Thank you, Laurie, and good morning everyone.
As a Member of Parliament it’s a real privilege to be speaking here at the Chapter House. As we’ve just heard, it was one of the first homes of the House of Commons.
Let me give you a sense of the timescale involved.
It’s been claimed that the Commons met here for the final time on the last day of Henry VIII’s reign, back in 1547.
Having watched Wolf Hall I’m hoping to avoid the fate of various MPs who may have spoken here in the past!
I’m not sure I like the sound of “Saj sans tête…”
There’s also a story that says the monks who used to run the Chapter House were deeply unhappy with the boisterous, rude politicians who used to work here.
So after Parliament moved out, they got their revenge, by painting various MPs into a depiction of the Damned at the Last Judgement.
Again, I’m hoping that history doesn’t repeat itself.
I don’t want to come back in a couple of year’s time and find that Simon has added a bald, Asian guy to one of the paintings!
When people talk about England’s incredible heritage, buildings like this are usually what they think of.
Almost eight hundred years old, with centuries of history contained within its walls and windows.
It is humbling to think about what has gone on here over the years.
The many feet that have walked these floors. The voices that have been raised beneath this roof.
But while the Chapter House and buildings like it are a vital part of our national heritage they are not the sum of it.
Our heritage is much bigger than the 420 properties that English Heritage has managed so well for so long, and will continue to manage under this new model.
It is bigger, even, than the 375,000 listed buildings that Historic England will soon be tasked with protecting.
Because while buildings and monuments may be the physical representation of our heritage, they embody something much greater, but less tangible.
They help define who we are and give form to our sense of self. They talk to us about how we came to be the people we are today. They tell our national story and how we sit within it.
And all that applies whether we’re talking about a Neolithic hill fort or the Duke of Wellington’s London mansion.
That sense of our common history is particularly important at this moment in time. A time when we are hearing so much about shared values and ideas. About identifying what unites us as a nation and finding new ways to celebrate it.
That’s why protecting our heritage must mean more than preserving it in aspic.
Without engagement, education and understanding, the Chapter House is just a dusty old building. A beautiful old building, certainly, but nothing more.
Because what makes this place a crucial part of England’s heritage isn’t its age or its fabric. It’s the role that it has played in making England the country it is today.
So preserving our heritage cannot just be about protecting old buildings. We have to bring them to life and explain their value and their importance to the modern world.
The recognition of that fact is what led us to the new model we are launching here today.
It’s a revolutionary new way for us to serve the public.
And I want to take this opportunity to thank Simon, Tim, Laurie and everyone at English Heritage who has done so much to make this happen.
And I also want to thank the team at DCMS. In particular Sue and Clare, but also the current heritage minister Ed Vaizey, and his predecessor John Penrose, who is here today.
Government and its arms length bodies do a lot of things well.
But we really weren’t designed for the demands of running hundreds of historic sites.
Sites as diverse as Chysauster Ancient Village near Land’s End and Hadrian’s Wall, up in Cumbria and Northumberland.
For more than 30 years, the current system has served the nation well. But times change.
You have an important role to play in preserving England’s heritage, but that doesn’t mean English Heritage itself shouldn’t adapt to suit the age in which we now live.
After all, that’s what has always happened.
Over the years, the responsibility for England’s heritage has repeatedly passed from one organisation to another, reflecting the unique needs and challenges of the day.
When English Heritage was created in 1983 it was the right tool for the job. But in 2015, that job has changed. And you need new tools if you’re going to continue to do it successfully.
Our heritage does not belong to the Government.
It belongs to all of us.
So, released from the restrictive hand of Whitehall control, the new English Heritage charity will be free to explore new ways of engaging with communities.
New ways of protecting and promoting our heritage.
New ways of harnessing philanthropy and other sources of funding.
Now, there’s a myth that entrepreneurs can only flourish in the private sector.
But I believe there’s a real place for them in every aspect of life.
And I want to see our great entrepreneurial culture turned to the support of our national heritage.
I don’t mean commercialising it or selling it off.
I mean having the freedom and imagination to try new ways of working.
To respond quickly to changing demands and look at challenges from different angles.
To protect the fabric of the past by embracing the ideas and the technology of the future.
The freedom the new model provides will let you do all of this and much more.
Now, of course, English Heritage’s current remit goes far beyond managing important sites.
And that’s where Historic England comes in. Most of our nation’s built heritage isn’t in public hands.
It lives on in the historic and important houses, offices, factories, pubs, theatres, streetscapes and more that occupy every corner of England.
It’s a living heritage, one that forms part of daily life for millions of people. And it too must be protected.
I’ve heard some people say that the new model sidelines the work of Historic England, cutting it off from the vine and leaving it to wither.
Nothing could be further from the truth.
Historic England’s insight and expertise is absolutely vital to the future protection of our national heritage.
That’s why the government is keeping its staff and its functions close at hand.
And that’s why we’re letting you concentrate on what you do best as an organisation, without being distracted by the need to fund repairs or manage tourist attractions.
Our heritage is both a crucial part of English life and a huge draw for foreign visitors.
It is simply too important to make do with second best, or to muddle on through as the world changes around us.
That’s why we’ve created the new model.
That’s why we’re giving the English Heritage charity
£80 million of initial funding.
And that’s why we’re investing almost a million pounds in extending the hugely successful Heritage Schools Programme for another year.
It has already reached 200 schools, helping over 100,000 children engage with our shared history.
Helping them to understand just how much our heritage matters to us all.
The building that we’re gathered in today is a very solid example of that heritage and a reminder that we occupy just one small moment within our nation’s history.
Since 1983 English Heritage has done an incredible job of preserving and celebrating our history.
Now, in 2015 it’s time for us all to look to the future.