Becoming an RSA Fellow was part of my bigger plan to make a valuable contribution and be part of driving change in the Heritage sector. I wasn’t quite sure how I would do it but whichever way it was, being part of an organisation driven by innovation, interrogation and action with engagement as the main drives were a good start. I have to confess that for a while my Fellowship was just a membership. The Heritage Index and Heritage Ambassadors programme have been the catalyst for action because they resonate with my values of collaboration, empowerment and equality.
TheHeritage Index sheds a new light on how we look at heritage in the wider context and it is, for me, as a Fellow and heritage professional, an opportunity to reflect on what heritage is, how communities access it (or not), the 3000 feet view and the different landscapes that make it. The Index is not an end in itself. It is a tool with the potential to spark conversations and provoke thought about measuring heritage, how far are we in the journey from collections or buildings to assets - both from the communities’ point of view, and the operational meaning of these findings.
Building on the RSA’s Heritage Ambassadors programme, the starting focus of the Heritage Network is to interrogate the Index, strengthening its use and understanding. The vision for the network is to be an action focused collaborative platform to bring together people who are involved in the heritage sector in all different capacities from volunteering to professional practise, to explore how we can take the uses of the Index forward and maximise its potential as a tool to address the challenges it has identified. We are proposing to start this through an initial launch event in London which will be followed by piloting two workshops in Derby and Hastings - two areas identified in the Index as asset rich but with low levels of heritage participation and engagement. The brief for these pilots is to invite anyone involved in heritage (in its broadest sense) in these areas and those who have ownership of the assets identified in the Index. In particular, to discuss the understanding of the Index, probe it and explore its value in supporting the case for investment with potential funders. The workshops will be an opportunity to harness the energy of stakeholders in Derby and Hastings and initiate engagement in the process with the final aim being to support them and involve them in developing programmes that address the challenges of heritage participation. Heritage participation is an ongoing and universal issue.
Not far from the United Kingdom, in Germany, one of the closest German towns to London and the South of England, Monschau has around 330 officially registered historical buildings, of which an important number are in the old town centre. Tourism is a key industry but local people identify very little with the heritage assets of the town, the local history museum is not engaging and there aren’t any information platforms signposting the history and heritage of the place. There are opportunities for the network to support and embody the sector’s drive to contribute to a wider range of agendas and fulfil its social role in a more ambitious and aspirational manner. We can collaborate with public health, digital innovators, engineers, mathematicians, social workers, academics, communities, local authorities… the list goes on.
In the longer term we aspire to work with Fellows and organisations in other countries, exchange and learn from insights, practises and approaches. The objective is to foster opportunities for us all to be outward looking and learn from each other.
However we do this, it is about doing it together and being proactive. I find this incredibly exciting, not only because I have finally found my spark as a Fellow but also because, from the inside out this is about leadership, ownership and legacy. From the outside in, it is about being valued, accessed, accessible and responsive to communities. Isn’t that what we all aspire to?
Come and join us. Help us steer this ship.
If you would like to join the mailing list for our Heritage Network, please email Mark Hall at [email protected].
The best way of protecting heritage isn't locking it away. Stephen Stenning on creating a people-centred heritage sector by re-thinking our old assumptions.