Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport Written Evidence

Supplementary memorandum submitted by The Civic Trust


  Established in 1957, the Civic Trust (CT) is the leading UK charity dedicated to bringing vitality, sustainability and high quality design to the built environment, to promoting thriving towns and villages and developing dynamic partnerships between communities, government and business to deliver regeneration and local improvement. It is also the umbrella body for 850 Civic Societies across the country, representing over 250,000 individuals committed to improving and caring for places where people live and work.


  2.1  Since 1994, the Civic Trust has been running Heritage Open Days which forms part of the European Heritage Days. Organised by some 26,000 volunteers for local people, Heritage Open Days (HODs) is England's biggest and most popular voluntary cultural event, attracting over 800,000 people every year. The Civic Trust gives central co-ordination and a national voice to the event, which is made possible by funding and support from English Heritage.

  2.2  HODs raises awareness and appreciation of the built environment and stimulates curiosity and learning in people of all ages, abilities and backgrounds by offering free access to a wide range of properties and activities. By engaging volunteers from all walks of life, the programme empowers local communities and fosters civic pride. Visitor feedback forms and organiser questionnaires returned after the event provide vivid proof that taking part in HODs does make a difference.

  2.3  The study "Developing New Audiences for the Heritage" (HLF, 2001) identified the following groups as traditionally missing audiences (as visitors & volunteers) in the cultural heritage sector: Young people under 30, black or minority ethnic groups, C2DE socio-economic groups, people without access to transport facilities and disabled people. Certain user perceptions, a lack of information and awareness, poor physical access to and at the resource, and admission costs were identified as barriers to participation.

  2.4  HODs contributes to breaking down these social, economic and physical barriers to heritage by providing access to otherwise private or admission-charging properties in all major cities and towns, many villages and neighbourhoods in England completely free of charge. All buildings (many of which outside the traditional heritage range) are registered by local people for their interest and relevance to the local community. Working in partnership with English Heritage's Outreach team and drawing on the support of a HLF-funded education programme, HODs effectively widens access to cultural activities.

  2.5  HODs contributed to achieving the Government's PSA 2 target of attracting 100,000 new visitors to the historic environment by 2005-06. A MORI survey conducted at a range of venues over the four-day event in 2004, showed that around 36,000 HODs visitors belonged to the targeted priority groups (ie 20+ year old, ethnic minority and/or C2DE). The 2005 visitor study showed that 26% of HODs visitors belonged to C2DE socio-economic group and 10% were "new heritage visitors", ie first-time visitors coming from social priority groups. The Civic Trust is committed to contributing to the Government's future cultural participation targets.

  2.6  Since 2002, the number of events participating in Heritage Open Days has risen by 50% and the number of local organisers by 38. The HODs programme comprises a breathtaking variety of buildings and activities that celebrate local distinctiveness and cultural diversity. Recognising that HODs is an excellent way for people of different backgrounds to explore the architecture, traditions and stories that make up their cultural identity, the EH Outreach team has been helping to engage more socially and ethnically diverse community groups over the last two years. Last year's event saw 10 synagogues, nine mosques plus a Muslim burial ground, four Sikh temples, three Buddhist temples, three Hindu temples, two multi-faith trails, two multi-faith centres and a multi-cultural festival.

  2.7  Interpretation of the participating buildings and places and making this as accessible as possible both intellectually and physically are key to HODs. Through regular guidance in newsletters, a high-quality Organiser's Handbook and a series of workshops, local participants learn how to appeal to and reach diverse audiences and how to enhance the overall visitor and learning experience.

  2.8  In conclusion, the overwhelmingly positive feedback and the ever-growing popularity of HODs with both visitors and volunteers prove that our architectural and cultural heritage does matter to people of all ages and backgrounds and that it is recognised as an important asset in the community. HODs as a predominantly volunteer-led initiative not only promotes the accessibility and appreciation of heritage, it also furthers social cohesion and civic pride within communities and neighbourhoods.

19 January 2006

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Prepared 19 April 2006