2009 Yearbook

38 Y e a r b o o k 2 0 0 9 BUILDING · CONSERVATION INSTITUTE · OF · HISTORIC · Heritage Initiatives Nathan Blanchard is the Director f Heritage Initiatives and the company’s HESPR Designated Service AdvisOr. His company provides specialist historic environment services across the United Kingdom, primarily in the public sector. Here he discusses the importance of public engagement and involvement in the conservation of the historic environment. There is an increasing regulatory requirement for a sound evidence-base to underpin planning policy formulation in the complex and diverse context of historic environment conservation. Whether the object is a declining market town or an individual building at risk, Heritage Initiatives’ role is to work with the local authority to understand the issues and to formulate sustainable solutions. The historic environment plays an important role in our culture and everyday lives, but to remain relevant it must also play its part and actively contribute. While we can explain how historic buildings or areas emerged, function and can be managed for future generations, we also often need to demonstrate an awareness of a wider economic, social, cultural or political background. Understanding those contexts is crucial to achieving our objectives successfully. An essential element of securing historic places for future generations is to ensure current generations understand, value, enjoy and care for the buildings or areas that provide the backdrop to their everyday lives. This ‘heritage cycle’ of understanding, valuing, enjoying and caring provides a useful means to place our work into a wider context. Communities vary considerably in the degree to which they understand, and consequently value and care for their local historic environment. In working with communities it is crucial to gauge the existing level of local interaction with the heritage in order to ensure an event can be pitched at the most appropriate level, thereby optimising the opportunity presented through a community involvement exercise, rather than merely ‘ticking the box’. Involving communities is key to securing long term buy-in to the conservation management approach and stewardship that government guidance encourages. Heritage Initiatives recently undertook work for Flintshire County Council that involved planning and executing eight community engagement exercises and two traditional skills days as part of a conservation area management plan programme. It was clear at these events that there was a thirst for knowledge and a love of local distinctiveness among the participants. A desire for partnership and for greater understanding of how to influence decision makers and planning policy formulation were also common themes. There is little point in setting out management proposals if the very community themselves do not feel a sense of custodianship. As the resources available to local authority conservation services diminish, the eyes and ears of the community may well become increasingly important in securing historic places in partnership with councils. This may already happen informally or irregularly through such bodies as conservation area committees but, in the future, communities may have to take a more proactive role in managing historic places. Where the historic environment is concerned a perception exists that aspirations cannot really be fulfilled unless there is both a well planned and resourced event and a longer term strategy for ongoing community involvement. The reality of deploying often limited resources means that a long term strategy is not possible, discouraging engagement on any level. However, secure meaningful community involvement can be achieved without unnecessarily The local community of Caerwys, Flintshire, viewing exhibition boards prepared as part of a community engagement exercise. (All photos: Nathan Blanchard)