Built Environment Advocacy

BEFS Director outlines how crucial it is that we evidence the benefits that arise for communities from investing in heritage, going into a new parliament.

This article was first published in The Architectural Heritage Society of Scotland’s Spring 2021 Magazine.

In a blog post from January this year, Ailsa Macfarlane, BEFS Policy and Strategy Manager, states: “Read any report, research output, press-release, or corporate statement involving heritage and ‘save’ will be prominent. Whether ‘saved’ for the nation, the community, or future generations – you can be certain that the heritage in question is to be made ‘safe’ from the evil it was perceived to be beset by. The funding has (sometimes) been found; the heritage has been ‘secured’ for the audiences. But such asks have unintended consequences – we’ve reinforced all sorts of notions about heritage. About it being ‘special’ and ‘expensive’ and ‘unique’ and ‘difficult’ and ‘old’. Suddenly heritage doesn’t sound like it has a role in a green recovery, a just recovery, a socially integrated recovery. Heritage doesn’t sound like it’s your house, your local street, the building your kids go to school in, the town-hall where the library is, the park you walked through on the way to work. Heritage can sound like it doesn’t offer what communities and politicians seek.”

Ailsa neatly captures how we as a heritage sector need to talk differently to our electoral candidates and soon to be newly elected members of the next Scottish Parliament. While restoring a decaying building back to beauty or preventing ugly window replacements may be a priority for you, elected officials will also be dealing with constituents who are now using foodbanks, are long-term unemployed or are unable to get a home of their own. If you were them, which would you pay more attention to? But these issues are not mutually exclusive. In fact, the former can be used to address the last two points. It comes back to a much wider and holistic understanding of why retaining our existing built fabric is beneficial and potentially transformative for communities.

In March BEFS joined the Royal Town Planning Institute Scotland, Royal Incorporation of Architects in Scotland, Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors in Scotland, Landscape Institute Scotland and Institution of Civil Engineers Scotland as signatories of ‘Building for Scotland’s Communities’. I confess that when we were initially invited to sign, my concern was that it could be seen as the professions seeking to secure a position in the rush to rebuild after Covid-19. But it is not. It’s a call for political leadership to work with the professions to deliver structural change that will: tackle climate change and achieve Scotland’s net zero carbon reduction targets; reduce health inequalities across Scotland; support a wellbeing economy, and; ensure a quality and affordable home for everyone who needs one.

These are people-centred aims. And heritage can also be part of delivering them. The joint statement was discussed at a relevant cross-party group, and of particular note was how all professions spoke of prioritising the maintenance of our existing built environment over building new; music to my ears. The retiring Convener, Linda Fabiani MSP, suggested it was time to end shiny new projects that fed egos and instead concentrate on investing public money where it can make a difference to more people that need it. Perhaps this idea could be extended to rebuilding lost Classical houses when we have so many existing buildings in use that need investment to remain wind and watertight.

It is crucial that we evidence the benefits that arise from investing in heritage and I would encourage you to look at the Advocacy Toolkit section of the Resources pages for our tips and ideas on how to do this. A new parliament is not a blank sheet, but it is a fresh opportunity to make the case for the historic environment. Ask your candidates what they think heritage can deliver in your area. More importantly, we need you to charm the newly elected MSPs with the many benefits heritage can deliver for their constituents.