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The Coronation’s unique appeal will allow us to show how heritage is a force for good

3 min read

The Coronation, with its spectacular pageantry and its lineage stretching back over hundreds of years, will demonstrate once again the extraordinary resonance and interest which the British monarchy can command across the world.

Its unique appeal can be attributed to a number of factors, not least the respect and affection felt for the late Queen and admiration for His Majesty the King and his family. A vital component, however, is the glorious historic fabric of Britain’s built and natural landscape, with the great heritage landmarks in central London, from Buckingham Palace to Westminster Abbey, providing a commanding and compelling backdrop for the ceremony.

Despite this great vindication of the soft power of both monarchy and heritage, there continues to be a refusal in some quarters to accept that Britain’s heritage is one of its most valuable assets. Over the last 25 years, the word “heritage” has been shunned within the nomenclature of government – discarded because it was felt to represent a luddite throwback to a world of aesthete reactionaries who romanticise the past. The name of the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, however wonderful its Ministers and staff may be, receives only marginal recognition on the streets of Britain. Ask a random sample of 1000 people to rank what matters to them locally in order of priority between “heritage”, “culture”, “sport “and “media” and the answers, evidenced from recent opinion surveys, will show heritage in a commanding lead.

Fortunately, in this Coronation year, the heritage cause is increasingly appreciated. DCMS has a Minister with “Heritage” on his calling card. Culture and Heritage Capital is being developed to match the status of Natural Capital as an essential framework for the measurement of socio-economic wellbeing. The quality of people’s lives is recognised as an important component in the quantification of benefits, providing a more comprehensive assessment of impact than pure economics alone. This includes mental health, clean air, community cohesion and happiness – all benefits that can be realised from living and working in beautiful places with roots in history and unique architectural features. It is a fallacy that heritage only involves tourist attractions. Most planners now accept that successful “place making” through regeneration and restoration involves the entire historic landscape, including places of worship, archaeological remains and a multitude of local histories.

A leading thinktank, Onward UK, reported (in February 2023): ”Heritage is an underappreciated foundation of levelling up”. It cited research from Public First demonstrating the significant contribution of heritage to a local sense of pride in place and belonging. This, in turn, is a significant and dynamic catalyst for successful regeneration of left-behind places. Simple measures, such as restoring original high street shop fronts, removing garish signage, engaging schoolchildren in researching local historic events and showcasing local culture, can release a virtuous spiral of revival, with places becoming “magnets” where people want to live, work and invest. Historic England’s High Streets Heritage Action Zones, which have been established across the country in partnership with local authorities, community groups and local businesses, are good practical exemplars of this regeneration in action.

Heritage is a force for good - a focus for action in repairing left-behind places, a brake (through intelligent retrofitting instead of building demolition) to damaging carbon emissions and a source of pride and unity for a great nation. God save the King and long may this inspiring heritage renaissance continue!

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