Reflections on the introductory workshop

Dr Gill Chitty’s reflections on the introductory colloquium workshop on Friday 28 February 2014

Our research at York focuses on how capacity building and participation in conservation and traditional craft practice can create social value. As conservation practice shifts from a focus on the preservation of heritage and cultural material to the value of the process for society, we have begun to examine how being engaged in that process creates and enhances values and benefits.

This reflection on last week’s Engaging Conservation workshop draws on possibilities and insights shared between the collaborating partners.

In the workshop discussion and feedback these are some of the issues that emerged.

  • multiple pathways to engagement in conservation – as many potential roles in participation as there are people, from the micro-project to the continuity of a regular routine task to creative challenges
  • capacity building is as much about the social and economic outcomes as the ‘heritage’ ones
  • should ‘place’ continue to have primacy as the site of engagement for heritage conservation – or might need or social action be as relevant?
  • not setting the agenda, non-striving: accepting of the pathways that communities choose to follow and working with them
  • volunteering as therapy – well-being benefits of active participation are known about but not understood
  • tendency to overestimate what you can achieve: realism and the need to share knowledge and experience
  • conservation as the management of continuity and socially cohesive heritage practice (rather than the management of change)
  • notions and definitions of community are problematic – self-defined, exclusive and potentially self-serving? Or empowering, locally legitimate, and altruistic?
  • expertise is valued as much as the expert – can we renegotiate expert roles as a commodity rather than authority, facilitator rather than fixer?
  • ‘we could break out of the profession roles we’ve put ourselves into’

The workshop participants were from:

Churches Conservation Trust
Council for British Archaeology
Department of Archaeology, University of York
English Heritage
Heritage Craft Association
Heritage Lincolnshire
Heritage Lottery Fund
Industrial Heritage Support project, Ironbridge Gorge Museum
Landmark Trust
Ryedale Folk Museum
Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings
Weald & Downland Open Air Museum
York Consortium for Conservation and Craftsmanship

With thanks to Professor Jukka Jokilehto, ICCROM, and Associate Professor Paul Kapp, University of Illinois School of Architecture, for taking part.

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