Context 158 - March 2019

34 C O N T E X T 1 5 8 : M A R C H 2 0 1 9 DAWN McDOWELL Engaging communities in our Highlands and Islands Regardless of where they are in Scotland, placing communities at the heart of its work is an ever-increasing focus for the designations team at Historic Environment Scotland. Finding ways to place communities at the heart of the work of Historic Environment Scotland’s (HES) designations team can be challenging when they are in more remote areas. But it is a hugely important part of our wider aim to involve people more in our decisions. Living in a remote part of Scotland is a reality for one in five of our population. The Scottish Government classifies over 98 per cent of our landmass as ‘remote rural’. For our designations work, whether we are looking at new sites for listing or scheduling, or reviewing existing des- ignated sites, this can often mean working in sparsely populated areas. Travel time and costs need to be factored in, and it can be necessary to travel by air or sea, as well as by more usual methods. The health and safety of our staff is an important consideration and we carry out risk assessments in advance of working out of the office. Staff need to be prepared for disruption to their travel plans as Scotland’s weather can often affect ferry and plane travel to and from our remotest islands. Winter working in remote areas needs to be undertaken carefully and with suitable preparations. The safety of our staff is paramount. Involving people and communities more in our thinking and decision-making is fundamental to our future. Owners and occupiers and local authorities have been consulted on designations for many years, but we now want to involve people and communities more closely in our work and at an earlier stage, before designation takes place. Since 2015 we have published all of our decisions online. While this has gone a long way to give people interested in their historic environment access to the reasons behind designation, it does not give people the opportunity to take part at an earlier stage. This year will see us opening up proposals for new designations to public comment before a decision is taken. While online services are a critical part of our work and to improving accessibility to what we do, where we have the resources to do so, face-to-face communication remains a hugely rewarding and useful way to work with people and communities. Speaking to the community Local knowledge is invaluable when assessing sites and places for designation.This is especially important for vernacular buildings when there are not necessarily ‘traditional’ research sources Survey work in South Uist, 2017 (Photo: Historic Environment Scotland)