Heritage helps shape identity and the value of a place

Town Hall

Visits to historic sites are growing, membership of heritage organisations is increasing and participation in heritage is becoming more inclusive, according to this year’s Heritage Counts Reports. The reports have been published today by Historic England on behalf of England’s leading heritage organisations which make up the Historic Environment Forum.

Heritage for everyone

New evidence has shown that participation in heritage(1) is becoming more inclusive and appealing to people from all walks of life. In the last 10 years heritage participation has grown fastest among adults from Black and Minority Ethnic groups and lower socio-economic groups (C2DE). The gap in heritage participation between people living in the most deprived areas and those in the least deprived areas decreased dramatically in the past six years – from a gap of 44 per cent in 2009/10 to 24 per cent in 2015/16.

More visits and increasing membership

The report, published today (1 December) at Heritage Day, an annual event run by the Heritage Alliance- England’s biggest coalition of heritage interests’, has also shown that nearly three quarters of the adult population, or 40 million people, participated in heritage during the past year. There has been a growth in membership of heritage organisations in the last year, with English Heritage, the National Trust and the Historic Houses Association all reporting an increase in membership: 10%, 8% and 11% respectively.

These results suggest that heritage is strongly valued by the public. Historic England believes our shared heritage and history are a source of identity and stability in an uncertain world.

Heritage shapes identity

One of the Heritage Counts reports demonstrates that the nation is using its historic environment to project or communicate both national and local identities. The research shows that historic buildings and places are increasingly being used in “place branding”- a concept that identifies the perception and reputation of a place. The UK’s national branding campaign, the GREAT campaign, has identified heritage as one of the UK’s 12 unique selling points.

Trends toward devolution and localism mean that local place-making is increasingly important for local economies and communities. Currently local organisations, such as Business Improvement Districts, are shaping the image and identity of their local communities and using heritage to do this. The research shows that heritage is being used to enhance local pride, provide places with a unique selling point and to attract visitors but also strengthen the quality of life for residents and businesses.

As part of the Heritage Counts research, a survey of Business Improvement Districts (BIDs) was carried out. 89% of surveyed BIDs felt that heritage played an important role in the image and identity of the BID.  Half of BIDs (51%) rated heritage as being important to achieving their objectives.

The Newcastle NE1 Business Improvement District Company said: “Today’s consumer is very market savvy and if a brand is constructed from scratch they are suspicious; using heritage brings credibility and authenticity to the offer.”

Sir Laurie Magnus, Chairman of Historic England said: “This new research clearly shows that more and more people, from a variety of socio-economic and ethnic groups, appreciate England’s historic sites. It is excellent news. Our historic environment plays a crucial role in shaping the places where we live, work and visit. It provides people with a physical link to the past, permanence, stability and a sense of belonging. Places with strong, distinctive identities are more likely to prosper than those without them. Our heritage is a key national asset, underpinning Britain’s image and brand throughout the world. As we move towards leaving the EU, its economic dynamism will only become more important.”

John Sell, Chair of the Historic Environment Forum, said: “It is wonderful that more and more people from a variety of backgrounds are enjoying and caring for heritage and that more places are recognising the value of heritage as part of what makes them unique. However there is still work to do so that, in encouraging growth and managing change, we do not lose sight of what makes places special. Local council and BID leaders now need to work together to make sure that heritage is at the heart of the vision for their towns, cities and neighbourhoods.”

Read more about Heritage Counts here

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