Heritage and community values
By Baroness Kay Andrews
No matter where we live, we are all shaped by what we can see – and indeed what we cannot see – around us. At English Heritage, therefore, we are delighted that history, local history, and archaeology have never been more popular.
This desire to know more about ourselves and our communities has been reinforced by the very welcome decision of the government to create a joint portfolio for heritage and tourism. The ‘staycation’ and the economic power of tourism, with heritage at its very heart, is the economic story of the moment.
We are a small country, which makes the spread and diversity of our heritage so extraordinary and so compelling. Our unique collection of national historic monuments (of which English Heritage is the guardian of over 400) is just one part of our wealth.
And heritage – and what will happen to it in the future – is above all, a local issue, in the trusteeship of local authorities. When local space and development is under such pressure, the role that heritage plays in informing the future of the locality is crucial. Heritage is, after all, visible evidence of the evolution of ‘the place’ with all its complexity and diversity. Whether we are concerned about maintaining the quality of local historic landscapes – both rural and industrial – of local conservation areas, identified for their fine grain and unique character, the idiosyncratic beauty of our market towns, or the grandeur and contrasts evident in our great cities – what will happen in the future will depend upon understanding, , judgement and foresight of local authorities, and those who advise them – the conservation specialists, planners, and archaeologists .
Across the country English Heritage is working with local authorities to ensure that our heritage is not a brake but a source of local pride and prosperity. From the border history of Berwick to the more recent wartime history of Dover, and from the Jewellry Quarter, the pride of Birmingham’s craftsmen and women, to the stunning medieval churches of rural Hereford, we are working alongside all those who are creating new futures by celebrating, conserving, and adapting the past to meet today’s needs and expectations.
Caring for the local historic environment has the power to build local reputation as well as local economies but above all, to strengthen identity and community. The local variations of the ‘Big Society’ takes many form – whether it is the vibrant local history society uncovering the local heroes of the past; the local Preservation Trusts who champion local areas, and prevent careless change; or the local amenity societies – often just a handful of enthusiasts – who are recovering the richness of the past – today: everything from local waterways to windmills. Indeed, English Heritage has its own army of enthusiasts – our one million members.
In fact, the whole community has an opportunity to explore hidden local histories and stories during Heritage Open Days, the biggest voluntary cultural event in the country when people in every community will peer and poke into those places that are normally closed, but which tell the history of past lives
All this means that what we can make of our past must be judged as central to our future. Confident local authorities know that development management will be much more successful when local plans and local planning processes reflect the significance and rich potential of local heritage. Our support and partnership for local authorities has always been central to our role in English Heritage but never more so than now.