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The Heritage Index was intended to not just be a collection of data, but a call to arms for greater engagement of communities with the heritage which surrounds them and shapes the identities of their communities. Head of RSA Scotland Jamie Cooke explores why this is the ideal time to engage with the Heritage Index.

Attend Heritage Question Time in Dundee, 6pm on January 28th.

Since the publication of our Heritage Index, in conjunction with Heritage Lottery Fund, there has been considerable interest in its findings in Scotland.  As I covered in my previous blog on the Index, some of its findings provoked a degree of surprise (or indeed opposition!), such as Dundee coming first; whilst it also offered some insights into ways that different parts of the country could start to engage with the different forms of heritage present in their communities.

Before Christmas I spoke at a conference organised by the University of Glasgow and BEFS in Glasgow, exploring the concept of Mainstreaming Urban Heritage.  It was a fascinating topic with a range of speakers (many of them Fellows of the RSA), and showed that some of these efforts to engage communities with heritage are well underway.

Particularly striking for me was the work outlined by Adam Wilkinson FRSA, Director of Edinburgh World Heritage. As well as guiding us expertly through the underpinnings of EWH’s work in preserving the beautiful built environment of Scotland’s capital city, he also highlighted a project they have been running with young people from deprived communities in Edinburgh. 

As explored by my colleague Joanna, the level of disconnect between communities and much of the heritage which surrounds them can be profound, focussed through lack of awareness and barriers to participation, such as cost or context.  EWH worked to introduce young people to some of Edinburgh’s world famous resources so that they could begin to feel a connection to them, and indeed a sense of ownership around the heritage of the heritage of their own city. 

As was raised at the conference (and our previous Heritage Question Time events), there can be a danger of heritage being seen as a middle class pursuit, something only accessible to those with the financial resources to do so.  One of the intentions of the Heritage Index is to help use the existing data to shape new approaches to engaging citizens in the heritage of where they live (hence the project title Heritage, Identity and Place), and so we will be looking to work with EWH and other organisations to explore practical ways of doing this.

One way we will be looking to do this in Dundee (our Scottish case study site for this part of the project) is through our Heritage Question Time event taking place at the historic Discovery Point on the 28th January.  Bringing together a variety of local expertise, this will be an ideal chance to explore the implications of the Index for Dundee, and some of the practical ways of taking this forward. 

While the first annual Heritage Index makes the statistical case for Dundee being the richest spot in Scotland for heritage, it is crucial that the city’s residents get the chance to go beyond the numbers – to publicly debate how they connect the narratives that link Dundee’s past with it’s future. Join us on the 28thsign up here.

Jamie Cooke is Head of RSA Scotland.  You can follow him on Twitter @JamieACooke, connect with him on LinkedIn, or email him at jamie.cooke@rsa.org.uk

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