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How heritage can play it's part

This is how heritage can play a part in building more resilient and inclusive communities


The correlation between a place having a weaker sense of history and heritage and less confidence in adapting to change is an important insight from this research. That this can result in exclusionary local identities and latent prejudice towards non-white British communities must also be more widely recognised.

Both Covid-19 and the Black Lives Matter movement have demonstrated the entrenched inequalities within and between places. With higher Covid fatality rates and police violence experienced by people of colour, problematic historic monuments have proved flashpoints for protests. It is a recognition that our history shapes the present, which means that it can also be used to shape the future.

The RSA’s Heritage for Inclusive Growth research explores the dynamics between local heritage, place identity and numerous social, economic and environmental outcomes. [1] A more holistic approach to heritage and local economic development can deliver the changes needed by local people and places.

But what ‘counts’ as heritage? Which heritages and histories are valued? Whose voices are heard?

That a narrow subset of heritage assets, such as cathedrals and medieval built environments, carry the highest status, esteem and confidence challenges us to question ingrained biases.

Cathedrals and medieval market squares are important and loved parts of our heritage. But not all places can, or should, have them. But we can broaden what we value and celebrate as heritage.

The RSA’s Heritage Index maps the heritage assets and activities in each UK local authority area, spanning: the historic built environment; museums, archives and artefacts; industrial heritage; parks and open spaces; landscape and natural heritage; and cultures and memories.[2]

It is intended to show how heritage is universal: all people and all places have heritage. But what heritage data exists, and what doesn’t, is often shaped by historical precedents which have foregrounded the stories and preferences of elites.

From the outstanding natural landscapes of Barrow-in-Furness and the origins of the New Town movement, to the stories of Windrush Generation NHS workers and the Dagenham women that fought for equal pay in their factories, there are diverse, under-recognised heritages in places of all kinds across the country.

Those with less traditionally valued forms of heritage have the most to gain from celebrating it as part of that place’s story. This is how heritage can play a part in building more resilient and inclusive communities and place-based identities into the future.

[1] https://www.thersa.org/discover/publications-and-articles/reports/heritage-inclusive-growth [2] https://www.thersa.org/action-and-research/rsa-projects/public-services-and-communities-folder/heritage-and-place/index

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