CONSULTATION ON THE MAYOR’S PRIORITIES FOR CULTURE 2009-12 Heritage Link brings together 86 voluntary organisations concerned with heritage in England representing interests from specialist advisers, practitioners and managers, volunteers and owners, to national funding bodies and local building preservation trusts. Much of the historic environment is cared for - supported, managed or owned - by these organisations. Heritage Link champions the place of heritage in the wider cultural agenda and the role of the voluntary heritage organisations in the Third Sector.
We welcome the Mayor’s initiative in presenting a regional cultural strategy for consultation. In the current economic climate it is even more important to demonstrate the value of culture to society in social as well as economic terms.
The role of the capital’s heritage sites in the cultural pre-eminence of London is commended in the first paragraph and we welcomed the early recognition of the part heritage plays in creating the identity of London for residents and visitors alike.
However the rest of the document gives mixed messages on the place of heritage within London’s cultural provision. Listed last after cultural promotion and tourism ‘Heritage (including buildings and other structures of historical or architectural interest)’ appears to be a means to an end rather having an intrinsic aesthetic significance. The architectural quality of our buildings and streetscapes has a cultural value just as much as visual and performing arts and the objects in our museums and galleries.
Uniquely for a cultural asset, as well as their intrinsic value, the historic environment also has an added value, providing the envelope or venue for so many of our cultural events, activities and services. This goes much wider than the historic West End theatres or events in Trafalgar Square to the dramatic reuse of a gigantic power station which has undoubtedly contributed to the success of Tate Modern and to the annual MOBO Awards (Music of Black Origin) held in the Royal Albert Hall or the concerts held in Kenwood Park.
Buildings and places are also a very democratic resource. Monuments and buildings tell the story of London, from the pre-Romans to the Fire of London to the Blitz to Canary Wharf. It is the street outside the school or home, the estate where you live, the
shopping centres. It is there and readily accessible, on our doorstep and part of the real, everyday experience. Earlier this month, English Heritage and CABE launched the Engaging Places website which aims to make more readily available the historic and built environment as a resource for schools. But there is much more that could be done through the voluntary sector and community groups wanting to engage in sharing learning about the places where we live and taking some ownership of them.
Historic environments from Hampstead Garden Suburb to Bermondsey are part of the fabric of society. They make places distinctive and attractive to investors and as places to live, work and spend leisure time. Because of this enormous potential, Heritage Link has devised and developed Discovering Places now recognised by LOCOG as a major Cultural Olympiad Project. Within this, the Access All Areas strand builds on the tradition of Open House in London, and on Heritage Open Days/Doors Open around the country to open up both the historic and the new, making hidden architectural treasures accessible, uncovering the buildings that express Britain’s diverse culture, and creating new audiences for heritage and architecture. So, in 2011 we will see the largest ever coordinated opening of Britain’s buildings, archaeological sites and other heritage locations. We also aim to provide a compelling backdrop for the London 2012 domestic Torch Relay.
Above all, in London, places mean people. Historic environments engender local pride and enjoy tremendous public support. There are hundreds of local groups across London - local history groups, civic societies, archaeological groups, 'Friends' organisations for places of worship, local historic attractions and museums, and residents’ groups. Not only do they maintain and enhance the cherished local scene but they actively tell their stories. Their contribution should have been noted under grass roots culture like the arts and music groups both for their achievements and for the social glue that such collaboration creates
Our heritage is valuable but vulnerable. Securing these benefits now and in the future demands action and investment: 1. We welcome the intention to use the Story of London to bring together the heritage and cultural sector in a city wide celebration of London’s past present and future. This is a tremendous opportunity to promote the historic and contemporary environment as a cultural resource. We look hearing further details of the June event including the resources to fund it.
2. Cultural Metropolis talks of preserving the unique character of London by protecting historic sites, working with partners to ensure cultural factors are integrated into plans for major urban developments and working with planning partners to secure a vibrant cultural offer. What is missing is supporting the London Boroughs so that their historic environment and other cultural services can carry out their responsibilities in protecting and enhancing the physical cultural assets of the capital city. We believe that the loss of a Heritage Protection Bill will be most keenly felt by Local Authorities now facing cuts in funding and increasing demand on services.
3. In 2012, London will be in the public eye. Leadership by the Mayor now, to promote public interest in the historic environment and to support local authority capacity to protect and enhance our historic buildings, will make a backdrop to the Games that we can be proud of.
4. In the current economic climate, the pressure for development has eased but this leaves historic buildings at risk in other areas. These buildings, often the most prominent in the neighbourhood, can be restored by building preservation trusts (BPTs) and /or community groups for community services that are badly needed. Re-use and refurbishment rather than development may be much more sustainable way of meeting the needs of London. A public stance by the Mayor on the success that these small voluntary groups can achieve would help attract much needed resources.
5. Support by the Mayor for voluntary heritage organisations in central London and the outer Boroughs, in particular through the Story of London event, would help these voluntary organisations share the stories behind the distinctive identities of their neighbourhoods with their own local communities as well as visitors.
6. We welcome the development of the Cultural Strategy Group, refreshing the former London Cultural Consortium. We hope that this new body, bringing partners together and acting as a powerful advocate for arts, sport and heritage in the capital, will act as a beacon to other English regions.
7. Looking at the Group’s current membership however, we do not see how the voluntary sector, indispensable as it is to London’s vibrant cultural scene, is being brought into strategic planning. We consider the new body would be even more effective if strengthened by representatives from the voluntary cultural sectors including heritage.