Comment posted on Challenge to local election candidates from Museums and Heritage Forum by Bob Clark
Once again in a personal capacity and not as Manager of Auchindrain, I welcome Louise Glen-Lee’s statement. The basis on which I do so is wholly neutral and not in any way party political, and indeed my hope is that others contesting the election will now make at least comparable commitments. It would be very good indeed to find that on 4th May, whatever other policy issues may divide the new Council there is consensus that a long, hard look needs to be taken at the nature of the authority’s engagement with community heritage and heritage-based tourism.
It is Catherine Gillies, not I, who speaks for the Museums & Heritage Forum, but I am sure most Forum members would join me in arguing that the essential first step is for the issues, potential and options to be given full and in-depth consideration. Thus armed with knowledge and understanding, I then have to subjectively believe that the new Council will of course take the “right” decisions and pursue an enlightened course.
Bob Clark also commented
- We can do the same, or better, in Argyll!
A large proportion of the families who emigrated, and whose descendants are now the target for Homecoming 2014, were displaced from joint tenancy farm townships by the processes of agricultural improvement.
For this particular market, Argyll has a nationally-unique asset and selling point in the form of Auchindrain. It is the Last Township, and the only place where Homecoming descendants can go that will offer them a real feel for the sort of place their ancestors came from, and left behind.
Auchindrain is ready to welcome them, but we can’t handle such a big issue alone.
- We’ll look forward to seeing you at Auchindrain sometime soon.
- There are a lot of complex issues emerging here! I’ll try to make some sensible responses.
The first point to make is that since the 19th century responsibility for supporting almost all museums has lain with local authorities. This is not something they MUST do (like, for example, provide schools), but as previously noted almost all of them across the UK do, and do so because they are persuaded that the benefits heritage can bring to communities and the local economy at least equate to the cost of supporting it, and very often more. The point here is that although a Council is entitled to decide not to support a particular museum, or museums in general, it cannot reasonably do so on the basis that someone else ought to be doing so instead. Museums are, and have been for a very long time, in the first instance a local authority function.
In Scotland, the government in Holyrood provides quite generous funding for project grants through Museums Galleries Scotland, and there are many other agencies that can sometimes be persuaded that a museum or community heritage project meets their criteria. But all of that is only ever short term, and the established norm is that local authorities provide the long-term view and sustained support. So Argyll & Bute Council does not get money specifically to support museums – it is simply anticipated that from their funds they will do so to an “adequate” extent.
The second point to consider is the question of a “list of assets”. That is actually sensible thinking, because you can’t very easily provide support to something when you don’t have a grasp of what’s out there, or of its strengths and weaknesses. But such an exercise should be able to be undertaken very quickly because the sector is quite well organised in a self-help way through the Forum, and to a large extent the process could be achieved by simply asking the names on a contact list to provide defined factual and statistical information, and then holding a few round-table and one-to-one meetings to get a feel for the issues.
The third point is Daniel’s question: do we want policy to be top-down or bottom-up? Sadly, the issue isn’t as simple as that. Of course every heritage organisation in Argyll & Bute would love to be able to define the Council’s policy towards it, but that shouldn’t happen and isn’t going to. So we do need to kick off with a strategic vision that comes “from above”, albeit one that has been developed through discussion rather than in isolation. Here, I think the core issue is that Argyll & Bute Council already has a great many policies and objectives that are actually relevant, with the challenge being that historically it has found it hard to see how museums and heritage could contribute to their delivery. In the sector, we know what we can achieve, and there is a huge amount of solid information and precedent out there from other parts of the UK to confirm this. What is needed, however, is for the sector locally to be able to talk to a Council that has a broadly-based and in-depth understanding of issues and potential, and which for example accepts the principle the heritage attractions can be key drivers in building tourism and that achievement needs to be measured more in terms of indirect spend (the B&B, the meal out, the fuel, the High Street shopping) than direct income on site. The ground that arguably needs to be reviewed contains a series of principles about how museums and heritage can contribute to strong communities and economic success, but which to date have not been well understood or much accepted within Argyll & Bute. Perhaps the central point that Catherine and I are variously arguing is to suggest that the new Council should consider these matters very carefully and build its corporate understanding, with this being based on a belief rooted in precedent elsewhere that when they do so they could well see some new ways in which they can take forward existing key objectives in community cohesion, social care, health, education, tourism development, and so on. It isn’t so much about needing a policy for heritage that is new and freestanding as it is about understanding what heritage can do across the board and then letting THAT inform how it in specifics and detail it engages with and decides to support the sector.
Finally, to come to Daniel’s point about impact over 5-10 years, the issue here is that this depends on where the Council decides its priorities lie. Some local authorities focus on economic development and don’t expect their area’s museums to make a massive contribution to community development: for others, it is the opposite way round. Some authorities choose to target investment at areas of social disadvantage, others opt to build good day-visit and tourism destinations into excellent ones. The available mix of options is almost infinite, with the key issue perhaps being that no matter where you turn the heritage sector will have answers ready to illustrate how it can help. So whilst maybe now the drums need to be banged to get people’s attention, once the core points have been accepted the sector needs to move into listening and thinking mode whilst it hears what the Council wishes to achieve and then individually or collectively presents its ideas.
The sector’s byeword in this respect is generally to think not what others can do for us but what we can do for them: my objective, as the manager of a museum that could given half a chance of its nature absorb almost infinite resources, is always to persuade YOU that by supporting us you can fulfill YOUR objectives. It all looks very different with the telescope turned around that way!
- Daniel, the heritage sector can very easily identify its priorities – that’s not a problem. However, this is chicken-and-egg: it’s much better to set objectives and priorities when you are talking to a body that is able to understand the issues and ready to discuss options.
- We DO need a strong and clear Council policy towards heritage. Although most of the activity should and will continue to be lead and managed by independent, often community-based, organisations, the Council should have a key enabling role.
In other areas, these things generally work as a partnership. The local authority sets out a strategic policy framework for economic and community development that acknowledges the direct and indirect contributions that can be made by museums, heritage attractions and local history groups. On the back of that, it provides funding to develop and improve things, and to support running costs, which it recognises will not in reality be available from any other source. It uses its statutory position and influence to lever in investment from other agencies. Often, also, it will take a central role in marketing the cultural tourism offer within its area to day-visitors and tourists. There is an argument that the present relatively weak state of heritage in Argyll & Bute is because over the years the Council has never felt confident about taking on these roles to any significant extent.
As noted before, there is a specific point to make in relation to funding. Properly planned local authority financial support for heritage is NOT a “handout” to organisations that do not have the wits and creativity to thrive in the marketplace. Rather, it overtly recognises that in terms of both community and economic development heritage can deliver net added value which over time is greater than the direct cost.
It is a matter of fact, on the public record, that Argyll & Bute stands almost alone in the very limited extent to which the local authority has ever actively engaged with, or supported, museums and heritage. I do not say this in a way that is intended to be critical or to stray into politics, but how can it be that most other local authorities ARE persuaded by the arguments and provide often very considerable support? You can be sure, for example, that an authority like Glasgow does not spend that much money on heritage because it has a soft heart or a few Councillors and senior officers like visiting museums! No, there is a hard economic and community case underlying everything.
Over recent decades, the community has responded as best it can to the situation. In Auchindrain, Kilmartin House Museum and Dunollie, Argyll now has three sites of genuine national importance operating as museums and heritage attractions. Beyond this, almost every mainland settlement of any size – Campbeltown, Oban, Strachur, Dunoon, Helensburgh – and many of the islands – Bute, Islay, Mull, Lismore, Easdale – has onr or more community-run heritage organisations that between them pretty much represents a full network. But, as has been noted, these bodies are generally resource-poor and struggling to achieve and maintain standards to an extent that is untypical of the sector elsewhere in Scotland and the UK.
Everyone in the heritage sector in Argyll & Bute and beyond has seen the elephant in the room for years: the missing element in this area is policy-driven, active, local authority engagement. That is why, with elections on the horizon, it is so very welcome to see one of the political parties making commitments in this respect, and why it would be even more welcome to see those at least matched by every other party and individual candidate.
Recent comments by Bob Clark
- Russell congratulates the Wee Pictures on a big windfall
- Colonialism rules as erstwhile SNP indy partners are shown their place
Your rudeness is quite appalling. I cannot for the life or me understand why you have not been banned from these pages.
By all means hold and argue a different opinion, but it is NEVER appropriate to express yourself to people as you do here.
You should apologise and then keep silent.
- Parliamentary committee backs preservation of ‘The Tinkers’ Heart’
Ah, what’s in a name?
There is much to be found on the internet that analyses the racial, cultural and linguistic background of the travelling people, and one thing that’s certain is that nothing is clear. There has been, and continues to be, “emigration” between the travelling and settled communities in both directions, and the travellers are not a single homogeneous group. In Scotland, for example, there are at least five separate groups who consider themselves different, although in a context where there is little formally-recorded history it is not clear how far back the distinctions go.
Talking now to Travellers, one gathers that they draw distinctions between themselves as an old community within the British Isles linked by blood and culture, “cousin” groups in the form of the Roma of Eastern Europe, and what Jade calls “new age” people, who are felt to be individuals or families from the settled world who have chosen to adopt aspects of traveller lifestyle but who are culturally different.
Each region of the settled world has had its own words to describe the travellers, and in the other direction words like “Traveller”, “Romany” and “Gipsy” seem to have been down to individual group customs. The term “tinker” is of its origin a settled-world descriptor for these people, which appears to be a borrowing from Gaelic into Scots and English based on the word “ceàrd”, which is possibly equivalent to the old English word “wright” and broadly-speaking means someone who makes or fixes things. From that it’s simple: “tin-ceàrd”, one who works with tinplate, referring to the fact that in the past one of the common Traveller skills used to earn money was repairing pots and pans. And thence to “tinker”.
The problem with descriptors like this is that they too often ended up being used pejoratively, with negative associations that were understood by both speaker and hearer. Other minority communities faced the same challenge, and either had to reclaim a word and overlay on it a new and positive meaning, or invent a new one. Thus, the culturally-neutral present-day usage is often “Traveller”. At Auchindrain, however, “the tinkers” were always welcome and honoured, and the term had no negative overtones: so, tinkers they were and tinkers they remain.
- Parliamentary committee backs preservation of ‘The Tinkers’ Heart’
We understand that cash would not be likely to be an issue, if no grants or public funding were to be available. It appears possible that the current landowner may be unsympathetic, and that the suggestion that the Heart be Scheduled was in response to this.
Sketches we have seen confirm that the focus is on a piece of ground the size of a domestic living room, together with an access path, and on the principle that control over and responsibility for the Heart would pass in perpetuity to the Travellers themselves. The thinking would appear to be that only in this way would it be possible to eliminate the risk at some future time of a landowner destroying the site.
- Parliamentary committee backs preservation of ‘The Tinkers’ Heart’
At Auchindrain we are pleased and proud to offer whatever support we can to the Travellers in their efforts to preserve the “Tinkers Heart”. One particular aspect of what is currently going on may not yet be widely known, although we are aware because we have been asked (and have agreed) to provide logistical and technical support. Representatives of several old Traveller families are currently working their way through the legal process of establishing a new charity with a focus on celebrating their community’s heritage, with preservation of the Tinkers Heart being a key immediate objective. For a community that has traditionally avoided the systems and structures of the settled world, this willingness to join our game shows just how deep the feelings go. We hear stories from the past of people coming from far and wide to the Tinkers Heart for naming ceremonies, marriages and even funerals. The pattern of stones in the ground marks the spot, but it is the location which is special to the point of being sacred.
From our own experiences, Historic Scotland cannot be presumed to be being consciously unhelpful, because when it comes to providing statutory protection to sites, monuments and buildings that are part of Scotland’s national heritage they are required to work within legislation that does not always accommodate all the challenges that arise. The correspondence we have seen does NOT say that the Heart is of insufficient significance to be worth preserving. Rather, it indicates that Historic Scotland do not feel that its physical nature meets the legal definition of a piece of land that can be made the subject of a Scheduling decision.
The challenge here is that the Heart’s importance to the Travellers – and thus, we would argue, to everyone – is more intangible than physical, and current Scottish legislation struggles with that concept. UNESCO has long acknowledged the importance of the world’s Intangible Cultural Heritage. Since 2006 there has been an international convention in force, under which there is an inscribed List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity: you can find it here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/UNESCO_Intangible_Cultural_Heritage_Lists: it starts with Albania and ends with Zimbabwe. Unfortunately, the UK Government has not ratified the Convention, as can be noted on the UNESCO UK website: http://www.unesco.org.uk/convention_on_safeguarding_of_the_intangible_cultural_heritage_(2003).
We may thus suggest that fundamentally this is a political issue, and needs to be approached as such. Historic Scotland can only work with the legislation it is given, politicians make the law, and those of us working within heritage who recognise that the value and significance of the intangible is every bit as important as the physical have to operate within a framework which does not agree because of the position taken at UK level in relation to the relevant UNESCO Convention.
That said, where there is a will there is a way, and the Travellers to whom we have spoken are quite clear about the need to preserve the Heart by Moving Minds – the minds of those who make the law.
powered by SEO Super Comments