How should heritage decisions be made?

Testing Emerging Ideas

Seeing the issues of heritage decision-making through each others’ eyes was crucial to the project – and we wanted to make sure we kept expanding the circle. Talking to people beyond the research project helped to sharpen our thinking and to decide where to highlight some ideas further and to drop others.

Just as we did at MadLab to open our research design to scrutiny, we also wanted to do this near the end of our research phase to test our emerging insights, which we did with Heritage Lottery Fund staff from the Corporate Strategy team and from local teams in England and Northern Ireland. We shared key ideas from the project to gauge their resonance and suggested how HLF might apply some of our thinking through five ‘provocations’ directed specifically towards the Fund.

The provocations were:

First steps: Taking decisions about heritage that’s important to you

The biggest decision anyone makes is to apply for the funding.  The amount of information available is overwhelming, and sometimes contradictory.  It looks and feels inclusive but when you drill down into the processes it actually isn’t. How might the initial step be more open?

Jenny Timothy, Conservation Team, Leicester City Council

Give people less money, create more energy and action

Catalysing an individual or group’s interest doesn’t always come from a large project. Oftentimes the sticking point is a book, access to a resource or an hour or two of an expert’s time. A fast-track micro-fund would enable small self-interest groups to grow, develop and experiment without the onus/ stress that larger amounts of funding can bring. How can HLF support the networking to enable small scale DIY activity?

Rachael Turner, MadLab

Individual activists play a critical role

During the last 20 years HLF investment has directly and indirectly encouraged, enabled and sustained an extensive community of heritage activists. These highly skilled and experienced individuals form an important part of the heritage ‘ecology’. However their role remains somewhat hidden, unrecognised and perhaps undervalued. These independent cultural entrepreneurs often work within grassroots partnerships and provide the drive and professional acumen behind high quality proposals and successful delivery. How can HLF celebrate and develop its successful work with these independent movers and shakers?

Danny Callaghan, Potteries Tile Trail

Support a democratic and thriving heritage ecology

Over the years HLF has often funded numerous projects in the same city – could the HLF enhance the connections between projects to create systemic change in local democratic decision-making? How might small scale heritage projects be linked into community-led planning and development? How can the HLF make a real difference at a ‘city’ level?

Peter Brown, York Civic Trust

A human and democratic lever: HLF as Change Agent

We believe this group has come to some conclusions about democratising, humanising and socialising decision-making in heritage as a way of smashing what John Lawson has called ‘the ceiling of mediocrity’ in heritage which belongs to many of the institutions in the sector. Our provocation is how does HLF in everything it does, through its mission and values, become a lever to enable the heritage sector work and think differently?

Mike Benson, Bede’s World and Kathy Cremin, Hive

Responses from HLF staff included:

Ben Greener Policy Advisor – Historic Environment

[My main reaction] was about the emotions and interconnections generated by heritage. And the ways that we can restrict people’s engagement by only thinking about heritage in linear ‘traditional’ ways. I think that there is a lot for us, as heritage professionals and funders alike, to take away from projects like this and to influence the existing (and future) methods of engagement that we ask applicants to think about when designing their projects.

Anna Jarvis First World War and Anniversaries Policy Adviser

It was good to have the space to talk about the politics of heritage and decision-making, and why we do what we do, in the way that we do it. The appeal from the Director of Hive at Bede’s World Kathy Cremin really stuck with me – I remember Kathy asking us to turn heritage ‘inside out’. I felt it was a very strong and valuable appeal, but that too much responsibility was given to HLF for doing this.

Fiona Talbott Head of Museums, Libraries and Archives

How rare it is to have so many working class/regional accents at an event of this type. And how encouraging it was to hear how they had to take on the ‘official’ owners of the heritage in order to get a heritage project that they were passionate about up and running. It raises a wider issue for me as to whether local authorities, when faced with difficult decisions around closures, really know sufficient about other options to maintain a service/save a building before just opting for closure or sale.

Úna Duffy, Development Manager, Heritage Lottery Fund Northern Ireland

The ‘synth geeks’ as they called themselves had so much specialist knowledge to bring to the museum but they were just an ad hoc group of enthusiasts and hobbyists and could not have been considered ‘heritage experts’. How would HLF deal with knowledgeable hobbyists when we generally want a proven track record and a safe pair of hands for heritage?

The responses from HLF staff were really welcomed by the research team. They showed where we’d successfully communicated certain ideas but also where we needed to hone our messages. It was especially exciting to see the resonance of Kathy’s idea of turning museums ‘inside out’ and Martin and John’s view that the significance of sythns lies in playing them, not just adding them to a museum collection. It was also clear that HLF staff will take thinking from the project into their work as they look for ways to support knowledgeable and committed individuals and groups, and to fund communities wanting to have a voice in local authority decision-making.

 

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