On 9th December the Heritage Team once again staged a successful Christmas at the castle event. Could this celebration of Christmas past point the way to the team's future?
The event commemorated the year 1347 when Edward III spent Christmas at Guildford Castle. Past Pleasures were hired to lead a procession from the High Street. This year the sun shone and Historia Normannis re-enactors put on a display in the lower part of the castle grounds with the keep forming a spectacular backdrop above them.
But this was much more than a celebration of history. There were craft and food stalls, story telling and entertainers. Heritage was the theme for an event that could appeal to anyone. I am sure this event will get better from year to year and will become a tradition that enhances Guildford's reputation as a place to come at Christmas. Congratulations to everyone involved.
Heritage is not just history and this was the theme of an major report published by the RCA called "Networked Hertige" ” (https://medium.com/networked-heritage). It proposed five principles which are about using heritage in a broad range of ways to benefit the community. For me it serves as a good template for what we need to do in Guildford.
The report states that heritage touches all our lives but all too often it gets pigeon-holed as a part of tourism, an aspect of culture or an add-on for education. We can end up with a narrow view that fails to appreciate the true value of what we have.
For example, it has become common to put museums under libraries and art galleries or convert them into heritage centres. In Guildford, the museum no longer has a curator and is no longer able to tell the story of Guildford.
Another illustration is the way town’s develop heritage quarters but allow developers a free reign in other areas. In our town we take great care of the High Street but have allowed North Street to be altered by piecemeal development for decades.
The report says we need to recognise the extent to which heritage benefits all our lives. In a town like Guildford, the historic character attracts people who want to live here and in their wake come businesses and shops. Planning issues and debates about the green belt are defined in terms of preserving our beautiful town. Tourism is an important part of our economy and our shops would not be the successes they were if we did not have such a beautiful High Street to attract people.
The “Networked Heritage” report argues that towns need to debate the importance of their heritage and properly understand it. It proposes five principles which can be summarised as follows. Conversations need to take place across the community to develop ideas about how heritage can benefit a town. Crucially it says we need to be open to all ideas. As Christmas at the Castle showed, heritage does not always have to involved learning about the past. It can be about enjoying the past in a modern context. The RCA report also stresses the need to put aside past differences and build relations with local authorities, businesses and community groups. People need to work together to raise the profile of local heritage for benefit of all.
All obvious stuff but it was interesting to see it discussed in a long report with lots of examples of what is happening around the country. It even stressed the importance of Heritage Forums and used the Bristol Heritage Forum as an exampled. Clearly we are not alone.
As we come to the end of one year and look forward to the next I have high hopes for the annual Heritage Open Days event next September. This will be a main focus for me and it is a great example of doing what the RCA proposes. I hope people will come forward with ideas about how we can celebrate and enjoy our heritage and use it to promote the town and enhance the life of the people who come here. For more information visit the Heritage Open Days page on this site