How should heritage decisions be made?


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

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Connected Communities Festival Events June 2015

Then and Now image of Little Blake Street, removed to create Duncombe Place and a clear view of the Minister. Image created by Richard and Lianne Brigham, York Past and Present.

Then and Now image of Little Blake Street, removed to create Duncombe Place and a clear view of the Minister. Image created by Richard and Lianne Brigham, York Past and Present.


The Heritage Decisions team are running three events for the Connected Communities Festival – all sharing more widely our DIY approaches or community-led approaches to heritage.

Heritage Hit Squad! The role of people power and community expertise in protecting heritage assets

Saturday 20th June, 11am (for 11:30 start) – 5pm

MadLab (Manchester Digital Laboratory), 36-40 Edge Street, Northern Quarter

MadLab plays host to high-profile campaigning groups, including “Friends of London Road Fire Station” – once dubbed “the finest fire station in the round world.”

We’ll be hearing about DIY activism, how it links to official decision-making processes, and what happens when things don’t go to plan.

There’ll also be a practical session from local DSLR film-makers, Bokeh Yeah!, on how to use techniques old (photography) and new (drones) to protect and monitor heritage assets at risk.

@madlabuk / #heritagehitsquad / #HeritageDecisions


What has heritage ever done for us? (…and what would we like heritage to do for York?): Community visions for the future of York’s heritage

20th June 2015, 1.30 – 4.30pm

Friargate Meeting House, York

We invite anyone interested in York’s future to join us to explore what ‘heritage’ might have to do with it.

York is a city known for its heritage.

York also faces certain challenges: for example housing, wages and making the city centre an affordable and easy place to spend time during the day and at night.

How can we think about York’s heritage in ways which help us address these challenges?

How might York’s heritage become a resource that helps us live well together?

We’ll hear from lots of different people about their visions for the future of York’s heritage.

We’ll also work together to make plans. What do you know about York’s history – or the challenges the city faces today – and how can you contribute?

To book a free ticket #HeritageDecisions


Ceramic City Stories – DIY Heritage Action

Saturday 27th June, 10:00am – 4:00pm (Doors open 9:00am – 5:00pm)

‘The Canteen’ (Basement), The Minton Library, London Road, Stoke-on-Trent ST4 7QE

Are you passionate about The Potteries? Are you interested in your city and its unique history? Join us for an exciting community-led celebration of Stoke-on-Trent’s heritage with other people that also care about it.

The newly launched DIY Heritage Manifesto* is the inspiration behind this event. The Minton Public Free Library and its unique basement space provide a very special focus and backdrop for activities.

Come and meet enthusiasts who take action and make positive local change happen in lots of different ways. Help begin to document and conserve hundreds of early transfer print Minton tiles designed by John Moyr Smith dating back to the late 1800s. Contribute to a temporary exhibition or people’s museum of tiles and ceramics taking place on the day. Share and help us to capture your personal stories about the city and its industries as part of a people’s collection – an ongoing digital archive initiative.

Ceramic City Stories is focussed on local, national and international shared stories relating to Stoke-on-Trent or ‘The Potteries’ as it is widely known.

[Note: This ‘pop up’ event space is located in the basement of an historical building and is accessed via a dedicated entrance at the front of the building. Unfortunately, six steps currently limit access to The Canteen. If this means you may need support – please don’t hesitate to contact us and we will work with you to try and find an acceptable solution to ensure you can join us for this event. Please contact Danny Callaghan 07999 350176] / @potteriestiles (Ceramic City Stories) / #HeritageDecisions


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