RSA Heritage Network and Suffolk

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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.

RSA Heritage Network: Suffolk’s Diverse Heritage

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Heritage Futures will be discussing the RSA Heritage Network questions in the context of ‘Suffolk Diverse Heritage‘. Heritage in Suffolk is supported by two key bodies: the Suffolk Strategic Heritage Forum, and the Ipswich Heritage Forum. We will be considering the challenges facing heritage in Suffolk, and what we can do to support, conserve, develop and interpret heritage more widely across the county.

There will be two short presentations: one on The Hold, the new heritage centre for Suffolk (funded by HLF), and the other on museums in Suffolk.

All are welcome.

Blue Plaques in Suffolk

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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 I realise that these numbers could be out of date.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.

The Value of Heritage and the RSA

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The gatehouse to the Abbey, Bury St Edmunds © David Gill

The importance of heritage to Suffolk will be the focus of the Second Coffeehouse event in Bury St Edmunds on Thursday 9 February 2017 at the Deanery.

Further details and booking can be found here. The meeting is open to Fellows and non-Fellows.

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

Future past – scenario planning and heritage

The futureBack in 2010, as part of a long-standing research collaboration with Dr Simon Gilmour (Director of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland), I hosted a workshop for the Built Environment Forum Scotland (BEFS) on scenario planning.  The underlying issue, which has not gone away, is that many historic environment organisations don’t fully engage with the the philosophy and tools of management as a subject in its own right.  I would argue that this is still the case (and gave a talk on this in our Heritage Futures Seminar Series at UCS last year): to some extent I am a bit of a broken record on this front, perhaps not surprising given my role as head of the University’s business school.  However, in preparing a reflection on the future of the historic environment in Scotland for a fascinating project entitled “Visions, Irrespective“, being co-ordinated by Ann Packard and Deborah Mays within the RSA Fellows’ Media, Creative Industries and Cultural Heritage Special Interest Group (MCICH), I dug out the visions of the future which Simon and I authored at the turn of the last decade.  It is interesting to consider what has already come to pass, what is in the offing, and what may yet be on the horizon.  The scenarios are reproduced below, and can also be found within the BEFS Workshop Report.  The “Visions, Irrespective” project of which more anon, is providing a useful discussion platform within the RSA on what the future of culture in Scotland might be, post referendum, ideas for development, and inter/intra-professional debate. Heritage and the historic environment, both tangible and intangible, are being touched on from a range of cultural angles, and in a world (Scotland) where there are seismic changes underway to the management and organisation of the sector, before the even more seismic changes that might occur to the country itself, it is proving fascinating to consider possibilities and opportunities.  I will post the full vision/reflection at a future date, when the physical conversations have moved on a little, and we will work on some updated scenario stories to reflect the horizon scanning we continue to ponder over.

 


 

Scenarios for Scotland’s Historic Environment Sector [2010]
Authors: Prof. Ian Baxter & Dr Simon Gilmour (Society of Antiquaries of Scotland)
[Extract from BEFS / GCU Workshop Report: Scotland’s Historic Environment – Visioning the Future. August 2010]

2025 is a year of expectation

Scottish Government expenditure finally reached 2009-10 levels after a period of unprecedented change in the public sector while the private sector crawled slowly from the double-dip recession of 2009-2011. The referendum on independence of 2012 didn’t quite reach the majority required, but stimulated much greater fiscal responsibility being passed from Westminster to the Scottish Government, and the overarching economic environment drove successive governments into similar strategies. In addition, population reduction in Scotland has increased wage bills and reduced tax income while also reducing unemployment and spare time! Renewable energy and food production for export has brought wind turbines into the arable land which has, in turn, through increasing temperatures, wetter weather and reduction of seasonality, increased production both year round and into upland areas. The problem of soil enrichment is fast becoming a major topic, with genetic manipulation in plant and enzyme development helping to maintain production. The competition between the timber plantation landscapes of the decade after 2010 and the new upland arable landscapes has intensified. The seas around the coasts of Scotland are populated by massive wind and wave production projects, which, when coupled with the introduction of the Marine Act has helped to produce a relatively vibrant inshore area, with artificial reefs and protected areas encouraging plants and animals and the density of development discouraging large-scale trawl fishing.

The new public sector, with increased emphasis on the end-user, or citizen, has benefited greatly from the technological developments of the last 10 years, with permanent high-speed online wireless access available anywhere in Scotland. The citizen can not only access their personal information and Socialbook environment, but the new iDevice can let them see their location on Head Up Displays in any time period they wish, with full access to all the online publications relating to that location, or proposed location, with immediate booking of the nearest available transport infrastructure or accommodation with the wave of a hand. Seamlessly overlaying the real world with data from past worlds has brought the citizen into immediate contact with the complexity of their history and has promoted as strong sense of identity which is providing encouragement for the upcoming new referendum on Scottish independence, with re-aligned borders.

Having this access to a historical virtual reality has helped to solidify the importance of the historic environment in the minds of citizens and politicians. The last minute Stage 3 introduction to the Historic Environment (Amendment)(Scotland) Bill in 2011 of the need for planning decisions to take account of historic environment expertise derived from information managed to place a solid foundation for the drastic changes forced onto the public sector, local authorities and voluntary organisations during the unprecedented public sector cuts of the 2010s. The sector landscape changed and new organisations were created, all to ensure the provision of heritage advice against strict financial pressure. The merging of Local Authorities was paralleled with the creation of a new Heritage Scotland. This body works closely with all public organisations and the general citizen, ensuring a consistent standard of advice and professionalism across Scotland and undertaking the provision of expert heritage advice to all through its regionally organised operations. Formed by the merger of parts of Historic Scotland, the RCAHMS and the inclusion of the services previously provided by multiple Local Authorities, the new quango represents the whole historic environment, treating all areas of the past, protected and unprotected, on land and under the water, equally, and applying national and regional criteria to any decision making process. Their recording teams assess entire landscapes and are about to complete the five year high-resolution mapping of the landscape and underseascape of Scotland in conjunction with the renewable energy companies.

Visit Scotland has completed the merger of Visit Scotland, the National Trust for Scotland and the properties formerly in the care of Scottish Ministers, to provide, in collaboration with advice from Heritage Scotland, a well-maintained cultural landscape that forms the centrepoint of the visitor experience. Close ties between the new national bodies has allowed the development of the data underpinning the new technology for the citizen and expert alike, and has facilitated an unprecedented degree of access to Scotland’s past by the rest of the world.

The voluntary sector worked hard to maintain some semblance of third party oversight to these changes in a period of declining voluntary time and public money, and increasing commercial desperation. Politicians and Government, seeing the necessity to stimulate the economy in any way possible, encouraged rapid development wherever it appeared possible; the third sector fought for the legislative addition to the Amendment Bill, then closely scrutinised the development of the new bodies to ensure the historic environment was not put in jeopardy during the changes. Increased community involvement however, despite the lack of formal volunteering time for experts, has stimulated a wave of projects, excited by the new technologies and working in close partnership with the newly created bodies, which are providing detailed records and greater understanding of the historic environment than would be possible by the national organisations alone.

The University sector, having reduced history, archaeology, conservation and similar themes to one-man bands clinging onto Scientific Schools are beginning to invest again in the culture of heritage, with a clear understanding of the needs of the citizen in terms of trained experts who can analyse, understand and convey importance of the past to them. In partnership with the commercial heritage companies who survived the double-dip through the planning conditions applied to developments by the new Heritage Scotland, and thriving in the period of increased sustainable development thereafter, the Universities train the new heritage managers of tomorrow in the twin skills of on-site recording and understanding, with the minutiae of value led management of the historic environment.

Having been through an extended period of unprecedented change, the face of the historic environment sector has changed completely, but the sector survived, and is looking forward to a new era of prosperity with more development and change inevitable, but a clear purpose to pass on the heritage of Scotland to our children, and their children’s children.

 

Alternative Scenario for 2025

While public finance has finally reached 2009-10 levels again, there has been a real cost to the historic environment in the intervening years. The pressure on the landscape and seascape placed by forestry and then sustainable energy has wiped much of the historic character from our countryside and the unfettered development required to dig the economy out of the double-dip recession has changed the face of our cities. Having access to a historical virtual reality through the development of technology has proven crucial given the destruction of the historic environment in the years around 2015, when no-one was able to defend the sense of place defined by the physical history around them. The landscape changed in subtle and not-so-subtle ways, with education replacing recording and protection of the historic environment. The informed management of change was simply impossible outside the strict legally protected areas, since the advice given in planning decisions was bereft of any expertise or conditions relating to the historic character of the development site and its setting. The spread of woodland and then arable agriculture reduced even the look of the rural landscape to a vague memory of what it used to be. Local accountability, while helping to manage change in areas where this historic past was already valued for its commercial attractiveness, wasn’t able to access the expert advice required to understand the historic environment and the changes about to be wrought, and the value placed on this asset was realised too late, once it had gone, only to be resurrected on a HUD. Central Edinburgh, once a World Heritage Site, now swapped historic place with commercial enterprise, high density, high-rise commercial property dominates the skylines, and many took advantage of the reduced price energy devices being touted by the massive sustainable energy sector to help power their homes and businesses.

In partnership with the two commercial heritage companies still in existence in Scotland, both of which are parts of wider European companies, and many of which disappeared as the planning conditions applied to developments dried up in the face of lack of planning decision expertise in such matters, the Universities train the new heritage managers of tomorrow in the presentation of what is left of the historic environment to the tourism market, hungry for yet more mythologizing about Scotland’s past based on an out-of-date record. The RCAHMS was long-ago subsumed into Historic Scotland to create Heritage Scotland, but the core enterprise of recording sites was soon lost in the rush to try and protect what we already had in the face of mounting pressure from developers and politicians trying desperately to stimulate the economy by whatever means possible. The only legal and practical recourse being those sites defined as Listed or Scheduled, and of these only the absolute best, or nationally important, were actively protected. Anything without a legal basis was fair game, and so the expert advice provided to planning applications, and the wider benefits of community involvement in the past which those experts engendered were lost; World Heritage Site status was lost for many of Scotland’s prize possessions, the Antonine Wall being first to go, followed by Edinburgh, and then New Lanark. The Heart of Neolithic Orkney was on an endangered list and St Kilda, while maintaining its status, simply wasn’t maintained at all, especially after the loss of the National Trust for Scotland as an independent entity in the face of economic and political pressure.

The development of Visit Scotland with the addition of the properties in care of Scottish Ministers and the reduced NTS property portfolio, focused attention on the high earning sites, easy to reach in an era of inflated fuel costs and necessarily requiring bigger and more ambitious gimmicks to “sell” themselves to the tourist, aggravated by a lack of real knowledge on their importance and historic value. The third sector was decimated by the public sector cuts, and the Government finances dried up to the extent that many disappeared, and those that survived did so as 1950‟s-60‟s style one-man-bands with as much voluntary input as the reduced and exhausted Scottish population could provide. Community projects necessarily had to combine, and those that did so early and looked for alternative sources of funding survived, just. The remains of the sector protested loudly at the loss of our historic environment, but it was drowned out by an unprecedented financial context and limited by the lack of expertise left in the sector!

And so the historic environment survives as a three dimensional image on a head-up-display, blogged by Social-books to the extent that the reality is lost to the factoids, the historic environment sector is changed forever.