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.

Quay Place to close

Quay Place, opening 2016 © David Gill

In October 2016 Quay Place opened in Ipswich. It was a partnership between the Churches Conservation Trust and Suffolk Mind, and allowed this fine medieval church to have a new lease of life. The project was presented as a case study in the DCMS Heritage Statement (2017).

It has now been announced that Quay Place is due to close due to the financial squeeze caused by the pandemic (“Coronavirus: Suffolk Mind to close Ipswich’s Quay Place“, BBC News 15 June 2020). The future of the building is unclear.

Heritage Walks: St Helen’s

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St Helen’s, Ipswich © David Gill

The third of the Heritage Walks took place in Ipswich today. The first had a look at the Ipswich marina, and the second at Holywells Park (where the heritage students have been involved in the HLF funded project). Today we visited St Helen’s one of the medieval churches on the east side of the town centre. This was restored in 1835, and extended in 1874-75.

We then crossed Alexandra Park, taking in views of Ipswich and the Orwell Bridge, before having a look round Holy Trinity (1835).

Heritage Winter Walks

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Custom House, Ipswich © David Gill

A group of us went on a heritage “winter walk” as part of a well-being initiative at work. We had a walk round the Wet Dock that now forms part of the marina at Ipswich. The dock was planned by H.R. Palmer in 1837 and opened to shipping in 1842. A new entrance  at the south end was created in 1881. This was crossed by a swing bridge to carry the railway (1903).

On the north side of the dock is the Old Custom House, designed by J.M. Clark and completed in 1845.

To the right of the Custom House is Waterfront House, originally a grain store. This was converted in 1986/7 as part of the initial regeneration of the Ipswich waterfront.

Suffolk Heritage Strategy

suffolk_heritage_strat

The Suffolk Heritage Strategy has been developed ‘to preserve, protect and enhance Suffolk’s heritage for the enjoyment of future generations whilst maximising its impact and celebrating its wider contributions to education, economic development, health and well-being, helping to create a strong sense of place, pride and belonging’.

It contains three priorities:

  1. Identity, Economy, and Tourism
  2. Community Engagement and Learning
  3. Heritage Protection and Enhancement

Professors Baxter and Gill contributed to the strategy through the Strategic Heritage Forum.

The full document can be found here.

Heritage Walks: Athens

2004
2004

Exploring a city’s heritage is one way to keep fit and to be green. One of my favourite cities is Athens and in 2004 (as part of the celebration of the Olympics) the Hellenic Society for the Protection of the Environment and the Culture Heritage along with the Municipality of Athens Cultural Organization produced Heritage Walks in Athens: the walks were written by Artemis Skoumbourdi.

The book was introduced by Dora Bakoyannis, the then mayor of Athens.

Our monuments stand as continuous guardians of memory. It is not only the past of Greece but the roots of the Western World and the influence of the East that can be found within our museums.

Costa Carras, President of the Hellenic Society (Elliniki Etaira) wanted people to come to the headquarters of the society ‘where they can learn more about issues concerning the environment and the cultural heritage in Greece’.

© David Gill
© David Gill

The short book contains 8 walks:

  1. The Athenian Acropolis
  2. Mills and Municipalities of Ancient Athens
  3. Agora and Areopagus, the Heart of Ancient Athens
  4. The Centre of the City from Antiquity until the Ottoman Period
  5. Athens, Medieval and Modern
  6. The Heart of the Modern Greek State
  7. Museums, Collections and the National Park
  8. The High Point of Athenian Neoclassicism

Some of the walks are quite steep and demanding but the climbs are rewarded with wonderful views over the city.

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