USE - Umbrella and Suncream Engagement (& a bit of upskilling)
My day has been different from previous posts each year due to Covid-19. No paid heritage work, all my time has been voluntary. I would normally have been at the annual excavation at Hallaton in Leicestershire. I am part of Hallaton Fieldwork Group volunteer organisers – but this group has decided to not meet or excavate this year and re-group in 2021. They are part of the Leicestershire Fieldworkers who have an amazing output of digital activities so they felt they would use those resources.
I am also Chair of Rutland Local History Society with 90% of the 220 membership being over 70, the committee are nearly all people who have had to shield. However, they are all digitally literate so communication has not stopped. One of our main outputs this year, which has taken a lot of voluntary hours, is to comment on planning applications. We get a list of planning application from the Local Authority, one of our committee highlights those which are listed or in conservation areas, she also makes a note of which ones may be suitable for nomination for our awards.
The awards we organise are for new buildings in a conservation area and renovations. http://rutlandhistory.org/awardsindex.htm we used to rely heavily on the Local Authority recommending built environment sites, but since their cut backs we organise everything, from site visits to the ceremony which includes the local history and building archaeology of the site.
Our Local Authority has not replaced the retired Conservation Officer, instead they hire someone from outside the County for 1 day a week. They are not able to speak to the general public with general enquiries. This has caused an “us and them” situation and we are getting more and more enquiries from the public to ask if we can comment on planning. We would do this anyway as we have major concerns that there is a distinct lack of heritage statements and often inappropriate building materials for listed buildings (concrete tiles to replace thatch was the latest!) There have been some industry voices who suggest that Societies like ours should not be commenting as they are taking the place of local authority personnel, but we feel that those personnel have been gone for so long there is now no voice.
So on the “A day in Archaeology” I have been writing to people like the Council for British Archaeology and Historic England asking for grass roots, locally based training which upskills our volunteers (not in Birmingham 2 hour drive away) in defending heritage in the planning process, not a campaign, but regular commentary without militant statements (we have had plenty of those from the public). I also commented on the Local Authorities consultation which is due at the end of this week, they are asking about the local plan and neighbourhood plans, we want to be classed as a Stakeholder and we feel that there is not enough heritage skill in the planning department at present and would like to develop a relationship with the planners to avoid the aforementioned “us and them” situation.
So, no excavation, no organisation of monthly lectures either. We have an excellent digital provision, but that does not get people out and about. Instead, we decided to share our resources, as over the last 30 years the Society has held an annual village visit, which gives a self guided trail detailing the local archaeology and history. Times have changed H&S wise, so I am going out to ‘walk the walks’ and prepare risk assessments so we can upload these trails and people can do them for every village in Rutland in their own time. USE is our new acroynm - Umbrella and suncream engagement.