Meetings and networking opportunities over the past three weeks can be broadly summed up as ‘advocacy, activism and boosterism’ internally, externally, locally and nationally. The inaugural meeting of Suffolk’s Strategic Heritage Forum, hosted by the County Council, took the form of a discussion of the main ‘stakeholders’ in Suffolk’s heritage, some pitches on where the stakeholders can add value to a joined up vision for heritage in the county, and then some very practical SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats) analysis on flip charts. It was a good opening meeting, and bodes well for developing a vision which the sector can rally behind.
A meeting in the following week forged further links between UCS and the Church of England’s local diocesan office (St Edmundsbury & Ipswich). English Heritage provides funds for a Church Buildings & Tourism Officer, who has been developing the Angels & Pinnacles project successfully highlighting opportunities to engage with buildings that can sometimes be overlooked as part of the rural backdrop, and stimulating new audiences and ways of engaging.
Last week contained a range of meetings to review progress to date with what might be described as the ‘UCSheritage project’ at a grassroots level internally and to discuss some initial ideas and directions with some members of the University executive team; then attendance at a Higher Education Policy Institute conference; and then to attend the Heritage Alliance’s ‘Heritage Day‘ as one of the newest members and the first University to join the Alliance.
Each of these meetings provided opportunities to reflect on heritage being able to ‘speak’ to a number of agenda, policy and industry areas which are not necessarily immediately heritage-focused. Heritage plays a distinct role in boosting places, destinations and countries; can be found across University and educational institutions in a variety of forms; contributes in a surprisingly wide variety of ways to business products and practices; and can provide the personal context for an experience of the ‘spirit of place’. It must be remembered however that the opportunity for heritage to play a role is not always understood by those audiences or stakeholders with ‘other’ concerns – and a key challenge in advocacy for heritage is that it must be moulded using compatible language and connect with those non-heritage contexts. The care, attention and immediacy required for this translation – akin to activism – makes for important conversations that open up all kinds of opportunities.