Com­mit­ment needs to be more than mouse deep

Country Life Every Week - - Athena -

THE roots of her­itage are ex­tremely deep in Bri­tain and cor­re­spond­ingly strong. When Athena last counted, there were some 7,000 her­itage groups in the UK bring­ing to­gether more than seven mil­lion peo­ple as mem­bers, vol­un­teers, staff and trustees. In Eng­land, more than a third of adults have taken some sort of ac­tion to pro­tect a lo­cal build­ing or lo­cal place from dam­ag­ing change, dis­use or dere­lic­tion.

Much of this in­trepid work is small-scale and lo­cally fo­cused, tak­ing the form of civic so­ci­eties or build­ing-preser­va­tion trusts. It has a na­tional struc­ture as well, how­ever. There are, for ex­am­ple, more than 100 na­tional or­gan­i­sa­tions that cham­pion spe­cific eras or cel­e­brate niche in­ter­ests such as ships, gar­dens, chapels and cin­e­mas.

There is no ques­tion­ing the im­mense value of the in­ter­net, and of so­cial me­dia in par­tic­u­lar, to th­ese bod­ies. Au­di­ences and sup­port­ers of her­itage causes have grown hugely thanks to Twit­ter, Face­book, Linkedin and In­sta­gram. Th­ese have be­come main­stream tools in the her­itage world, al­low­ing cam­paign­ing in­di­vid­u­als and bod­ies to ex­press opin­ions in a way that peo­ple find lively, au­then­tic and com­pelling. They also open up even the most mod­est or spe­cial­ist causes to lo­cal, na­tional and in­ter­na­tional de­bate in a way that would have seemed in­con­ceiv­able even a gen­er­a­tion ago.

The use of so­cial me­dia and the in­ter­net to ad­vance a cause, of course, ex­tends far be­yond the world of her­itage. There are, for ex­am­ple, more than 29,000 e-pe­ti­tions on the UK Gov­ern­ment web­site alone. Some sense of the scale of so­cial-me­dia cam­paign­ing is ap­par­ent through the grow­ing num­ber of emails we all re­ceive to sign up to this or that pe­ti­tion or un­der­tak­ing. Its very pop­u­lar­ity has also en­sured this phe­nom­e­non a new name: click­tivism.

Where a click in sup­port of a cause em­pow­ers the sig­na­tory by en­cour­ag­ing them to be­come a mem­ber of a group, to vol­un­teer or back a crowd­fund­ing ini­tia­tive, then this sort of en­gage­ment is a def­i­nite plus. It’s much less valu­able, how­ever, if com­mit­ment stays just mouse-deep. The num­ber of likes, fol­low­ers, hits, and e-sig­na­tures doesn’t nec­es­sar­ily in­di­cate suc­cess or—more im­por­tantly—quan­tify value. The un­com­fort­able truth, more­over, is that dig­i­tal ac­tivism doesn’t re­place re­spon­si­bil­ity or ac­tive in­volve­ment. For all the pop­u­lar­ity of our her­itage in the vir­tual world of the in­ter­net, we still need ‘boots on the ground’ if our her­itage proper is to be saved. De­spite the dig­i­tal rev­o­lu­tion, the her­itage move­ment in one sense re­mains un­changed: it still de­pends on pas­sion­ate com­mit­ment as its pri­mary re­source.

Oc­tavia Hill (Na­tional Trust), Wil­liam Mor­ris (So­ci­ety for the Pro­tec­tion of An­cient Build­ings) and Duncan Sandys (Civic Trust) showed us that it is cre­ativ­ity, courage and, above all, com­mit­ment that re­ally sus­tains our her­itage. Their ex­am­ple is still rel­e­vant, so next time you sign up to an e-pe­ti­tion, don’t just be a num­ber—be real, too.

‘Next time you sign up to an e-pe­ti­tion, don’t be a num­ber– be real, too

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