Image credit: David Gill
A cross-disciplinary team led by researchers at the University of Kent has highlighted the significant challenges facing the heritage sector in the region, and identified the vital steps needed to protect it.
The research, led by Professor David Gill from the Centre for Heritage, in collaboration with the universities of East Anglia and Essex and the Royal Society of Arts (RSA), was funded by the Eastern Arc consortium. It shows that while protecting heritage is vital to a region’s economy and the Government’s Levelling Up agenda, it is increasingly under threat.
As well as being part of a regions cultural identity and providing social benefits, data from Historic England indicated that the sector accounted for 140,000 jobs in the southeast and eastern England in 2019. However, the industry faces a triple threat to its future. As well as a squeeze on local authority budgets and the cost-of-living crisis meaning less disposable income for families, the climate emergency threatens the extensive coastline in the Eastern Arc Region.
Honorary Professor David Gill said: “Protecting our past is vital to our future. As well as financial and social benefits, heritage is key to our culture and identity and this report is the first step in understanding and neutralising the threats it faces. Heritage is our inheritance that we must preserve for our future generations. It provides the backdrop for our communities from medieval cities and towns to Victorian infrastructure that shaped our landscape. This report contributes to the understanding of how the wide range of heritage assets contribute to our region, and it helps us to plan for its future protection.”
As well as identifying the threats to the sector, the report provides insight on how to protect its future. These proposals range from developing regional digital heritage strategies to rebuilding audiences in the wake of the pandemic and encouraging public participation with Heritage.
The report will form the basis of a day-long conference that will bring together charities, community bodies, researchers, funders and policy-makers to identify the next positive steps in addressing the issues facing the heritage sector in the EARC region as well as nationally.
Phil Ward, Director of Eastern Arc, said: “The east and southeast of England are home to some of our most important national heritage, from Canterbury Cathedral to Norwich Castle, from the Saxon Shore to Sutton Hoo. It helps us to understand our past and tell our national story. If we lose it then we lose an element of our identity. It must be protected. This project is a crucial step towards doing this. It has helped to audit our assets and identify the significant challenges they face. But it also offers positive ways of ensuring their survival so that future generations will benefit from them. These include rebuilding audiences and embedding heritage in regional and national policy.”
Original press release can be found on the University’s News Centre: https://www.kent.ac.uk/news/culture/32181/research-highlights-the-need-to-protect-kents-past-for-a-brighter-future