Ruth Williams says our heritage is a key economic drive in today’s Wales
As the cutbacks in public spending start to bite, we’re all thinking about ‘money well spent’ and ‘time well spent’. How can our wealth of heritage create Welsh wealth in the future?
A new study Valuing the Welsh Historic Environment has revealed that our heritage already makes a significant contribution to the Welsh economy. It supports more than 30,000 full time equivalent jobs, contributing approximately £840 million to Wales’ Gross Value Added and contributing over £1.8 billion of output.
Much of the share of the economic impacts relates to tourism expenditure attributable to the historic environment as many visitors are attracted to Wales because of its wealth of heritage attractions.
The need for comprehensive research to evaluate the economic and social significance of the Welsh historic environment was identified by the Heritage Minister’s advisory Historic Environment Group of key stakeholder organisations which include the National Trust, the Countryside Council for Wales, Wales’ National Park Authorities, and Cadw.
As well as the direct economic benefits provided by our historic assets, they also have significant indirect impacts on society. Heritage supports wider economic, social and environmental priorities by acting as a catalyst to investment and improving skills that enable more people to get work.
This wider importance has been evaluated through eleven case studies in our report, produced by the Ecotec consultance, which show that the public value of the Welsh historic environment is considerable:
- Blaenafon: World Heritage Site status as a catalyst for holistic, heritage-led tourism.
- Caernarfon Castle: Maximising the role of an historic asset to support the wider economy and raise the profile of Wales’ national heritage.
- Cardigan Townscape Heritage Initiative: Using a townscape heritage initiative as a stimulus for further investment in an historic town centre.
- Castell Henllys Iron Age Fort, Pembrokeshire: Interpreting historic assets in ways that effectively engage and educate visitors, school children and students.
- Erddig Country House & Gardens, Wrexham: Instilling a sense of civic pride and developing employability skills by involving local residents in the management of an historic asset.
- Hidden Histories Television Series: Using a television series to increase awareness and understanding of Wales’ heritage.
- Monmouthshire & Brecon Canal: Improving a canal system to attract visitors and promote healthy lifestyles, whilst conserving biodiversity.
- Morgans Hotel, Swansea: Converting a listed building to stimulate private investment in the visitor economy.
- Tywi Afon yr Oesoedd / Tywi – a River Through Time, Carmarthenshire: Conserving an historic landscape by strengthening its links with the community and developing appropriate skills.
Regeneration is supported by adapting historic buildings for modern uses, and by providing high quality settings for new development. The historic environment provides a unique environment where people choose to live, work and play. For example the Townscape Heritage Initiatives, funded by the Heritage Lotter Fund, support the repair and regeneration of the historic environment in towns and cities. To date, 26 such initiatives have been awarded in Wales and for every £1 million funded, £620,000 is secured by partner organisations.
The environment benefits from a well protected historic environment by contributing to the conservation of landscapes and habitats as well as reducing carbon emissions by adapting historic buildings rather than building new concrete ones.
A range of volunteering and training opportunities are offered by the historic environment sector that enable local communities to participate in the conservation and promotion of the historic environment and also helps to equip young people and adults alike with the skills they need to fulfil their potential at work.
Access to, and learning about, the historic environment is also a priority which increases the feeling of belonging and pride in local and national heritage. The sector also offers great opportunities for people of all ages to learn more about their history and culture and supports the national curriculum in Wales. For example the Taking Flight theatre company performs outdoors at little-used Welsh historic sites with an integrated cast of disabled and able-bodied actors. It aims to make theatre and the Welsh historic environment more accessible to all people.
If historic buildings become run-down and derelict, they can be a magnet for anti-social behaviour and vandalism. In contrast, high quality historic buildings can be a powerful stimulus for generating confidence in a local area and promoting civic pride. In turn this can play a key role in reducing crime, as highlighted in the case study about the National Trust’s Erddig Country House and Gardens on the edge of Wrexham.
The historic environment can act as a focal point for encouraging local communities to work together and take responsibility for the quality of their local historic environment. Building Preservation Trusts, which breathe new life into old buildings, are key examples of organisations that are driven by local communities, for local communities.
Our report concludes that the Welsh historic environment is a valuable asset which must be actively cared for and promoted. It also stresses that once these assets have been lost or forgotten they can rarely be recovered.
The breadth of the partnership involved in the study and the comprehensive nature of the research means that we now have concrete evidence of its importance. It is in the interest of everyone in Wales that, even in these times of austerity, the historic environment is enthusiastically cared for, and promoted, to increase the economic and social benefits it provides us. It needs to be a resource recognised not only by the heritage and tourism sectors, but also by the leaders in skills development, regeneration, learning, carbon reduction and communities.