MAGNIFICENT country houses, castles, docks and stations, cathedrals, churches and chapels, historic mills and homes, canals, archaeological remains, historic landscapes and gardens are just some of the highlights of Britain’s rich and diverse heritage. The nation also enjoys an internationally renowned, highly professional and dedicated movement that works hard to care for them and to bring them to life, not to mention a creative, courageous voluntary sector that is the envy of many other countries. These riches are essential to the tourism and creative industries, so much so that they were one of Britain’s 12 USPS in the Government’s gloriously successful international branding campaign, Britain is Great.
Athena was, therefore, delighted to see last year’s Culture White Paper, in which the Government stated its ambition to improve or maintain the UK’S global soft power ranking in terms of culture. All is not well with this ambition, however.
Indeed, worryingly, last year saw the USA replace the UK in the overall top spot in the Portland Soft Power 30 Index (although, in point of fact, it did maintain its second place after the USA in the cultural index). It seems that the UK’S international reputation is at risk just when it is needed most.
Next year is the European Year of Cultural Heritage (EYCH). With culture, wisdom and so many creative skills under my patronage, what else can Athena do but encourage everyone to celebrate this. For Britain, however, the EYCH comes at a particularly important time. The UK will still be a full member of the EU in 2018 and an enthusiastic take-up will send the message that co-operation and collaboration post-brexit can be replenished by cultural ties. As yet, however, our own government seems unenthusiastic about the opportunity. The Department for Culture, Media and Sport has been castigated by Parliament’s European Scrutiny Committee as ‘lukewarm’ in realising the potential of this event. Even worse, a National Co-ordinator for the Year has yet to be appointed and, with less than 12 months to go, this needs to change.
By contrast, it’s encouraging to hear of plans afoot from learned societies, professional bodies and historic-buildings groups to celebrate the EYCH. Clearly, the heritage movement is already taking the initiative outside the political institutions. Hopefully, support for this event can go even deeper. Millions of people who profess to enjoy our European heritage, as residents or visitors, could each make a personal pledge in my name to do something extra in 2018: to start up cultural exchanges and collaborations that are professional, voluntary, student or school-based or perhaps revive the town-twinning initiative.
The aim is to illuminate both differences and commonalities and, above all, to make new friends and colleagues. Whether or not we are given a National Co-ordinator, let’s make 2018 work by preparing for it this year.
‘All is not well with the ambition of the White Paper, however