Why is this research needed?

Contemporary communities’ engagement with the historic environment has become increasingly prominent in recent decades as a key component in heritage management. The significance of historic places to contemporary communities, including social value, is reflected in international conservation instruments, as well as domestic heritage frameworks in Scotland and the UK. Considering contemporary values as part of conservation and management processes implies a far greater degree of community participation in assessing the value and maintaining the significance of places. While heritage policies sound positive, there are recognised challenges when it comes to translating these ambitions into day-to-day heritage management and conservation practice (see e.g. Jones 2017 under Readings).

The National Trust for Scotland has a long tradition of writing statements of significance to underpin the management of its properties, following best practice and international guidelines. Focusing on the main headings of cultural heritage, natural heritage, visitors, and social and economic, a range of heritage values have been considered to inform and shape the statements. In the main, these evaluations have been produced internally, informed by internal expertise and views. Only in exceptional cases (properties where communities are living on the land, or St Kilda due to its World Heritage designation for example) have external actors and communities been asked to help the charity explore the significance of the properties it cares for, protects and shares. This use of internal resources was strategic in the face of resource constraints allowing the Trust to produce statements for over 90% of properties, many of which have also been re-evaluated and updated over a number of decades. However, in recent years the Trust has become more aware that it can much better understand the full significance of a property by asking and exploring the views of those outwith the organisation.

Expected Impact

Understanding social value and applying it as part of significance assessments will help the Trust to meet its goals. Specifically, we envisage that the project will contribute to advancing the following strategic objectives (contained in the Trust’s ten-year strategy):

  • Enrich Scotland’s protected heritage to make it relevant to more people, either directly through ownership or working in partnership with communities and others (conservation). Understanding the social values associated with Trust properties and taking them into account in conservation decision-making will enhance their relevance to contemporary communities and support community partnership working.
  • Enable a greater number and diversity of people and communities to access Trust properties to improve their health and wellbeing (engagement). Social values are often integral to engagement. Understanding the social values of Trust properties can help to overcome barriers and develop more diverse stakeholders, audiences, and forms of engagement.
  • Be a growing diverse organisation, with over half a million members, 6 million annual visitors and a workforce that’s representative of modern Scotland (sustainability). By virtue of advancing the previous two objectives, building broader understandings of the social values of heritage places into the Trust’s operational management and strategic development should help in ‘growing a diverse organisation.
  • Have invested in its people – the volunteers and staff who care for Trust properties – and equipped them with the systems and skills they need. A core aspect of the proposed project is to support increased understanding and develop capacity and skills within the organisation.

The project also has the potential for significant impact more widely, on both academic understanding and professional practice. Whilst the research context is a national one, similar challenges of understanding and working with social values are faced by heritage management organisations elsewhere in the world. As such the findings will be of international interest and have the scope to be applied and scaled up to other areas.

The University of Stirling is committed to making the outputs of research publicly accessible and supports this commitment through our online open access repository (STORRE). It is our intention to publish the findings from this research in both academic and professional journals. It is possible that there may also be other publications, such as book chapters, and the findings may be reported in general public media. The research will also be presented at relevant conferences and workshops.

Featured Image: University and Trust staff on a joint visit to Bannockburn. Photo credit: Siân Jones

Theme by the University of Stirling

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