How should heritage decisions be made?

Networked Heritage

Gareth Maeer, Head of Research & Evaluation, Heritage Lottery Fund

All communities are imagined. Geographic dividers help our minds to segment – a road, a river, a mountain range – but our attachments to ‘place’ spring from the connections we all make between heritage, identity and place. Beneath all the bluster, the blizzard of competing statistics and the economic projections, the claims and counter claims about sovereignty and controlling our own destiny, isn’t the European debate really one about an imagined community? Europe is an idea – so is the nation state and so is a neighbourhood.

And that’s one of the many reasons why decision-making about heritage – the whole messiness in conversations about importance, value and change – are so endlessly fascinating and so important. And is why a research project that’s prepared to state boldly that “the democratic impulse of heritage lives through constant living, action, questioning and contesting” – that we shouldn’t be aiming to ‘unstick the sticking points’ in decision-making, nor to render it more streamlined or efficient – is a great help.

I work for a national funder, an adjunct of a national government, where our funding often sits alongside other national and sometime European pots of money. Yet my personal inclinations – like lots in the heritage and community worlds no doubt – are towards localism. It’s why I was interested to initiate a project on ‘Heritage, Identity and Place’ that we have been running with the RSA over the last two years, and that looks at how heritage should feature in the current moves towards greater devolution. Devolution, it seems to me, is an exciting idea precisely because of the way it opens up the potential for more voices in decision making.

That research is complete now. And the touch phrase we’ve come up with to summarise it is, ‘networked heritage’ – a shorthand for the idea of heritage connected to social goals, heritage that is community inspired and with a prominent role for ‘DIY heritage activists’.

The ‘How should heritage decisions be made?’ project was running parallel to the Heritage, Identity and Place research for quite a while – and worked as a valuable reference point for me, personally, during that time. It gave succour and inspiration in equal measure – other people seeing messiness as useful, blocks on decision making as powerful, networks not hierarchies as a force for change. Inevitably we’ve come up with our own ‘principles’ for networked heritage – to be revealed soon. When they are I hope the researchers involved in ‘How should heritage decisions be made?’ will recognise the influence of their own thinking – act, connect, reflect, situate – in there too.

This entry was posted in HLF.

My Future York at the Utopia Fair

By Liz Stainforth, PhD research based in the Centre for Critical Studies Museums, Galleries and Heritage, University of Leeds

The My Future York stall at the Utopia Fair held at Somerset House 24th-26th June 2016.

The My Future York stall at the Utopia Fair held at Somerset House 24th-26th June 2016.

Over the weekend of the 24-26 June some of the My Future York team headed down to London in a minibus to take up our stall at the Utopia Fair (Somerset House). I went, along with Helen (University of Leeds), Richard, Lianne and Gavin (York Past and Present), Victoria (York Libraries and Archives) and Alice (Reet So).

The fair was supported by the Arts and Humanities Research Council’s Connected Communities programme as part of the Connected Communities Festival 2016. Taking inspiration from the 500th anniversary of Thomas More’s Utopia (published in Latin in 1516), the Festival theme, Community Futures and Utopia, was run in partnership with The Somerset House Trust’s ‘Utopia 2016: a year of Imagination and Possibility’.

The theme of our stall was living well together, which was identified as an important issue at the first York planning meeting. We engaged with this theme through the idea of the Utopian Council of 2066, and invited people to write letters to the Council sharing their hopes for the future. This future Council would be founded on utopian principles, taking account of people’s collective desires or fears and thinking beyond only what is ‘possible’ in the language of development and planning.

The stall, designed by Reet So, looked great with its eye-catching purple and neon orange signage, and people were soon drawn in to find out what it was all about. There was a lot of interest in the My Future York project, and several people commented that the discussions around York’s Local Plan reflected similar situations in the areas where they were living. Some issues people wrote about in their letters to the Council included food waste, housing, car pollution, local-regional decision-making and young people and families. One letter even recommended a current project that encourages the use of food waste to feed pigs – see

Providing they gave an address, every person that wrote a letter to the Utopian Council over the weekend will receive a reply by post. The letters will be discussed at a storytelling session, to be held in York (in the Council Chamber) at the end of July. This collective conversation will inform the response letters people receive. Details of the Utopian Council storytelling session will be announced soon on the Events page.

This entry was posted in Follow on projects.

My Future York

Images: Richard Brigham, York Past and Present

Images: Richard Brigham, York Past and Present

The Arts and Humanities Research Council’s Connected Communities Festival 2016 will take place across the UK culminating in a series of stall and workshops to be held 24 to 26 June. The Festival is part of the Somerset House’s UTOPIA 2016: A Year of Imagination and Possibility which commemorates the 500th anniversary of the publication of Thomas More’s Utopia.

The University of Leeds’ Centre for Critical Studies in Museums, Galleries and Heritage contribution to the wider programme is a project, titled My Future York. The project will build on research conducted as part of How should heritage decisions be made?, a Connected Communities project that finished in 2015.

Liz Stainforth, one of the Centre’s Early Career Researchers who will be drawing on her PhD research as part of the project, said:

“Utopia speaks to the study of heritage in that it opens up perspectives on the past, shedding light on the ways people hoped or imagined the future might be. Understanding how different visions of the past might inspire different types of interventions in the present and the future is an increasingly pressing issue for heritage decision making and the project is a brilliant opportunity to explore this further as part of a community engagement process.

“My Future York will be working in collaboration with York Past and Present (a dynamic facebook group), York Explore Libraries and Archives and York Environment Forum. A key focus of the project will be to explore how engagement with heritage can be used not only to think about what we value from the past but to open up ways of thinking in new ways about the city’s future planning and decision making.

“The tagline for the project is: The past was different to today, the future will be too – what future do we want for York?”

Helen Graham, Director, Centre for Critical Studies in Museums, Galleries and Heritage, and Principal Investigator for Heritage + Utopias: Possibility Thinking for Living Together said:

“One of our motivations for undertaking this project as part of the Connected Communities Festival is to address the problem of consultation.

“Consultation is usually not designed in ways which enable people to engage with the complexity of the issues, to take into account other people’s needs or views or to take responsibility for the outcome. Consultation, therefore, has a range of negative effects, not least that the views that consultation processes enable often appear thin and uninformed. As such the consultation often just exacerbates cynicism, from both decision makers and members of the public.

“We want to engage richer understandings, local knowledge and collective hope – pasts and futures – to develop more dynamic engagements in local democracy.”

Phil Bixby, chair of York Environment Forum, said:

“York desperately needs a framework for engaging its residents in the process of change. Much current consultation founders on the misplaced belief in an enduring if imperfect present, rather than a belief that the future could be different, let alone better. The Environment Forum is keen to help unlock the imagination of the public to work towards a more sustainable future for York.”

The project will seek to find more creative ways of undertaking engagement with the issues facing York’s future. The team will initiate:

  • Open exploration of visions for York’s future – starting with what individual people, families and communities want to do in their lives now and in the next 10, 20 and 30 years. We will do this through stalls, workshops and through online engagement.
  • Active engagement with York’s past to open up new perspectives on issues facing the city such as flooding and housing. We will do this through workshops at York Explore Libraries and Archives and walks through the city’s historic and green environments.
  • Deepening and extending understanding of the crucial issues that determine the city’s future and seeking alternative ways forward, We will do this through public talks and workshops, from green belt legislation to approaches to transport and engaging with new ideas and inspiring ways forward from elsewhere.
  • Developing resonant stories about the city and what the city might become through exploring new ways of working with lots of different types of contributions people might make from oral histories, memories and archive photos to workshop flip charts and post it notes and social media discussion and by creating a dynamic feedback loops to iteratively inform York’s public debate.
  • Feeding into policy making and decision making. We will do this by being proactive in involving York’s policy makers and decision makers as we go along, feeding into formal consultations (e.g. Local Plan and York Central) and opening up new ways for the city to approach ‘consultation’ in the future.A crucial aspect of the project is how understanding the city’s past – through engagement with memories, local knowledge, archives and the historic environment – can open up new ideas and debates.

Victoria Hoyle, City Archivist said:

“Archives are usually associated with studying history and the past. You wouldn’t necessarily think they were useful for imagining and creating our futures. But actually archives are powerful tools for understanding change, for getting into the minds of our predecessors, and so better understanding our own motivations and actions. Archives give context to what is happening now and help to reflect on what might be possible in the future.”

York Past and Present facebook group has over 12,000 members who regularly share photos and memories and together represent enormous recourse of knowledge and creativity about York. Richard Brigham and Lianne Brigham, administrators for the group said:

“We are taught that with age comes experience and that experience is something we learn by so without looking at our past we can’t be expected to learn for the future.”

See the My Future York website for more information or contact Helen

Image credit: Richard Brigham York Past and Present

This entry was posted in Follow on projects.

York: What has heritage ever done for us?

We’ve pulled together in this booklet both an overview of the York strand of the ‘How should heritage decisions be made?’ project and the proceedings of the ‘York: What has heritage ever done for us?’ event ran in June 2015 as part of the Arts and Humanities Research Council’s Connected Communities Festival.

We’re using all the thinking and ideas shared here to inform a pilot project in November – an idea hatched during the June event – called York and Housing: Histories Behind the Headlines which is exploring how participatory production of histories of urgent issues facing York can enrich public debate and local democracy. The York and Housing Histories Behind the Headlines project has come ot of a partnership between the University of Leeds, York Explore Libraries and Archives and York Past and Present.


This entry was posted in Connected Communities Festival.

Heritage Decisions team takes part in an HLF live chat

Screen Shot 2015-09-15 at 16.40.05

The Heritage Decisions research team will take part in a live discussion organised by the Heritage Lottery Fund, on the subject of heritage participation on Thursday 17 September from 12.30 to 1.30pm.

Live chat: heritage participation (17 September, 12.30pm)

From getting your own heritage idea off the ground, to attracting others to support your new or existing heritage project, it’s all about participation.

The Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) will be discussing the subject of heritage participation in a live chat on Thursday 17 September from 12.30-1.30pm.

Participation experts Danny Callaghan (Heritage Activist and Consultant with a focus on public engagement and community research), Helen Graham (School of Fine Art, History of Art and Cultural Studies and Centre for Critical Studies in Museums, Galleries and Heritage, University of Leeds) and Rachael Turner (Director of MadLab, and the HLF-supported The Ghosts of St Pauls) will be on hand to answer questions from the HLF’s Online Communities Manager, Amy Freeborn.

Anyone with an interest in heritage and participation is invited to join the discussion by asking questions about informing heritage ideas, having a stake in decisions, getting people involved, keeping momentum going and making real change in heritage. You just need to register for the HLF online community which you can do here:

The live chat participants were all recently involved in the extensive cross-sector participatory research project called How should heritage decisions be made? Increasing participation from where you are, led by Helen Graham at the University of Leeds.

Helen Graham said:
Thursday’s online chat is a fantastic opportunity to explore the practices of heritage and participation – and the ideas of the ‘How should heritage be made?’ research project – with a wide range of practitioners, communities and activists. I’m really hoping we can use this opportunity to collectively take stock and to consider how different ways of conceptualising heritage might open the way for greater involvement in heritage and its decision making by a wider range of people.

More information about how you can join in with the live chat can be found on the Heritage Lottery Fund website.

This entry was posted in HLF.

Heritage Decisions and the Connected Communities Festival: Four events

The Heritage Decisions team were engaged in four events as part of the Connected Communities Festival. On 20th June Rachael Turner at MadLab hosted a Heritage Hit Squad event which explored some of the issues facing Manchester’s building and streetscapes at the moment and has generated follow up activity related to London Road Fire Station. Write up by University of Leeds MA in Art Gallery and Museum Studies student Naomi Roberts.

On the same day in York, an event was held to draw together the networks developed through the York: Living with History strand of the Heritage Decision project. The event was titled ‘What has heritage ever done for us?’ and raised some crucial issues about how both decisions about heritage can be democratized but also how the city’s heritage can become a resource for democratic engagement in the city’s future more generally. One outcome from this has been planning an event with York Explore ‘History behind the Headlines’ – to link with Parliament Week and Explore Your Archives week. Here we will take ‘housing’ – with York being one of the most unaffordable places to live in the north of England and with decisions about housing development on the horizon – and use the archives, local knowledge and memories to enrich and extend public debate.

The following weekend – 27th June – Danny Callaghan and a volunteer team created a pop up event, ‘DIY Heritage Day’ at The Minton Free Library, Stoke-on-Trent and two follow up events due to public demand: ‘Night on the Tiles’ (11th July) and ‘Take the Tiles’ (25th July). ‘Local families, enthusiasts and heritage professionals have helped to remove wallpaper and wash down nearly 500 tiles’. Showing the potential of meanwhile spaces to generate new networks and energy. Report by Simon Bramley, like Naomi, also student on the MA in Art Gallery and Museum Studies.

Finally, Alex Hale worked with a team of canoeists to launch of the Discovering the Clyde programme, which has been a focus on research as part of the Heritage Decisions project.

This entry was posted in Connected Communities Festival and tagged .

DIY Heritage in Minton Public Library

Report by Simon Bramley, MA in Art Gallery and Museum Studies

Screen Shot 2015-07-31 at 14.27.12

As strange as it sounds, I have often found myself taking simple pleasures in train journeys. Of course they operate as an enclosed vessel that transports you from one locale to another; yet at the same time, I often find the time spent contained within them to be quite productive. My journey from Leeds to Manchester and then onwards to Stoke-on-Trent, was much the same. Between trying to catch up on some much needed reading (for my impending dissertation deadline) and gazing upon the distinct Pennine landscape that hurtled past the train’s windows, I was left to contemplate on the final destination of my travels, the Minton Public Free Library and the Ceramic City Stories- DIY Heritage Day.

Knowing very little about the actual event I was heading towards, sparks of curiosity began to erupt as the journey progressed. Perhaps encouraged by the very landscapes I was traveling through and their pronounced industrial heritage, I was left to think how Stoke-on-Trent’s history may differ and manifest itself in comparison to that of Leeds, Halifax (and the Standedge Tunnels) and Manchester.

Arriving at Stoke-on-Trent, we left the station and followed the detailed directions (in which we were also reminded to keep an eye out for tiles, terracotta, etc.) on how to reach the Minton Public Free Library…

As you leave main station entrance, turn right. Take first right under railway. You’ll cross over the ‘D Road’ (dual carriage way below). You will see the current council building (80s monstrosity) cross over to pavement in front, turning left following the road down + keeping it to your right of you. You will soon see The Glebe pub + original Victorian Stoke Town Hall, on your right + attached to the back of the 80s building. Keep walking down road (Stoke Minster) is seen on left. Get to end of terraced shops/curry house etc. and then turn right on to ‘Church Street’. You’ll see the old Market facade and tower further up on your left. Keep walking to the main junction ahead (which is called Campbell Place. Here you turn left and walk up London Road. You will see Sainsbury’s ahead on left (+ across a road) – on Minton China Works site and historical Stoke School of Art building on right and next door the Library.

The short walk from the station to the event, on which we did pass many of Stoke-on-Trent’s famous exports; tiles, terracotta and of course one of its most famous sons, Josiah Wedgwood, only sought to build excitement in the rare British summer sun. As we approached the Minton Public Free Library, it seemed to stand defiant to the architecture that surrounded it. The building stood face-to-face with a Sainsbury’s, flanked by an innocuous car park and a former-petrol-station-cum-carwash. Although highly decorative, the red bricked and tiled façade only alluded to what was in its underbelly and it was not until we walked down into ‘The Canteen’ (Basement) from the roadside, did it truly reveal its hand.

The cool space of the basement, in contrast to the warm summer sun, was a hive of activity. Instantly upon entering you could sense this room had a history, perhaps it was the drop in temperature, perhaps it was the smell of the room (certainly not unpleasant but alluding to age), or perhaps it was the buzz of noise generated and echoing around the space as pockets of activity and discussion erupted around the room. Although at first, perhaps seeming quite sporadic or even chaotic (with multiple conversations, tiles and pottery scattered around the floor, people removing wallpaper and tea, coffee and cake being offered around) the energy circulating around the room prompted me to join in and get my hands dirty. It was here, through my own interaction with the building and its materiality that I better understood the event and its DIY ethos. Peeling back the wallpaper to reveal the building’s former splendour, a patchwork of blue and white tiles depicting different virtues, stories and Shakespeare’s plays not only revealed the fabric of the building and its subsequent layers of history, but also offered an interaction that no public, or (in this space) community, could achieve in say a conventional museum situation. What was unfolding within this basement space was a coherent community-led effort to interact, understand and discuss Stoke-on-Trent’s unique heritage.

With real emphasis on ‘Doing’ in the here-and-now and united by a common interaction (revealing the blue and white tiles, wallpaper creeping behind the fingernails ‘n’ all), community ownership of the space could be seen around the room. Genuine excitement, care and ownership could be seen on many people’s faces, with many taking time to reveal specific tiles or ‘that last bit over there’. In many cases the room was just the starting point, serving purely as a backdrop for spoken interactions and the exchange of oral histories. Bearing witness to a variety of people and their interaction to the event, including a tiler by trade, student and former security guard, it was the statement of a 7 year old that really made me smile…

‘100 years later and people are still looking at ‘em!’

This entry was posted in Connected Communities Festival.

What has heritage ever done for us?: Democratic heritage decision making and heritage for enlivening democracy

What has heritage ever done for us?
20th June 2015, 1-4pm
Part of the Arts and Humanities Research Council’s Connected Communities Festival

Report by Helen Graham, University of Leeds

How might generate public participation in York's heritage help it do even more for the city - including enliven its democratic culture? Credit Jason Parrish via Flickr

How might generate public participation in York’s heritage help it do even more for the city – including enliven its democratic culture?

The Monty Python Life of Brian reference in the title was not lost on any of the speakers at the event – which included local councilors, heritage practitioners, community activists and entrepreneurs. The Monty Python joke is that there are a group of radicals who want to overthrow the Roman occupation of Judea. The leader of the group rhetorically asks the question ‘what have the Romans ever done for us’– expecting the argument to be NOTHING. LET’S GET RID OF THEM. And instead – there is pause for a moment or two – then one member of the group puts up their hand and says ‘the aqueduct’. Then the rest of the group keep coming up with ideas. Like Sanitation. Medicines. Irrigation. Wine. And the roads. At which point the leader, played by John Cleese says, ‘obviously the roads, the roads go without saying’.

As York’s Romans – and Vikings – remain an active presence through heritage in York today – ‘what has heritage ever done for us?’ seemed like a good, if not at all rhetorical, question to trigger our discussions.

Council Leader Chris Steward opened the event by drawing attention to York’s 1000 years of development and, with the Local Plan in mind, ‘we’ve got this massive opportunity to influence things because things in York do change, they should change and we’ve got to think about what we want to preserve and enhance’. Cllr Steward recognised that while there was a lot of cross-party agreement on aspects of York’s heritage there were real areas of contention, for example around levels of housing development and specifically whether this should happen in the green belt. At the time of the event decisions about local buildings – Reynard’s Garage and the Maltings in Clementhorpe – were about to be taken, decisions which, Cllr Steward suggested, reveal both questions about how there can be a more timely response to buildings falling out of use and earlier public involvement:

In both cases they are clear examples of where nothing has happened for years and years and years and that almost is the greatest wrong of all that they have just been left. So I know that it is absolutely key to get more people contributing and – I would say this wouldn’t I? – but I don’t think the previous administration was the most receptive to contributions.

Cllr Steward also addressed an issue that recently hit the headlines, that of the city’s drinking culture: ‘Tourism is a key thing because we want the right sort of tourists, if we can say that. So we are increasingly getting stag and hen parties but there’s a better way forward that we can actually – not sort of have tourists just as a commodity and that sort of thing but really share with them the brilliance of York’.

Cllr Dave Taylor opened by saying it was heritage – in the form the Castle Area Campaign against Coppergate II – that first got him politically engaged in York. Cllr Taylor was keen to see heritage as an ‘agent of change’ and of ‘regeneration, ‘I think too often in our city […] heritage has been seen as an obstacle, a millstone. And yet it can be the opposite of that – it is a great attractor.’ An example given was the plans for the Guildhall site, ‘There needs to be a sound business case, of course there does, but the idea of a twenty-first century Guild to take over the Guildhall is very appealing’. An issue that came up repeatedly during the event was Reynard’s Garage, once the Airspeed Factory associated with Amy Johnson, the famous aviator, who invested in the factory. Cllr Taylor – describing it as ‘one of York’s few Art Deco buildings of note’ – recounted his experiences of trying to intervene in the initial decision made to sell the land for development in 2014:

The Director had refused to give me, over the course of about a month information about the process, which delivered to cabinet four choices of what to do with the building. Knock it down and build a hotel. Knock it down and build a hotel. Knock it down and build a hotel. Or knock it down and build a hotel. It’s just scandalous really that a secret process took place with no opportunity for members of the public and no opportunity for opposition councillors at that time to engage with it.

This was a common theme – how to substantially increase transparency and public participation in the city’s decision making. Cllr Taylor concluded, ‘So I’ll leave you with a phrase, turning Helen’s question on its head perhaps, ask not what York’s heritage can do for you, but what you can do for York’s heritage?’

Peter Addyman, founding Director of York Archaeology Trust and current chair of York Civic Trust (a partner in the Heritage Decisions project) began by saying in answer to the event’s question that he became an archeologist because of the chance to come over as a teenager to get involved in digs in York. Then, having become a professional archeologist, Addyman was called back to York to review a scheme in 1969/1970 which suggested that ‘that five multi-storey car parks within the city walls were needed, proposed by the Esher Scheme’. Out of that work he ‘recommended the setting up of what turned out to be the York Archaeological Trust and in the report that we presented we promised the city in return, and I quote, “a vastly enriched history, a vastly enhanced museum collection and massive educational, touristic and recreational benefits,” and that has all happened.’ Citing the educational benefits, Addyman added:

I am told that upwards of 30 million people have now visited the Jorvik Viking Centre, about 40,000 school children every year for 30 years have had an intensive education in archaeology at Dig, the Archaeological Resource Centre in St. Saviour Gate, which itself uses a heritage building, St. Saviour’s Church. Now if you work it out 30 years, 40,000 schoolchildren, 1,200,000 school kids have been educated about heritage in York.

Addyman concluded by arguing: ‘So what has heritage ever done for us? The short answer is it’s made us a lot more prosperous than we otherwise might have been.’

Our next speakers were Lianne Brigham and Richard Brigham from York Past and Present, who have been involved in the Living with History project and the wider Heritage Decisions research project. They opened by explaining that ‘heritage has given us a sense of worth, a feeling of pride for the city we live in and I can honestly say it is something we never had before’. Lianne and Richard shared how York Past and Present has developed:

From our humble beginnings as a small Facebook group, over the past year we have increased membership to just under 8,000, a lot of whom actively participate in many of the things we do. We are a living, breathing, online community and we have achieved much more than anybody, including – we thought we could achieve a little bit.

Lianne and Richard then talked about their experiences of getting involved in documenting Mansion House: ‘this is involving over thirty members of the public to document the building, help pack the items and record’. Overall, they reflected that they found ways of making ‘our voices heard, even if it does mean shouting at the top of them or being slightly annoying at the same time!’

Michael Hayes, from new enterprise Plastic Fortune which ‘aims to build a network of creative young people in the city of York’, spoke next. Michael began by arguing that ‘York caters very well to the tourist and not so much to the resident’. This because, he suggested, ‘York is a city that did; it is not a city that does, which to be honest is a bit of a waste because there’s so much goes on in the city but it’s not put out there’. When Michael and his collaborators were setting up Plastic Fortune they did some research speaking to visitors and why were they visiting the city: the two most common answers were ‘drinking and old buildings!’. Michael wanted to draw attention to all of the contemporary culture that is going on in the city – something they’ve been capturing with the People of York series. He gave one example of being at Inkwell where there was a gig in the shop for Record Store Day, there started off being around 30 people but as the gig went on the crowd started to block ‘the street because loads of tourists want to see what is happening because something is happening. It is not something that has happened here, something is happening!’ In structural terms Michael drew attention to how hard it was to live in the city as a young person and to find space to rent to start a business.

Victoria Hoyle
, York City Archivist and a PhD student at the University of York, began by challenging our definitions of ‘archive’, ‘I think that the Archive of York should be all the documents, ephemera, memories and captured moments that allow us to understand our past and relate to our present and enable us to make those justified decisions about how we can live well together’. Crucially Victoria argued that this wasn’t just about the city’s past:

I would like to see it used more as a resource by Council officers and also by residents, to access information about how the city governs itself. […] I would like to think that there is a future where ‘look it up in the archive’, ‘visit the archive’, ‘have you thought about the archive?’, is the first step in designing solutions to problems and celebrating our past achievements.

A more driven and engaged approach to archiving as part of the city’s democratic life, Victoria argued, requires a different approach to ‘cataloguing’ and ‘digitising’:

Rather than prioritising our decisions about how we make the archive accessible based on what was important in the past, we think perhaps about new priorities, about what is important now, and being more responsive. So, for example, if there is a debate in York at present over housing and sustainability and the green belt, perhaps the archive relating to that material should be prioritised for accessibility?

Next to speak was York’s City Archaeologist John Oxley. He began with a thought for those who might be less enthused by tourism to the city: ‘If you want to know what York might be like without the economic benefits that come along with the heritage industry, I always say to people, come and have a look at York on Wednesday in January because I think that is probably base level activity within the city’. John drew some connections between ideas of what heritage is – ‘it is the micro- and macro-, the small level and the big level decisions that have been made in the past that give us the city that we live in today’ – and how we might imagine ‘conservation’ as ‘a dynamic process. It is the way that we make decisions today about what we take with us into the future.’ John shared ideas he is developing at the moment for York’s Historic Environment Record and, like Victoria, he is keen to see this as playing an active role in democratic engagement in the city today:

Information, knowledge is power and if you have the right information available, if you have access to the information, then that can assist you in making decisions. It empowers you as an individual, as a body and you can then take part effectively in that decision-making process. How do you get your hands on that information?

Our final speaker was Helen Weinstein, Director, Historyworks who spoke about recent work on Clifford’s Tower and the Eye of York. Helen opened by speaking about one of the first things she got involved in on taking up her post of Director, Institute for Public Understanding of the Past:

When I arrived in York the reason the problem was that that Clifford’s Tower was on all the covers of the tourist guides but if you opened the tourist guides there was particular bits of traumatic history that were always missing. When questions were asked there was just, well we don’t know how to navigate this. This is too difficult for us. Could you work with us as an expert who thinks about public engagement?

Helen is now working with English Heritage who ‘are now on a journey to think of Clifford’s Tower in a much more layered way’. Helen described the importance of a collaborative ethos in decision making: ‘We need to try and keep these conversations open and collaborative so that we don’t have ridiculous decisions made that people then have to campaign about’. A key issue of the broader Castle and Eye of Yorkshire area is the car park – that raises over £1m a year for the council. Helen cited Graham Bell – who ran an event exploring ideas for the area as part of the Living with History project – who said that ‘the situation at Clifford’s Tower seems to be one of a space left over after parking rather than the usual problem of space left over after planning’. Helen – through events ran earlier this year – has been keen, because of ‘the problems of interpretation around Clifford’s Tower’ to bring stakeholders together, York Museums Trust, York Civic Trust, English Heritage and also the City Archaeologist ‘to rethink the site’. Helen, with her background in television, film making and digital content was emphasizing also the value of ‘digital’ in telling more complex stories about York ‘so that multiple voices, multiple layers of resources and multiple materials can be lodged there’.

The event then used Open Space techniques to generate group discussions for the rest of the event. Out of this some actions were developed that are currently being developed:

What’s next?

1) Proactive not reactive: Build on Local List to ensure very early engagement with what is significant to try and reduce crisis moment around specific buildings at threat.
2) Develop more playful ways of people being involved in decisions at the city level: Can history and heritage help here and act as a point of connection for contributing towards decisions affecting the future of the city?
3) Historic Environment Record: to link up different people’s knowledge about York and become a resource for engaging in decision making.
4) Bridging arts and heritage divide: To arrange a hack day to bring lots of people interested in Guildhall and Digital Media Arts to explore ways of interpreting the Guildhall.
5) Public documentation: Linking up private owners with fascinating interiors with people interested in documenting them.
6) Understand better how ‘heritage’ affects York: Heritage has a range of complex effects – how can we more self-conscious use it to live well together.
7) Understand better York today: Idea of mass observation or other forms to ‘make tomorrow’s history’.
8) Set up York Heritage Network (mailing list plus facebook page). Not to replace the forums but a loose network for information flow and initiating proactive responses to issues (e.g. Guildhall / Maltings)

If you’d like to get involved in any of these ideas – or to keep in touch with developments – email Helen Graham on

This entry was posted in Connected Communities Festival and tagged , , , .

Heritage Hit Squad: not just saving old buildings, but campaigning for better new buildings

Heritage Hit Squad
20th June, 11am-5pm
Manchester Digital Laboratory

Report by Naomi Roberts, MA Art Gallery and Museum Studies, University of Leeds

Themes running through the conversations at the Heritage Hit Squad event – held as part of the Arts and Humanities Research Council’s Connected Communities Festival – centered around a lack of local government interest or concern in Manchester’s heritage, and the issue of current architectural commissions being poorly designed.

It was discussed whether Manchester Civic Society becoming less effective has opened up space for a new faction that could also work towards enabling communities become more aware and involved in the local issues often concealed. London Road Fire Station has gathered an army of 200 volunteers who are eager to help but have no space to train. It would be beneficial for organisations to share resources but with personal time scarce, establishing a platform to communicate these ideas is unlikely/challenging?

Save the Oxford Road Corner campaign is an example of how campaigners can work together and broadcast their goals to a wider audience through smart social network tools; however with lobbyists vying for limited funding there is often competition between groups who quite often have shared aims and are fighting against the same opponent, the Save Library Walk was successful in bringing together people from many groups because it did not need money.

Whilst councils have bowed to intimidation, not applied their authority in saving vulnerable buildings and English Heritage seemingly helpless in putting their powers to effect, the group explored if would it be more productive to campaign for better architecture? Rather than fight to stop buildings being demolished, is there a chance that we could stop bad buildings being built? Whatever the next step is for now, it’s clear that a long term strategy demands to be developed to create a new model for heritage and the built environment.

Outcomes since the event:
• Groups have written guest posts for MadLab’s website.
• MadLab have been championing their work more via social media in particular.
• MadLab are supporting London Road and Skyliner to get the word out about a development on “Pomona Island”. See:

For more information see:

This entry was posted in Connected Communities Festival and tagged , , .

How can participation in heritage decision making be increased from wherever you are? A collaborative research team shares its findings.

Project Press Release:

Heritage is about what we value: places, buildings, objects, memories, cultures, skills or ways of life. So why can it be so hard to get actively involved in heritage decision-making? Drawing on innovative practice and research experiments, the Heritage Decisions team have developed a website, publications and a series of events to show what you can do to increase participation in museums and heritage; whether you are a leader and shaper of policy and organizations, you’re trying to do good work within structures you don’t control or whether you simply care about the culture and history of the place in which you live.

Project background
Over the last two years a team of twenty people – researchers, policy makers, funders, museum practitioners, people who are activists about their own history and heritage – have worked together to design and then carry out a research project.

The Heritage Decisions team were brought together by an innovative pilot scheme developed by the Arts and Humanities Research Council’s Connected Communities programme. The Connected Communities ‘Co-design and Co-creation Development Awards’ scheme sought not only to enable collaborative research between researchers, policy makers, practitioners and community groups but to actively enable the collaborative development of a research agenda, from its earliest stages.

While we all had a shared interest in heritage and decision-making, the team was formed deliberately to draw into dialogue people from different backgrounds, positions and approaches. The aim was to use the team’s collective experiences, perspectives and positions to create a research project which might explore how to increase participation in heritage decision-making.

Project approaches: Reflecting on innovative practice and research experiments
The project’s research insights are derived from two key approaches. The first by reflecting on innovative work already undertaken by practitioners in the research team. The second through conducting research experiments. The project’s final booklet focused on how participation in heritage decision-making can be increased from wherever you work or live and whatever your position – professional, researcher or someone who cares about your own culture and place.

In terms of reflecting on innovative practice, John Lawson, Kathy Cremin and Mike Benson, who collaborated first at Ryedale Folk Museum and now at Bede’s World, reflected on the development of their approaches to distributed decisions making through turning museums inside out, conceptualising heritage as a ‘living stream’ that sustain the places it flows through and decision-making as distributed so that all staff and volunteers might have ‘freedom of self’.

In terms of a research experiment, at the Science Museum the focus was on how communities can contribute towards developing museum collections. The project, coordinated by Tim Boon, Head of Research and Public History, focused on electronic music and work with musicians, fans and self-confessed synth-geeks – Jean-Phillipe Calvin, John Stanley, David Robinson, Martin Swan with researcher Richard Courtney, University of Leicester – to recommend items for the Science Museum collections. Alongside these practical recommendations, the project also came to question logics of preservation by arguing that a future for the synthesizer collections might be best secured not by keeping them away from being touched but by them being played, used and celebrated by a community of those that know and care about them.

Other projects included:
• A chance for a funder – Karen Brookfield from the Heritage Lottery Fund – to see one of their projects, The Potteries Tile Trail, up close. A collaboration which also gave time and space for The Potteries Tile Trail coordinator, Danny Callaghan, to draw out some of his principles and ways of working which has led to the project’s ‘DIY Heritage Manifesto’.
• An exploration of how a Conservation Officer, Jenny Timothy, collaborated with architects and developers in Leicester – and how the significance of a building unfolded through the relationships and conversations as the project developed.
• A project of organizational reflective practice at the Royal Commission on Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland focused on their Discovering the Clyde project – made possible by a research collaboration between researcher Rebecca Madgin, University of Glasgow, and the RCAHMS’s Alex Hale.
• An investigation of heritage decision making within a city – in York. Here Peter Brown, York Civic Trust, Lianne and Richard Brigham, York Past and Present, Paul Furness, York’s Alternative History and researcher, Helen Graham, University of Leeds, develop a series of events, history walks and interventions to both make more visible decision-making practices and to model and explore alternatives.

Key ideas
The key ideas that have emerged from the Heritage Decisions project – all ways in which to increase participation in museums and heritage – are:

• Act: Make change from where you are
• Connect: Cross boundaries and collaborate
• Reflect: See your work through other people’s eyes
• Situate: Understand your work in context

Events for the Connected Communities Festival
The project will celebrate the launch of the final project booklet – ‘How should heritage decisions be made?: Increasing participation from where you are’ – with four events tying into the Arts and Humanities Research Council’s Connected Communities Festival in June 2015. The events – in Manchester, York (20th June) and Stoke (27th June) – will all explore community-led and DIY approaches to heritage. There will also be an event – lined to the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland strand of the research – Connected with the Clyde: A Multi-Disciplinary Canoe Journey (training workshops Thu 18-Fri 19 June, event Sat 27 June, River Clyde).

To find out more about the Heritage Decisions June events:

To download the project’s final booklet and for more information see the project
Twitter: @heritageres

Or alternatively contact the project’s Principle Investigator Helen Graham, University of Leeds on

This entry was posted in Uncategorized.

© Copyright Leeds 2020