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New report shows how world-leading heritage sector can advance UK international relations after Brexit

The Heritage Alliance, the umbrella body for the heritage sector, has published the first ever report on the independent heritage sector’s impact overseas. The report sponsored by the Scottish Confucius Institute for Business & Communication at Heriot-Watt University, makes recommendations for building on the success of the overall sector which already generates £21.7 billion a year. The Heritage Alliance hopes that the report will not only help develop international opportunities for a post Brexit Britain but also inform international discussions such as April’s Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting 2018 in London.

Loyd Grossman, Chairman of the Heritage Alliance, said: ‘We’re delighted that this report has so clearly demonstrated that our world-leading heritage skills are already doing so much to support ‘Brand Britain’. We hope that, as we enter a new post Brexit landscape, these recommendations will galvanise the Government to support the independent heritage sector to maximise its already impressive economic impact and soft power role.’

England’s heritage industry is already a major contributor to the national economy - directly generating at least £10 billion in gross value added (GVA) and indirectly generating 2% of national GVA (£21.7 billion). This is more than the agriculture and aerospace sectors combined.

Our heritage is front and centre of the UK’s unique offer on the international stage, from our enduring success as a tourism magnet powered by our famous historic houses and monuments, to our world-leading expertise in pioneering heritage science to our archaeological accreditation process. Although recognised in principle by the Foreign Secretary, much of this enterprise by the non-government heritage bodies is undertaken below the official radars, or those arranging trade delegations and other cultural bodies.

The report highlights examples of the sector’s expertise and explores some of the innovative projects in case studies (summarised in the notes to editors section below). It notes that Heritage Alliance members are engaging in at least 38 countries across all seven continents; and how cultural relations developed by these civil society organisations add a ‘values’ dimension to soft power rankings, offering an independent and complementary network to government diplomacy (increasingly important as traditional diplomacy with countries such as Russia becomes more challenging). However, the report notes that international heritage work, especially by the UK’s vigorous civil society movement, is badly served by current statistics.

The recommendations set out in the report are a starting point for Government to crystallise the support it promised to the voluntary heritage sector’s international work in its ‘Heritage Statement’ in December last year. The Heritage Alliance report recommends:

  • Support for backfilling posts especially when senior expertise in small organisations are concentrating on international work;
  • Travel bursaries to help promote exchanges of heritage professionals and students in support of project work;
  • A Heritage Alliance event with partners to explore international engagement and funding opportunities;
  • A similar initiative to the Artists’ International Development Fund to facilitate international exchange in a heritage context;
  • Visa exemptions for accredited experts and academics in the field should be considered after Brexit. Any visa system should be based on skills required, not on salary levels, and work both ways – exporting as well as importing key skills;
  • Funders should consider the benefit of allocating small grants to cover translating training resources and other outputs where appropriate;
  • The British Council, Historic England, Heritage Lottery Fund and the Foreign Office should consider where and how heritage and heritage ngos can be a positive resource, integral to their international work; and
  • The Heritage Alliance to work with DCMS to better track the impact and potential of the independent heritage sector internationally.

You can read the report in full here

Case studies

The report contains case studies on the international work of the independent heritage sector. Links below go to the longer extended case studies otherwise they go to organisations websites:

World Monuments Fund Britain: Accessing Cultural Protection Fund funding to work in the Middle East

UK Antarctic Heritage Trust: Caring for a whole continent

Venice in Peril Fund: Patience and persistence

The Institute of Conservation: Cultural Exchange Tour to China

The Ragged School Museum: Japanese interest in UK C19th social child care

Chelsea Physic Garden: A historic seed exchange initiative still bearing fruit

The Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings: A world-renowned scholarship programme

Historic Transport Bodies: International leadership

The Chartered Institute for Archaeologists: Working globally for professional standards

Historic Houses: Universal challenges for private owners

International National Trusts Organisation: Supporting existing and emerging trusts

ICOM UK