Lord Ashton addresses the Heritage Alliance conference
It is a pleasure to be here. The Heritage Alliance does a terrific job of representing independent organisations throughout England - and deserves its fine reputation.
Indeed, no sooner had I joined DCMS than Lizzie Glitheroe-West promptly announced that she was leaving my Private Office to become your chief executive!
At least I know where I stand in the grand scheme of things.
I am also delighted to join you in celebrating the vital contribution of volunteers, some of whom are being recognised this afternoon in Ecclesiastical’s Heritage Heroes Awards.
If I could leave you all with only one message today, it would be this:
The whole of government recognises the central importance of heritage. Far from being a satellite within the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, there is universal acknowledgement in Whitehall that heritage matters.
It has an economic value that even the most cold-eyed Treasury official could not deny. This country has an astonishing variety of buildings and places. They stimulate domestic tourism and attract millions of people to our shores.
The recent Autumn Statement saw £7.6 million in funding for Wentworth Woodhouse in Rotherham, one of the largest privately owned stately homes in Europe, if not the largest.
And on Tuesday, my colleague Tracey Crouch – Minister for Heritage - visited Southwark Cathedral, which has been awarded money in the final round of the £40 million First World War Cathedrals Repairs Fund.
The fact that the Culture Secretary sits on the Economy and Industrial Strategy Cabinet Committee is further evidence that appreciation for heritage stretches all the way to Number 10 Downing Street.
So I am confident that you will be pushing at an open door when making the case for heritage.
As we prepare for the UK’s exit from the European Union, heritage can help us forge a new relationship with the rest of the world.
We already have much to offer in terms of heritage skills - and by taking an interest in the protection of heritage overseas, we are giving people the opportunity to learn new things that they can apply back here at home.
Our unique and storied heritage is one of the reasons that this country is special – and so it is an invaluable source of soft power.
The world knows and loves us for our great palaces; our tiny, ancient churches; our eclectic styles of architecture; and for the fact that in every part of the United Kingdom, one can discover gems from down the centuries that tell our island tale.
This shared heritage is the inheritance of all UK subjects. It binds us together and reminds us that we are part of an on-going story.
That sort of social cohesion is priceless.
DCMS’s motto is “Driving growth; enriching lives; and promoting Britain to the world”. Heritage helps advance all three of those priorities.
Yet, as Karen Bradley made clear in her first major speech as Culture Secretary, the things for which DCMS has responsibility matter in their own right.
A beautiful old building – or a unique and striking modern one – has an inherent value. It should be preserved not simply for what it can do to entice tourists, or broaden a child’s education, or teach a conservation expert how to protect an oak door.
To paraphrase George Mallory, it should be preserved because it’s there - and because once it’s gone it will be mourned.
Heritage in all its forms – archaeology, built environment, landscapes, rural settings, and all the rest – matters in and of itself.
Of course, all of the Heritage Alliance’s organisations do commendable work, but as a member of the House of Lords, I must pay tribute to one in particular.
I was delighted to read that, thanks to the efforts of the National Piers Society, “several piers, that would otherwise have vanished, remain for the enjoyment of everyone”.
As a peer myself, I must say that really is a worthy cause.
Indeed, I have responsibility in the House of Lords for the passage of the Cultural Property (Armed Conflicts) Bill. It will protect cultural property at home and abroad; introduces the Blue Shield – an emblem which is the cultural equivalent of the Red Cross; and makes it a prosecutable offence to deal in unlawfully exported cultural property from an occupied territory.
More than six decades after signing it, we will become the first Permanent Member of the UN Security Council to ratify the 1954 Hague Convention and its two Protocols.
Perhaps I might outline some of the other specific steps that my department and its arm’s length bodies are taking to champion heritage.
The Culture White Paper, published in March, stated our determination that the benefits and joys of heritage should be available to all – and this is very much in sympathy with Theresa May’s vision of a government that works for everyone.
The Office for Civil Society – which is now part of DCMS – is fully signed up to this agenda as well, and will bring innovative ideas for meeting the challenge of increasing and diversifying participation.
Such opportunities for young people to learn about heritage and lead social action projects in their communities outside of formal education are tremendous.
Meanwhile, the Heritage Schools programme – funded by the Department for Education and run by Historic England with help from the Churches Conservation Trust - has helped children engage with their local history. More than 120,000 have participated in the programme.
With heritage – as is so often the case - collaboration is king.
The Heritage Alliance has long advocated and supported such an approach. Heritage 2020 is one element of this - as is the Great Place Scheme, which will fund projects that embed the arts, culture, and heritage in local plans and decision-making.
Historic England’s Heritage Action Zones will likewise enhance place-making by focusing resources where they can help to breathe new life into places and achieve sustainable growth.
Networks of heritage, culture, civic, and community organisations, and local businesses and people can make all the difference – at both a local and a national level. In fact they can even make a difference at a global level.
Finally, we are looking at new funding methods.
In partnership with NESTA, Arts Council England, and the Heritage Lottery Fund, we have launched a pilot to explore the opportunities for matched crowd-funding for heritage.
I hope that this will complement what is already being done by the Architectural Heritage Fund and through programmes such as the Heritage Alliance’s Giving to Heritage training programme.
The pilot will run until February - and so far more than 200 organisations expressed an interest.
Let me finish by reaffirming that the heritage sector has a friend in me and friends right throughout Whitehall.
This afternoon is also a chance for me to thank you. Protecting and championing our historic environment and heritage is a noble calling - and you all play a vital role. So thank you very much indeed.