Context 169 - September 2021

12 C O N T E X T 1 6 9 : S E P T E M B E R 2 0 2 1 DAVID TITTLE The potential of community-led heritage The challenge for the Heritage Trust Network is to raise awareness of the untapped potential of its member charities, community organisations and social enterprises. Who are the custodians of the UK’s herit- age? The National Trust and English Heritage, Cadw, National Trust for Scotland or Historic Scotland? The Church of England is the custo- dian of the most listed buildings, and the Canal & River Trust comes third behind the National Trust. Some of the stately homes are still in pri- vate ownership. Many more small-scale historic sites are in everyday use as privately or publicly owned buildings and spaces. There is a another, important piece of the jig- saw, a growing segment of heritage custodians, rescuing, restoring and reusing historic buildings, structures and spaces. These are the charities, community organisations and social enterprises that form the Heritage Trust Network. A year ago I started working for network as its first chief executive. This was part of a process of renewal and transformation which has been supported by major funding from the National Lottery Heritage Fund and Historic England. What has struck me most about the network is its diversity. I am not talking about diversity in the sense of ethnicity, disability and so on. Like most of the heritage sector we still have a lot of work to do in that regard. However, the network is incredibly diverse in the range of organisations that are members, the types of historic sites they are working on, and the facilities and services that those sites provide. No longer is this simply a movement for traditional building preservation trusts (more about those later). Once the network’s members have completed the epic process of building and land restora- tion, their sites provide visitor attractions, busi- ness premises, artists’ studios, homes, shops, cafes, gardens and community facilities. The size of site restored and managed is also diverse. My original experience of community- led restoration started in the 1990s in Spon End, Coventry, where a local trust was formed to rescue a terrace of six medieval cottages. That trust is still a member of the network. At the other end of the scale, one of our members, Wentworth Woodhouse, near Rotherham, is a Grade I stately home on a scale match- ing any in the National Trust’s portfolio (see page 31). There is also a growing section of our membership which consists of ‘accidental custodians’, community organisations that are not dedicated to preserving heritage but have taken on a historic building because it suits their needs. Refugee Education UK in London, which has taken on a former bank building, and Circus Eruption in Swansea, now custodians of a former church, are typical examples. A community engagement event combining building archaeology and Minecraft (Photo: The Ridge)