive and provides net positives across a triple bottom line (social, environmental and economic). Communities need to be enhanced by tourism and not blighted – and it would be unfortunate to chase a rebound which leads back to discussions of 2018 and 2019 on over-tourism, environmental degradation, economic inequality and tension between the industry and host communities.

The heritage sector really gets centre billing in the Plan. Through figures presented, commentary and case study, the role of the historic environment (where distinctive built or natural character is a key feature) explicitly and implicitly provides the overarching places, canvas or ‘-scapes’ for what is looked for in Britain as a global and local tourism destination. The heritage sector arguably is positioned in an excellent place as far as the recovery public policy lens goes. The challenge that is going to weigh on us as a sector again is the need to further prioritise, balance competing desires of conservation and development, and keep cool calm conversations at the heart of the shared desire for what a good recovery is for both heritage and tourism together.

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