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.
I had the pleasure of sitting in Benny Higgins’ inaugural lecture at the University of Edinburgh last week, as he explored ‘Hinterlands’ making connections between his passion for and deep knowledge of art, literature and poetry, and situations faced in business. He ranged widely in time and geography, and in drawing inspiration from his cultural knowledge has been able to consider many operational and strategic decisions in a broader context. His lecture was inspiring and a reminder that engagement with culture, heritage and context is a useful hinterland which can have far-reaching effects.
The business of running a heritage site has got ever more complex as new ideas, drivers from the wider tourism industry, changing visitor expectations, and commercial pressures on conservation organisations have increased. The range of ‘touchpoints’ between visitors and heritage sites often combine aspects of intellectual, commercial or experiential interaction, and have the potential to move the site from having a passive to an active relationship between the managing organisation for the site and its users. This is particularly useful for heritage organisations which want to develop customers into stakeholders and supporters of a conservation cause.
The growth in the range of income streams for an individual site lead to complexity for leadership of both the site and wider organisation, which means a site needs to be considered as a particular form of enterprise. A recent publication by Bruce Dearstyne, Leading the Historical Enterprise (Altamira 2014) considers usefully considers this.
The different contexts and relationships are neatly illustrated at Anglesey Abbey, near Cambridge, run by the National Trust. Illustrated is one of a number of similar information boards at various key visitor gathering points around the site. The information frame is headed by a strapline variant of ‘One Time..’ which is used across the site to bring together the interpretative theme based around Lord Fairhaven’s creation of the estate and landscape gardens. An explanation is provided of the new live interpretation which is being deployed at the site by costumed volunteers (called ‘engagers’), designed to provide an ‘immersive experience’, as if the house owners were still in residence. Further notices suggest that the visitor could ‘Start a fresh story here’, by visiting the second-hand book shop, purchase tickets for the Winter Lights evening opening, or purchase a raffle ticket which will support the restoration of the Rose Garden. Visitors are also encouraged to ask questions about the plants in the garden by taking a card from a small wooden box and writing their queries on them for passing to garden staff, who will then feed back information.
The various notices therefore bring together aspects of brand creation; diversity in income streams; innovation in interpretation through immersive experience of the site; after-hours special events which stretch the hours of site utilisation and which have developed a level of exclusivity given popularity (tickets being sold in July for November, almost 6 months in advance); knowledge development through being able to quiz the gardeners about plants; and sating of competitive tendencies via a raffle with prizes with the added bonus of doing something good for the site. In a single location we can therefore see a sophisticated range of visitor engagement, and consider this against the context of Pine and Gilmore’s ideas on the Experience Economy and developed notions of the Transformative Economy, whereby a heritage visit can now affect a person visiting in a number of ways.
The latest edition of the IoD’s Director magazine for Dec15/Jan16, as usual, has got me thinking about the implicit and explicit role of heritage and the historic environment within the corporate world of business and management. Quite apart from my own identification with the idea of an ‘obsession statement‘ rather than a mission statement advocated by Lord Allen (pictured on the front cover of the magazine) – where I suppose mine would be, “heritage is fundamentally linked to management – through people, places and products” – many of the articles and ideas draw on inspiration, ideas and understandings that professionals in the heritage world associate with daily. A few examples from this month’s edition which cross the historic environment, civic realm and business boundaries include:
The business of the Bard – recognising the boost for brand Shakespeare in 2016 as the 400th anniversary of his death approaches (the success of the Globe theatre; tourism in Stratford and the surrounding area; RSC events and international artistic reach)
2016 identified by Next Big Thing’s CEO, William Higham, as the year of tech/life balance – where authentic environments; the rise of the retro; traditionalist lifestyles and village life are seen as attractive touchpoints
Review of Erin Meyer‘s ‘The Culture Map’, advocating better business via better intercultural management through understanding of anthropological contexts and local values
American Express supporting independent businesses through the ‘Shop Small‘ campaign
The resurgence of of Madrid, as businesses recognise not only the business opportunities, but the cultural and civic opportunities of the historic city
The IoD’s own economic predictions for 2016 and beyond stating that ‘pretty cities prosper’ – noting that, ‘one of the most important [factors] is the existence of an amenable built environment… Physical environments matter and high-value-adding workers who can choose where they work will gravitate to aesthetically pleasing towns. That such towns will find they can support a greater range of cultural activities and amenities will only add to the positive spiral such a situation creates.’