Press Releases

PRESS RELEASE : Lord Parkinson at Heritage Day hosted by The Heritage Alliance [March 2024]

The press release issued by the Department of Culture, Media and Sport on 7 March 2024.

Lord Parkinson has delivered a speech to members of the heritage sector at the annual Heritage Day hosted by The Heritage Alliance.

Thank you for having me along to Heritage Day again – it’s a great pleasure to be back with you.

Lizzie, Ingrid, and the whole team at the Heritage Alliance do us all a great service by bringing people together to share ideas and insights, champion our heritage heroes, and speak with a collective voice about what the sector needs to keep flourishing – reflecting the power of collaboration, as you have put it so well for your theme for this year.

It’s a power you are harnessing for the sake of the millions of people who benefit from our heritage today, and for the sake of future generations.

Heritage Day is a great opportunity to look back on the progress we’ve been able to make together over the past year, and to talk about some of the things we want to see next – perhaps all the more important in an election year.

The past twelve months have provided some sad but powerful reminders of how much heritage means to us all – through the senseless loss (I would use a stronger term, but I’m mindful that criminal investigations are ongoing …) of the Crooked House pub
in August, and the beloved tree in the Sycamore Gap of Hadrian’s Wall the following month.

Both of these cases sparked immediate and visceral reactions, not just from people who lived nearby, but from around the world  I think i’m right in saying the videos the National Trust put out about it were their most viewed ever. – a potent sign of the importance of our built and natural heritage.

Heart-wrenching though both these cases were, they offered an important reminder of how much that shared heritage means to us all – and why it’s worth fighting for.

When I stood before you last year at the Charterhouse, I set out some of the things I was keen to work on with you – so it’s gratifying to look back and see how much we’ve been able to do together.

When we met last, the Levelling Up & Regeneration Bill had just arrived in the Lords – it’s now an Act of Parliament, putting protection for more of our heritage assets, including Scheduled Monuments and World Heritage Sites, on a statutory footing – and benefiting from some valuable improvements thanks to lobbying and engagement by people in this room.

A quarter of a century since it arrived on the statute book, we’ve also updated the Treasure Act – widening the definition so that more of the extraordinary artefacts being discovered can be saved and shared with the public.

And we announced the ratification of the 2003 UNESCO Convention on the Safeguarding of Intangible Cultural Heritage – after twenty years of campaigning by many here today.

We’ve also published guidance for custodians of contested heritage assets – a tricky issue, but one which benefited from the careful deliberations of our Heritage Advisory Board, and which I’m pleased to say was received with similar thoughtfulness.

I’ve had the great  honour of opening the National Trust’s Heritage and Rural Skills Centre in Oxfordshire, and English Heritage’s ‘reawakened’ Belsay Hall in Northumberland.

I also had the pleasure of joining a meeting of the National Amenity Societies, and helping to launch the Heritage and Carbon report alongside Historic England, the National Trust, Grosvenor, Peabody, and the Crown Estate – a powerful example of collaboration there!

We’ve done all that while designating over 170 listed buildings and Scheduled Monuments, helping the National Portrait Gallery to save Sir Joshua Reynolds’s Portrait of Mai for the nation, thanks to the largest ever donation from the National Heritage Memorial Fund, and support from across the sector, reuniting the three Thornborough Henges in the National Heritage Collection and publishing the Tentative List for new World Heritage Sites.

This time last year, I announced my intention to expand the official Blue Plaques scheme across the country. Today, I’m proud to stand here and say we’ve done it.

In September, we changed the law to enable the scheme which has been so brilliantly run i by English Heritage for many years to be expanded across the country.

Thanks to some great work by Historic England (and responding to the demands of an impatient Minister!), we had the great pleasure two weeks ago of unveiling the first national Blue Plaque in Ilkley, to Daphne Steele, the first black matron in our National Health Service. Joining her son Robert in West Yorkshire to celebrate her life and legacy was one of the true highlights of my time in Government.

We’ve already announced the next two plaques – honouring Clarice Cliff, one of the most influential ceramists of the 20th century, and George Harrison, the music icon and humanitarian. I’m looking forward to those being unveiled – and to seeing which other figures from all over the country will join them in the future once public nominations open in the summer.

The new, national scheme will help us to tell the stories of a wider range of people – showing how people from towns, villages, and cities across this country went on to change the world, and I hope inspiring new generations to know that they can do the same.

So thank you to everyone who worked together to make that happen so quickly.

Last month, I was also delighted to join Historic England to mark the protection – through Grade II designation – of a number of historic gas lamps in Covent Garden.

London’s gas lamps have been an integral part of the city’s identity for more than two centuries. From the novels of Charles Dickens and John Buchan to the adventures of Sherlock Holmes, Mary Poppins and The Muppet Christmas Carol, they’ve provided an evocative backdrop to many of our capital’s most cherished events and imaginings.

When they were threatened, the London Gasketeers sprang into being to protect them. Thanks to their dedication, and the expert advice of Historic England, Westminster City Council has committed to preserve any gas lamps which are given listed status – a number which I’m delighted to say has already risen by a dozen, with many more under consideration.

This will ensure that their inimitable glow can continue to brighten the lives of Londoners — and the millions of visitors the city welcomes — for generations to come.

As we look to the future of the listing process, we should be asking ourselves whether we are missing important parts of our heritage, such as late Victorian and Edwardian buildings; whether there are ways to ensure that listings cover every part of the country, and can better recognise craftsmanship and quality in the buildings we consider. I am interested in the role that the Principles of Selection for Listed Buildings – last updated six years ago – has to play in this.

Harnessing the power of collaboration, I will work closely with Historic England and others – such as the amenity societies and the Historic Environment Forum – to look at this alongside other possible interventions.

Last week, I had the pleasure of chairing the latest meeting of the Heritage Council – a brilliant way of facilitating collaboration across Government, as well as between us and the sector. We talked about the preparations for next year’s Railway 200 celebrations – the bicentenary of the first passenger rail journey – as well discussing some of the challenges and opportunities facing heritage rail, following up on many of the points which were raised when I attended the Heritage Railway Association’s annual conference in Newcastle, that cradle of the railways, in November.

We also talked about a topic raised at last year’s Heritage Day – underwater and marine heritage.

I was pleased to be joined by Ministerial colleagues from the Ministry of Defence, the Department for Transport, DEFRA, and the Foreign Office as well as colleagues from the sector to explore these two areas of mobile heritage.

I am following our discussions up by looking at the Memorandum of Understanding we’ve had for the past ten years between my Department and the MoD – and, in the longer term, continuing to pursue the ratification of the 2001 UNESCO Convention on Underwater Archaeology, which I see is included in your refreshed Heritage Manifesto.

But one UNESCO Convention I’m delighted to say we are ratifying very soon – I go to Paris next month to deposit the signed papers – is the 2003 Convention on Safeguarding Intangible Cultural Heritage.

The French have a better name for this: they call it ‘le patrimoine vivant’ – ‘living heritage’. I think that captures well the traditions and practices we pass on from generation to generation; things which have shaped us, and which we shape in turn.

Of course, our tangible and intangible heritage are not separate – they are linked through the spaces, stories, products, and indeed the vital crafts and skills that maintain our built heritage.

We will launch a call for applications for an inventory of intangible cultural heritage in the UK this summer, which I want to ensure represents the full range of our living heritage.

Thank you to the many people here who have been engaging with the team at DCMS as we consult on implementing the Convention. We have had a fantastic response, so please stay involved and help us to keep shaping it.

Yesterday, of course, was Budget Day, which saw some great news for our sector.

Through the third round of the Levelling Up Fund we are investing in our great cultural heritage across the country, including £15 million for the National Railway Museum in York and County Durham, and £10 million to the International Slavery Museum in Liverpool’s Grade I-listed Royal Albert Dock.

We also pledged £10 million to safeguard the extraordinary Temple Works building in Leeds – a Grade I-listed flaxmill with Egyptian Revival architecture and a frankly bonkers roof which used to be covered in grass and had a herd of sheep to help mow it. This investment (alongside the £1 million already provided by Historic England) will help to bring the site into public ownership and explore its potential to become the new northern home of the British Library.

We also provided more than £26 million for the Grade II* listed National Theatre – just a stone’s throw from here, and one of the finest examples of Brutalist architecture in the country.

The Chancellor announced £1 million for a war memorial honouring Muslim soldiers who fought for our Armed Forces in both world wars and £10 million for culture and heritage projects in the West Midlands and £6 million for community regeneration projects across the country with the King’s Foundation.

There was also support for the creative industries which heritage is such an important part of. I was downstairs in the crypt trying on the virtual reality headsets seeing how we transform our business services at heritage sites. Of course these places and heritage are an inspiration for many of our creative stories.

And I’m delighted to say that Gift Aid legislation will be amended to ensure that charities can still claim Gift Aid while complying with new protections for consumers under the Digital Markets, Competition, and Consumers Bill – something I know that has been a concern for many organisations here today, and which our colleague Lord Mendoza has been taking up in the debates on that Bill.

But of course, there are always more areas which need our support. I couldn’t stand in this glorious, Grade II*-listed church – built with a grant from Parliament – without, first, thanking Canon Giles for hosting us, but also recognising that much of our ecclesiastical heritage is at risk, imperilling not just the buildings but also the communities and congregations they serve.

Since 2010, the Government has returned £346 million to churches, synagogues, mosques and temples through the Listed Places of Worship Grant Scheme.

Thousands of buildings have benefited – including, I’m glad to say, this one, which has received £1 million since 2015 for several works, including the installation of a new lift and the creation of a narthex café and welcome area.

But still many more could benefit from this scheme. That’s why, just before Christmas, I wrote to all MPs to highlight its positive impact in their constituencies, and to encourage more places of worship to take advantage of it.

But, as someone in a meeting I had recently put it, this scheme is about getting the tax back on works churches and others do; what they also need is help to fund that work in the first place. I recognise that, and am pleased to be working with the Church of England, the Churches Conservation Trust, the National Churches Trust, the National Lottery Heritage Fund, Historic England, and others to see how we can provide that broader support for these cherished buildings and all the good things that they do.

Our work continues, but is stronger for being done together.

Another part of our heritage which is much cherished, but which also needs support, is our seaside heritage – something I’ve seen on my visits to coastal communities including Brighton, Eastbourne, Margate, Scarborough, Torquay, and my native North Tyneside.

Some of you have heard me extol the virtues of the Spanish City in Whitley Bay before – the Grade II-listed, neo-Baroque pleasure garden facing out across the North Sea in my hometown.

It is far from alone. Around our coastline, winter gardens, esplanades, harbours and piers remain at risk, whether from neglect, from salty water, or from the long overdue need to adapt to changing times.

That’s why I’m delighted to announce that we will soon be launching a dedicated fund to support enhancements to our seaside heritage, drawing on the successes of recent programmes like the High Streets Heritage Action Zones, to help protect and rejuvenate coastal assets which are in need of love and attention. As always, we’re keen to do that in collaboration with the brilliant people and organisations in the sector – so please watch out for more details, and help us make a difference to coastal communities across the country.

So, a busy year gone, and a busy year ahead – but none of the things I’ve mentioned would be possible without the support and hard work of the people and organisations represented here today.

Thank you for a year of powerful collaboration in support of our nation’s heritage – and here’s to many more!