RSA Heritage Index: West Suffolk

The Norman Gate to the Abbey of St Edmund © David Gill

The 2020 RSA Heritage Index is now available. West Suffolk has been placed at 122nd in England: Ipswich is at 87th, and East Suffolk at 98th. West Suffolk’s strengths have been identified as Culture and Memories (69th) and Landscape and Natural Heritage (72nd). Surprisingly, given the importance of Bury St Edmunds, the Historic Built Environment is placed at 165th and Museums, Archives and Artefacts at 173rd.

RSA Heritage Index: Norwich and Norfolk

Norwich Castle © David Gill

The 2020 RSA Heritage Index is now available and Norwich is ranked as number 3 as a centre for heritage in England (up from number 9 in 2016). The city’s particular strengths are in Historic Built Environment (3rd up from 4th), Museums, Archives and Artefacts (7th up from 12th), and Culture and Memories (2nd down from 1st). There has also been a marked improvement for Parks and Open Space (28th up from 40th).

Norfolk as a county featured prominently. North Norfolk came 25th (up from 36 in 2016). Its main strengths included Historic Built Environment (33rd up from 71st), Landscape and Natural Heritage (22nd up from 27th), and Culture and Memories (75th up from 86th). There were also improvements in Museums, Archives and Artefacts (135th up from 141st) and Parks and Open Spaces (131st up from 137th).

Great Yarmouth did particularly well moving from 64th in 2016 to 38th. Its particular strengths were Industrial Heritage (22nd up from 40th), Parks and Open Spaces (56th up from 115th), and Historic Built Environment (85th up from 159th).

Kings Lynn and West Norfolk was ranked 54th (with a rise in Historic Built Environment, 39th), Breckland at 150th (with a rise in Historic Built Environment, 41st, and Museums, Archives and Artefacts, 117th), Broadland at 190th (with a strength in Landscape and Natural Heritage, 123rd), and South Norfolk at 219th (with a strength in Historic Built Environment, 63rd).

Across the region, Cambridge also featured in the top 10 at number 9 (up from 12th). Maldon moved from 40th to 37th (with moves in Historic Built Environment, 48th, and Museums, Archives and Artefacts, 125th), while Colchester remained unchanged at 140th (though with a move to 80th for Historic Built Environment). Ipswich fell from 70th in 2016 to 87th. East Suffolk was placed at 98th, and West Suffolk at 122nd.

Norwich as a centre for heritage

IMG_0164-Edit
Norwich Cathedral © David Gill

The RSA Heritage Index (published in 2016) has ranked the heritage assets for different local authorities in England. Norwich is the only locality in the eastern counties to feature in the Top 10: it is placed at number 9. It is ranked first in England for ‘Cultures and Memories’, fourth for ‘Historic Built Environment’, and 12th for ‘Museums, Archives and Artefacts’.

North Norfolk, and Kings Lynn and West Norfolk are placed 36th and 48th respectively.

Outside Norfolk, Cambridge is placed at number 12, and three parts of Essex are in the top 50: Southend-on-Sea (22), Maldon (40), and Castle Point (41).

See ‘Where in the UK has the most heritage?

RSA Heritage Network and Suffolk

RSA_Ipswich_2018_05
RSA Launch © University of Suffolk

Heritage Futures hosted the RSA Heritage Network event for Suffolk this evening. Around 50 guests from across the region listened to presentations on the heritage index (David Gill), museums in Suffolk (Jenna Ingamells) and the Hold (Amy Rushton). There was an extended time of discussion to consider the three RSA themes relating to:

  • the challenges facing heritage in our region / country
  • the solutions
  • the develop of networks to support heritage

Further details about the event can be found in the press release.

Blue Plaques in Suffolk

BluePlaque_suffolk
Blue Plaques in Suffolk. Source: RSA Heritage Index

The RSA Heritage Index is using the erection of blue plaques as one of the indicators of heritage in a locality (‘Cultures and Memories’). I realise that these numbers could be out of date. The Ipswich Society lists 22 for Ipswich (see Open Plaques), whereas the Bury Society lists 8 for Bury St Edmunds. Other parts of the county also mark individuals, e.g. AldeburghWoodbridge.

Reflecting on the RSA’s #HeritageIndex

RSA heritage index 2015 coverThe RSA has recently launched the first iteration of the Heritage Index in association with the Heritage Lottery Fund.  For the first time it has brought together a disparate range of data outputs which can be categorised according to whether they are heritage assets or heritage activities.  Correlations are then made between them, with factoring for density of activity / asset, population, and weighting according to the perceived importance of the the category type.  The methodology is explored within a short film, accompanying technical report, and data which can be explored through manipulation of the summary dataset in an excel file, or via the web-based visualisations which make good use of spatial data presentation techniques.

This forms part of a larger project which the RSA is working on, looking at the opportunities and challenges for ‘place development’ – of importance in a political and public services landscape of regionalisation and localism and expectation of ever greater value for money for public investment.  The historic environment (to give heritage it’s policy-world moniker) is under pressure, and is regularly flagged as being under-resourced and at risk, so the Heritage Index data is a useful tool in terms of reanalysing and reconceptualising the role of heritage assets within our living environment.  The work has thrown up some interesting initial findings – which at first may seem counter-intuitive, but perhaps when reflected upon, were staring us in the face.  Areas with high levels of heritage assets don’t always have high levels of engagement with those assets, and areas suffering from deprivation with low density of heritage assets to access may actually have higher levels of engagement.  There is of course variability across the country and the methodology can be pored over for what it does and doesn’t do – but nonetheless, it does show the potential for arguments of what heritage can potentially do within communities.

The Index also brings to the fore the use of proxy measures – useful at a time when in Scotland, discussion has come round again on whether the Scotland Performs framework indicator for heritage – the state of Category A Listed Buildings at Risk (equivalent to Grade I in England) – is suitable to act as a measure of the state of the historic environment.  Proxy measures are liked and disliked in equal measure, and care must be taken with them – but it does not mean that they cannot raise interesting analytical results and dialogue – as has happened with the Index.

The publication and commitment to continue to support the development and evolution of the Index is welcome, and I’ll take this opportunity to sound like a broken record (stuck in the same groove for over a decade, since I assisted with the creation of Heritage Counts as an evolution from the Heritage Monitor produced by the English Tourism Council (now VisitEngland)), flagging the need for a heritage observatory function to pull together the large amounts of data and grey literature which can add to the evidence base for the role of the historic environment in society.

A debate was held at the RSA last week, entitled ‘Why heritage is our future‘ to explore issues associated with the Index, and enable commentary on the links between communities and their historic environment.  What was noticeable throughout the debate, which was lively and interesting, was the lack of consideration of heritage organisations themselves (apart from the HLF which was represented at the debate by the Head of Research and Evaluation, Gareth Maeer).  This was surprising to me – having spent much of my professional life working with the inner machinery of conservation agencies, heritage NGOs and policy analysis. Perhaps these organisations aren’t as visible or at the front of the mind of people engaging with heritage as much as we think within community settings?  This is something I need to explore further.

Link to audio recording of the RSA debate on 8th October 2015.
https://www.thersa.org/link/bc55acf32c5e4c4191898263b18778fb.aspx
Storify feed of #heritageindex tweets