Thursday, 1 February 2007

Valuing Heritage

A number of bodies including Heritage Link, English Heritage, The National Trust, Historic Houses Association and the Heritage Lottery Fund have just published a report Valuing Our Heritage. This is a document which aims to assess the economic and social importance of the heritage sector to the Britain. Much of the content is based on last summer’s History Matters campaign which many of you may have seen.

English Heritage has suffered a significant lack of funding over the last years, whereas funding for museum galleries and libraries has increased 36%, the Arts Council by 53% and Sport England by 98%. Despite the fact that EH has many statutory responsibilities, there has been no real attempt by central government to support it, with its funding not keeping up with inflation. It will be interesting to see whether the forthcoming White Paper on heritage protection, which is now promised to appear before Easter, will impact on the roles and responsibilities of both local and central archaeological curatorial bodies.

On another related funding issue are the potential threats to archaeology of the London Olympics 2012. First, there is basic threat to the archaeology and heritage caused by the major redevelopment of large parts of the East End. Ideally, this should all be mediated through the application of PPG16, the key element of planning guidance that deals with archaeology (though a search of the Olympics 2012 website for references to archaeology brings up no results). I have heard suggestions that the large-scale archaeological work required may cause a skills shortage in other parts of the country as many field archaeologists, particularly excavators, take advantage of the many jobs potentially available. However, it remains to see whether this will actually happen.

The bigger threat posed to archaeology by the Olympics is the wider pressure on public and lottery funding. However, it is clear that already the projected spending on the project is increasing rapidly, and it is likely that there will be aCaer Alyn project, or the Community Archaeology project in York. Whilst David Lammy, the Culture Minister, referring to the undoubted success of the Portable Antiquities Scheme may think that metal detectorists are the “unsung heroes of heritage”, the real heroes are those who spend time working on such community archaeology projects.

2 comments:

Caer Alyn said...

I totally agree with your comments regarding community archaeology. The volunteers working at Caer Alyn have put in over 5,000 hrs of their own free time into developing the project. However, there is still reluctance in some quarters to accept the value that community archaeological and heritage groups, like Caer Alyn, can add to local and regional knowledge base. It is the aim of our project not only to
develop the knowledge and understanding of the past, but to manage the project in a professional manner to change this image of community archaeology( interested individuals playing at being archaeologists) held by certain sections of the archaeological fraternity.

pete said...

I totally agree with the comments of Caer Alyn regarding the value of volunteers in archaeology. If it were not for the enthusiastic amateur in archaeology then this pursuit would be as dead and buried as the stuff we study! Many 'professional' archaeologists need to radically rethink their views on the amateur archaeologist if they are going to be able to pursue their career.