Bernard Donoghue (Director of the Association of Leading Visitor Attractions) - as well as revealing that Birmingham City Library achieved the astonishing feat of one million visitors in 102 days - gave us an enthralling overview of the sector. Spend per head has grown in all areas in the heritage sector as visitors seek, in Bernard's powerful phrase, 'an umbilical connection' with the past and the spots where history happened. Heritage attractions that 'reek of locality' from the food they serve to the staff they employ defy the economic downturn as audiences feel a sense of ownership.
Dr Christopher Ridgway, one of the guiding figures behind the model for this project, The Yorkshire Country House Project, gave an inspiring, yet honest account, of the enormous benefits to be gained through collaborative projects. Research projects, he stressed, need to be as inclusive as possible and deploy as much shared cultural capital to engage as many visitors as possible. Christopher suggested that the belief that the visiting public only absorbs material visually, and will not stand and read blocks of text, is misguided - especially if moving personal narratives can be teased out of country house archives. The YCHP's latest series of interlinked, regional exhibitions, Duty Calls: The Country House in Time of War, does exactly that.
Finally, Dr Kate Smith from the East India Company at Home project at UCL gave a fantastic insight into how academic research emanating from a university context and reaching out to the heritage sector can provide exciting opportunities for both parties. The East India Company at Home points the way forward in active collaboration with a broad spectrum of audiences - from family historians to local British Indian communities and everything in between. The video below encapsulates the magic of the project:
Through discussion we now have a sense of what the aims of the partnership are:
- Link divisions, departments and faculty of the University of Oxford with external partners from the regional heritage and tourism sector.
- Pursue innovative research and interpretative projects which will ensure visible mutual benefits.
- Facilitate information exchange and encourage collaboration between all stakeholders and maintain an overview of activity in the region’s heritage sector.
- Encourage greater student and local community engagement with the region’s cultural heritage.
To read the programme, and see the list of attendees from today's meeting, see below.