N8 Heritage North Workshop Report

PDF version of this reportKaja Marczewska reports on the N8 Heritage North workshop. This was the first in a series of AHRC-funded events that aims to identify ways in which academics, practitioners in the arts and humanities and local authorities can collaborate to stimulate reinvention and influence economic growth across the North. 

A PDF version of this report, which includes images, links and appendices, is also available for download.

On 9th July 2013 Durham University was host to N8 Heritage North- the first in the series of AHRC/N8 workshops organised as part of the ‘New Thinking from the North’ project. The initiative aims to identify the ways in which academics and practitioners in arts and humanities can collaborate with local authorities and communities to help drive economic growth in the North.

The day opened with Ian Lyne from the AHRC discussing AHRC’s engagement in heritage projects, the place of heritage in the AHRC strategy, as well as support available via the Research Council for community heritage and cultural engagement. Examples brought up by Lyne included the Joint Programme Initiative as an example of international perspective on heritage as well as AHRC’s Care for the Future theme and the pilot scheme of the Cultural Engagement Fund to support local engagement
and partnerships.

The opening session was followed by a provocation by David Petts raising questions about how decisions about heritage should be made, a group discussion and a series of plenary presentations showcasing a range of projects run by or in cooperation with cultural and heritage institutions. The range of initiatives discussed spanned projects focusing on tangible as well as intangible heritage, engagements with architecture, archives, performance and music, long-term high-budget initiatives as well as smaller, local engagements, but key themes and concerns kept re-emerging during the day.

Questions of how we define heritage (Petts) and whom heritage is for (Helen Graham) brought forward issues of defining groups typically accounted for as a ‘community’ in the context of heritage initiatives- whose heritage do we talk about when we talk about heritage?- was a question that dominated a number of presentations during the day. Problematising the issue further and addressing questions of ownership, Vicky Crewe opened the afternoon session raising the notion of ethics of using a particular community’s heritage as a source of entertainment. As Crewe pointed out, on the example of All Sorts of Wickedness project run in Sheffield, violence, sex and crime make for great stories. But do people whose communities and whose histories are represented through these aspects of their past want them to be used as a representation of their heritage, for others to be entertained by? A related issue has been addressed by Neil Jackson discussing heritage concerns that arise when dealing with building design and the importance of community involvement in planning applications. Issues raised by both Crewe and Jackson reverberated clearly in Helen Graham’s talk as well, stressing the importance of balancing the relationship between life and (heritage) research.

Issues of cultural ownership and even legality were also key to Simon Popple’s presentation on the Miners’ Strike. This project drew on both the enormous BBC archive of broadcast and unbroadcast material and on oral history: thus making intangible heritage tangible through preventing the disappearance of testimony. Issues here of representation and memory are deeply contested and are also closely intertwined with the heritage of a community: the production of the resource Strike Stories
enables a continuing engagement. The difference between tangible and intangible heritage was also made to seem more permeable in Fay Hield’s presentation on the Transmission of Musical Heritage. Music is understood differently as heritage by such bodies as the Heritage Lottery Fund and UNESCO; the performance of traditional music is a means of safeguarding its heritage in the future. The research model is one of co-production of research through such projects as Soundpost, Babelsongs and Arts on the Run.

What transpired, than, was the need to recognise the diversity of communities and interest groups engaged in heritage projects. The notion has proven a prevailing concern during the workshop and was identified as a key factor in decision-making processes governing heritage-oriented initiatives. David Petts raised questions about the possible ways of balancing the range of interests and needs of those engaged in heritage projects, while Helen Graham stressed the role of elected officials in the
decision making, alongside professionals, academics and local communities. The issues of catering for the needs of different interest groups were also apparent in Seif Al-Rashidi’s talk about managing UNESCO World Heritage site in Durham, where questions of reconciling the needs of a religious site (Cathedral), university premises (Castle) with their role as heritage site and a tourist attraction were raised as a challenge, and one that significantly impacts the way decisions about heritage are being made.

The levels of any community’s engagement and its interest in active participation in heritage projects were raised during group discussions. The nature of local community engagement at Durham Cathedral could be considered as an example. The site, as Al-Rashidi pointed out, is deeply embedded in the local community and as a result issues of community engagement is not so much a key challenge, but the nature of the engagement of local residents with the site is significantly different to that of the tourists. Durham residents’ engagement may be different from that of someone interested in a broad range of heritage aspects of the site. Hence, how do the dynamics of engagement and decision making change when we work with different groups, what changes when we work with individuals or communities of practice rather than local communities? And, as David Petts asked, what skills do we need to successfully engage with different groups?

Group discussions raised the question of what counts as a decision about heritage, and different kinds of heritage-related decisions have been identified, driven by legal, political and economic factors, all carrying wide ranging consequences to local and national community and identity building. Petts also observed that different decisions are often made about different types of heritage. Also addressing the issue, Al-Rashidi brought up the question of economic concerns in the context of the Durham Cathedral, stressing how these inevitably govern how heritage is managed (the example of the redevelopment of Cathedral gift shop is a case in point).

When addressing questions of decision making in heritage, Graham proposed a concept of mapping and modelling heritage as a messy system to be used as a framework, one oriented towards recognising heritage as an abstract system of criteria, within which decisions can be made, and justified, through application of a range of different models (those proposed by Graham include what she referred to as ‘from within’, ‘experimental’ and ‘interrogating’ strands).

Sustainability and funding issues have been identified as another key factor influencing the way heritage projects are shaped and run. But what happens when the project ends? What influence does closing down of a project might have on all involved? What might it mean to academics, institutions, local communities?

Kimberley Marwood and Bob Johnson identified research as a method of creating sustainable heritage. In their talk on Action Heritage, Marwood and Johnson discussed practices of researching that are transformative, ones that form and transform individuals and communities- an approach that stresses action rather than outcomes of a research process, focuses on the importance of a reflective practice and the need of understanding the practice from within. With the Roundabout project as one of their case studies, Marwood and Johnson put forward a research model that actively created a community instead of simply offering an insight into a community. Research also formed an important part of the sustainability model for heritage brought forward by Vicky Crewe, who suggested keeping social enterprise as a business and a creative and research venture at the same time.

Online presence, e.g. blogs were suggested as a great, cost-effective way of keeping the project going and ensuring greater and sustained outreach and information dissemination but issues with finding authors happy to contribute has been brought forward as a potential challenge (Petts). Social media also emerged as an important tool in the context of discussions about impact and heritage.

How to create lasting impact and how to ensure impact beyond the project were two concerns that formed the basis of numerous discussions during the day. Graham stressed that impact is not just something that happens after the project while David Petts pointed out that recognising that not everyone who engages in heritage has REF and impact at heart as a core interest is crucial! Differences between what impact means for academics and practitioners also emerged, with Moira Lindsay discussing impact from practitioners’ perspectives on the example of Liverpool Victoria Gallery. Questions of impact and collaborative research were addressed, with Lindsay talking about issues that might arise in the context but also stressing potential benefits of, for example, working with PhD students holding AHRC Collaborative Doctoral Awards. Issues of possibilities and tools for measuring impact and ways impact is manifested were also raised. Lindsay referred to visitor feedback and statistics on numbers of returning visitors as potential means of measuring impact in a gallery context.

The day closed with Keith Bartlett discussing The Lindisfarne Gospels exhibition in Durham. Bartlett addressed a range important concerns that have to be considered when implementing a project of that scale, among them: publicity, ticketing, transport and space management, presence within the city, on the local as well as national level, community engagement and lifelong learning programmes. With 100,000 visitors, issues of security, multiple stakeholders and the need to balance with customer care and visitor interests were addressed as key and, as Bartlett explained, it was essential to commit to a large amount of capacity testing before the exhibit could be launched.

As the biggest partnership in Durham of its kind so far the exhibition has posed multiple challenges but also forms an important model for future projects and serves as a key
initiative to build upon. As such, questions of lasting impact and sustainability are crucial in the case of the project itself. Bartlett raised questions about the legacy of the Gospels in Durham and discussed plans that are currently in place for writing a ‘Gospels Book’, a manual of good practice that would make implementing similar projects possible and much easier as well, stressing the importance of similar knowledge transfer initiatives for sustainability. Further planned collaborative projects include ‘Rebellious North’, around the anniversary of Magna Carta in 2015.

A PDF version of this report, which includes additional images, links and appendices, is available for download.

The second N8/AHRC workshop in the New Thinking from the North series – Digital North – is scheduled to take place in Sheffield in the 19th September 2013.

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