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.

Heritage at Risk in the Eastern Region

© David Gill

The RSA Heritage Index (2020) provides an important source for considering how heritage is placed at risk across the six counties. Norfolk has the highest percentage of Grade I listed buildings at risk with 7.7 per cent, followed by Bedfordshire at 5.3 per cent. Norfolk also has the highest percentage of Grade II* listed buildings at risk with 3.5 per cent. Grade II listed buildings are largely considered not to be at risk across the region. However, scheduled sites are far more at risk: Cambridgeshire stands at 16.6 per cent, followed by Essex at 8.7 per cent.

How can such fragile and vulnerable heritage be protected across the region?

Evolving operational policies for Covid-19

Historic Environment Scotland has issued Version 7 of its Covid-19 Operational Policy & Minimum Operating Standards for Property Management and Visitor Operations.

The open sharing of this evolving publication by the organisation has been great to see. The first version was showcased publicly by the HES Director of Conservation, David Mitchell, back in June 2020 as part of the Covid-19 Historic Environment Resilience Forum (CHERF) event on Re-opening Venues which I chaired.

The document has been an incredibly useful resource for considering operational issues and decision-making system design for the sector to use as a comparator resource to adapt to their own situation.

From a heritage management teaching point of view, it has also been an excellent live case study to enable students to consider the organisational requirements and ramifications of decisions/actions which aren’t always obvious at visitor sites and organisational hubs.

Keeping up with the US National Park Service

Given my research interest in the inner workings of heritage and conservation organisations (i.e. how they manage themselves and communicate their management role to stakeholders) I used to be a regular reader of the NPS Morning Report. Issued by the Visitor Resource & Protection office, it was very much focused on operational issues, but always gave insights into the way in which the Park operations responded and adapted to different situations and events.

Since the demise of the Morning Report, I now read the weekly NPS Green & Gray Report instead, which is issued by the Office of Communications and is much more focused on wider communication of NPS activities to external audiences as well as internal employees and stakeholder partners.

From an external standpoint, the evolution of the organisation’s management communication has been interesting to see in terms of ‘voice’ and ‘tone’ and of course reflects the NPS’s broader mission for engaging the widest audiences and supporters for the Parks which has grown over the past decade.

Heritage listening: Duchess the podcast

Inevitably I have become an avid listener to the new heritage-focused podcast series launched by the Duchess of Rutland, simply entitled, “Duchess” as I have headed out for my daily constitutionals during lockdown.

The first series has ranged far and wide across the UK, focusing on the personal stories of the women behind the running and development of private stately homes and estates – most of whom are united by being part of the British aristocracy with the title Duchesses. As Emma Rutland wryly observes, it is a somewhat elite club!

She has however produced utterly engaging interviews which have been exceedingly open and honest, revealing how the interviewees have married into, inherited, survived and prospered as members of the British establishment. More importantly the interviews go a long way to break down the stereotypes of the private stately home owner in explaining the trials and tribulations of the sleeves-rolled-up approaches needed for maintaining the ongoing survival and flourishing of the estates in local communities and modern society more widely.

The love of peeking behind the curtain will make the series appeal to many, whilst anyone interested more in the ‘management’ of heritage sites will find plenty too, as the stories have provided a wealth of case studies of innovation, social inclusion, community development, tourism experience creation, and reflections on long term stewardship of historic assets in private hands often against the odds.

The podcasts can be found in the usual audio locations, and further details can also be found on the dedicated website: https://www.duchessthepodcast.com

Nested strategic messages and actions for the canal estate in Scotland

Scottish Canals communications strategy document
Scottish Canals comms strategy

The canal network in Scotland has been regenerated over the past 20 years to provide an enhanced environment for recreation, water-based transport and environmental protection. Since the old British Waterways organisation evolved in Scotland in 2012 to become Scottish Canals the focus within the organisation has been on reimagining the 250-year-old inland waterways from derelict and under-used industrial transport arteries into regeneration corridors for tourism and the natural environment.

Scotland's canals in numbers infographic
Scotland’s canals in numbers infographic [Scottish Canals]

The organisation has aligned its purpose to the wider Scottish Government aims for the country, and in the latest versions of the Scottish Canals Strategic Plan and Marketing & Communications Strategy documents covering the period from 2020 to 2023, the wider social, cultural and environmental purpose for the organisation and the waterway network has become much more clearly articulated.

Strategic plans can sometimes be somewhat turgid documents, and not necessarily accessible to wider audiences. This is not the case with the Scottish Canal document, moreso if read alongside the communications strategy. Whilst the focus of the organisation is on the cultural and environmental stewardship of a defined waterways and associated land estate, the opportunities for the organisation to play an important role of far wider relevance becomes evident as the management of that estate provides lessons and opportunities of what can be done with the repurposing of heritage and environmental assets and altering the perception for stakeholders and users.

The vision for the organisation has shifted to how people positively interact with the canal estate as green and blue infrastructure, and a set of thematic messages and engagements relevant to different audiences are clearly presented as nested within the requirements of the organisation which at its heart is a combined estate/asset management and stewardship function. The context for the nested messaging is completed by showing the relationship to the wider published Scottish Government ‘Purpose’ against which all publicly funded bodies align themselves.

Our vision is for Scotland’s canals to be a world-class waterway network with a thriving natural environment built upon 250 years of history that benefits communities and all users who live, work, visit and play along our canals.

Scottish Canals vision
Nested messages and engagement by Scottish Canals sit within organisational priorities and broader Government aims
Nested messages and engagement by Scottish Canals which sit within organisational priorities and broader Government aims

The follow-through of purpose to function to message is neatly presented diagrammatically, and the documents effectively provide insight and greater profile for the organisation, and as a good example of the logic and ongoing development of transparent and inclusive corporate planning for organisations in the heritage sector.

Pandemic skill stretch for organisations and individuals

Photo by Sheri Hooley on Unsplash

Over the past year I have taken the opportunity to attend a range of different professional development activities, some of which were absolutely required as we moved rapidly from a physical delivery mode of education to a responsive blended mode where far greater use of collaboration tools and tech resources than ever before have been vital to maintain ‘service provision’.

I’ve also been listening closely to others reflections on the learning and development aspects of their roles which might not normally get spoken about much in open forums as well as thinking about the requirements of the wider heritage sector as I played a very small role behind the scenes as a Heritage Alliance trustee helping with the early stage scoping and design of the lottery-funded Rebuilding Heritage project. This sector support project, along with its sister project Heritage Digital, are designed to respond to the needs of the sector in addressing the organisational priorities for staff in terms of technology, business planning, resilience and operational capacity.

The pandemic’s effects on organisations and therefore the individuals which make up those organisations has been interesting to chart over the year in terms of ‘required response’ for skills support and development. In very broad terms, organisations have had to adapt to circumstances far more quickly than normal to an even faster changing business environment; and these have fallen into distinct overlapping phases and forms:

  • Go remote [adapting suddenly to closure of facilities and working from home]
  • Triage the terrain [assess health and safety of facilities and collections]
  • De-staff and re-staff [staff furloughed; skeleton staffing; staff taking on differing roles]
  • Digital dynamism [creating or enhancing a digital offering]
  • Access audience [maintaining engagement and attracting new audiences]
  • Re-engineering resilience [plan tactically and reassessing strategy to ensure survival]

As the lockdown begins to lift, with gradual re-opening of services, sites and facilities, two further phases and forms seem to be emergent:

  • Permanent prototyping [building in ability to rapidly change operations for changed external circumstances]
  • Blended bounceback [reassessing the service / product / experience offer in the light of audience behaviour, need and sentiment]

It is certain that further phases and forms will emerge which reflect how individuals within organisations respond to circumstances, and how organisations themselves evolve as the role of culture and heritage reasserts its place in wider society as it recovers from the pandemic.

Appreciating scale from the air in heritage management – returning to China

F5392A91-62A8-46A6-A300-C57409778815I have just arrived back in China for one of my regular trips in my role as Confucius Institute director for Heriot-Watt University.  The sheer scale of heritage sites, cultural parks and the effect that scale has on heritage management practice never ceases to fascinate me particularly from the air as I arrive in Beijing. Sadly I didn’t have my camera to hand on this trip as the plane banked around the city from north to south to bring me in to the new Daxing airport, but the visibility was good enough to again identify stretches of the Great Wall to the north, and then a number of urban parks and cultural sites as we got closer to our landing point. Regardless of differences in management philosophies for heritage between the west and the east, one of the major factors that we sometimes fail to really appreciate is the sheer scale for heritage conservation which China faces in both the rural and urban landscape.

Chysauster: managing a site

Chysauster_comp
Chysauster (l: 2002; r: 2019) © David Gill

The management of sites raises issues about how to conserve, preserve and present built monuments. These two images taken from the upper side of House 6 shows how the walls have been made visible. House 7 beyond (and to the left) is now more clearly defined. Note the broad swathes of neatly clipped grass that allow the visitor to move from house to house.

Chysauster_panorama
Chysauster (2019), composite © David Gill

The raised visiting platform behind House 6 allows the visitor to gain a good impression of the site as well as the house plans.

The Lake District and UNESCO World Heritage Status

IMG_0196
Castlerigg Stone Circle © David Gill

The Lake District in north-west England was inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2017 [UNESCO]. The listing notes, “a distinctive cultural landscape which is outstanding in its harmonious beauty, quality, integrity and on-going utility and its demonstration of human interaction with the environment”.

The Save the Lake District group wishes to protect this internationally recognised landscape from any further damage. The group is calling on the Lake District National Park to take steps to protect this fragile environment. The issue surrounds the use of the so-called ‘Green Roads‘.

The concerns are covered by the BBC: “Lake District authority ‘violating World Heritage status’“, BBC News 14 April 2018.

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