Historic Kent: The Value of the County’s Heritage Sector

2022

The report builds on the data brought together in the RSA Heritage Index (2020). It identifies four key heritage themes in Kent: coastal heritage; Christian heritage; historic houses; and natural heritage and historic landscapes. These themes embrace elements such as the Roman forts of the Saxon Shore; Dover Castle; the artillery forts of Henry VIII; coastal resorts; the UNESCO World Heritage site of Canterbury; the cathedral city of Rochester; historic houses including Knole and Chartwell; and the Kent Downs Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB).

Three case studies relating to local authorities are presented: Canterbury, Dover, and Folkestone and Hythe. These show how each of the areas has been able to use its heritage assets to develop its tourism economy, and to attract significant funding from the NLHF.

A summary of the key themes of heritage strategies from local authorities across Kent is provided to indicate how local heritage assets are perceived as part of their local communities.

A consideration of the social benefits of heritage includes a reflection on the UK Government’s Levelling-Up agenda and its interaction with the heritage sector.

The economic benefits of heritage are underlined by the scale of NLHF awards made to projects in Kent, as well as the value of tourism, in part driven by heritage attractions and assets. Heritage projects in Kent were awarded over £79 million in grants from NLHF from 2013 to 2020. The largest amounts were for £13.7 million for the Canterbury Journey awarded to Canterbury Cathedral, £4.8 million for Chatham Historic Dockyard Trust, £4.6 million for the Maison Dieu in Dover, £4.6 million for the Sheerness Dockyard Church project, and £3.4 million for Chartwell.

The COVID-19 pandemic has caused a major fall in income from tourism for the county from £4.1 billion in 2019 to £1.6 billion in 2020. This included a fall of 61 per cent on day trips, and 60 per cent on overnight trips. This had an impact on employment in the tourism sector accounting for a drop of 39 per cent to 50,026 individuals. The fall in income due to the pandemic is particularly noticeable for Canterbury with a loss of over £300 million, while Medway and Thanet both saw losses over around £200 million.

The report reflects on the challenges facing heritage in Kent. In particular, it considers the way that the public have been engaging with built heritage, museums, and archives. Solutions include integrating the historic built environment with related objects and documents that can be found in museums and archives within the county.

The report is available from KAR [https://doi.org/10.22024/UniKent%2F01.02.95708].

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.

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.

Behaviour change as strategy

The Built Environment Forum Scotland (BEFS) recently ran a workshop to explore aspects of prioritisation within the heritage sector. This was related to a Historic Environment Scotland work stream arising from a pledge within the last SNP Manifesto to explore funding priorities for public monies within the historic built environment, in order to ensure the dwindling pot of available public monies go to where they are most needed / effective. The workshop also allied to a decade-old collaborative thought experiment which I have been undertaking in a slightly ad hoc way with Dr Simon Gilmour, Director of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland. This has, over an extended period, sought to investigate scenario planning approaches and long-term horizon scanning (sometimes called futurology) for the sector.  The use and applicability of such futures-oriented approaches are intimately linked through policy direction and strategic organisational intentions to funding streams and decision-making mechanisms.  They also try to understand the how and why organisations behave in the way they do, responding to external drivers affecting their operational and policy environments. This in turn affects the way they interact with each other; and collectively across organisations, the way the sector as as whole focuses its attention on specific issues at certain points in time.

Details of the recent workshop and the resultant discussion are reported elsewhere via the usual BEFS communication channels, but in reflecting on the day, and via wider discussion within the workshop co-ordinating team, it is worth trying to step back and consider macro-challenges which will influence the prioritisation debate as it moves forward. Bringing together the sector to try and create a matrix of funding priorities sounds entirely reasonable as an effective tactical response within a wider strategic movement to prioritise what we do with an asset base which we cannot realistically look after in its entirety. Sector wide applicability of a single tool, or even agreement of a single approach to using a flexible toolkit in organisations with different aims and priorities, divergent stakeholder views, and widely varied interests in sub-sets of the heritage asset base may be too big a challenge to contemplate in practice though. But, if theoretically it is a good idea, what really stops us from doing it?

The reasons we can’t are complex and relate to organisational and stakeholder autonomy, and a set of behaviours, both individual and organisational, which can hardwire nervousness of the unacceptability of monolithic behaviour; instil worry about a democratic deficit in decision-making; exacerbate tensions to do with perceptions of exclusivity and inclusivity; and worry about the prospect of change with foreseen or unforeseen consequences that we don’t like the sound of, even before we know what it might be.

Individually and collectively within the sector we already recognise a wide set of macro level issues both as consideration or sometimes as threat: these include issues like climate change, stakeholder inclusion and emergent ideas like intergenerational equity. We are already thinking and discussing the ways in which they may affect the historic environment generally and how we can incorporate them or mitigate against them, and thus protect assets we want to save and/or pass to the next generation. We also already conceptualise and manage the micro issues, on a daily basis within our personal and organisational forms – as professionals and agents / having agency within a specific sector forming part of a bigger ecosystem of planning and managing the environment around us. The mid-range, however, that gap between the big concepts and the micro objects/actions – the realm of behavioural systems – is one that we still struggle with, and I would argue that in order to move things forward collective both better understanding of behaviours, and subtle behaviour change is perhaps the next strategic challenge to engage with.

What do I mean by ‘behaviour change’ as a strategic approach? Well, listening to the various stakeholders expressing their views in the prioritisation discussion, I was struck by the thoughtful and deeply analytical ways in which all of the individuals present engaged with the process of sifting ideas on the heritage asset base and its need, and by consequence where/how we might prioritise that need. Alternative views on issues were chewed over; viewpoints were balanced; and ultimately, consensus was reached collectively within the room, perhaps surprisingly, with many items flagged for higher or lower prioritisation. What we didn’t do however was fully articulate why we individually, organisationally, and ultimately collectively, took particular stances, and how those stances might have changed or might change in any period of time. We didn’t put ourselves in others’ shoes (professionally), as we perhaps assumed we understood the stance of an architect versus a planner, or an archaeologist versus an advocator implicitly. I would argue that assumed implicit understanding or tacit knowledge holds us back, as our professional and organisational identities still mask and influence what we say or are prepared to say to foreground motivations for our behaviour in the present. For example, why as an academic in the workshop did I de-prioritise the funding for academic study in the matrix? Why did nobody challenge me on this? What was I thinking? Was I betraying my own profession, or was I making a stance as part of a projected persona, trying to be some kind of enfant terrible of the afternoon, disrespecting something I should be defending to the hilt?

I am not saying we need to laboriously psychoanalyse the way we talk about and respond in our professional consideration of heritage in workshop situations, but I do think that we might explore our behaviour in order to better recognise and articulate our individual and corporate behaviours.  In essence we need to be much clearer about the ‘mid range’ linkage between individual stakeholders and the big issues.   We need to be much more open about the tacit knowledge we use, that which isn’t codified. We need to re-identify and flag the drivers which influence us individually and corporately, and how these have changed and will change again.  Organisational and professional expectations (whether it is related to professional standards or institutional mission) affect subtly the way in which individuals collectively discuss, disagree and arrive at consensus.  These influences change over time, and what was foremost in our individual or organisational mindsets at the time of writing Our Place in Time (for example), may not be the most pressing issues to address now.  I don’t think we would have had a workshop outcome of consensus in the same way a couple of years ago, or longer – so what has caused us to behave in this way right now?

Discussion abounded in the room about what we did care about and what is of less interest. I think we need to be bolder and braver about admitting what and why things do and don’t concern us any more, and how the concerns change subtly but relatively quickly from one year to the next.  A broader consideration of the way in which we frame our responses to consultations, and foregrounding the current drivers which affect the way in which we engage with heritage issues would, I think, help to bridge the micro and the macro – to build and articulate better the ‘mid range’ thinking which links the consideration of the day to day operational challenges against the grand challenges which the wider world faces, and where we try to deploy effective management of the historic environment in order to add value to the world we live in, and explain fully the decisions we make now for those that come after.

Additional note 24/1/19 – This blog post also appears on the Built Environment Forum Scotland website: https://www.befs.org.uk/latest/behaviour-change-as-strategy/ 

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