Anne Moorhouse discusses English Heritage's role in preserving some of England's historical buildings, monuments, and past
Image(s): English Heritage
‘Step into England’s story’. Managed to have a stab at that recently? You know, just in your spare time? No? Sigh…woe is me. English Heritage has found that there are simply not enough young people, primarily belonging to the age category of around 15-25, taking an interest in or visiting their sites.
The charity presides over 400 of England’s historical buildings and monuments; one of my favourites is Eltham Palace. Whilst transformed into an Art Deco mansion by Stephen and Virginia Courtauld during the early twentieth century, the site was once a medieval palace and, later, became a Tudor royal abode. The stories of such buildings are kept alive for the public by hundreds of volunteers across the country. In order to preserve these crucial relics from the past for many more to enjoy in the future, the organisation has introduced the ‘Shout Out Loud’ youth engagement programme. ‘For young people, by young people’, this scheme is fundamental in bringing the voices of young people to the heart of English Heritage to ensure that our country’s heritage lives on.
If you are a Londoner, like me, or have visited the city, you may have wandered past a blue plaque or ten and questioned why it was there. Without the support of English Heritage, the 900 plaques adorning London’s streets, a unique scheme dating back to 1866, would likely be inexistent. ‘Who owns Stone Henge?’, I hear your question with the utmost intrigue. You can thank English Heritage. ‘What about that wall, you know, the one everyone visits on their school trip?’ Hadrian’s Wall is indeed maintained and managed by English Heritage, generating many a nostalgic school trip memory (even if it did mean yet another disturbingly sweaty cottage cheese confection of a sandwich…).
In case you haven’t quite grasped it already, this charity exercises a critical role in educating our country about their past. It was for this reason that I decided to ‘volunteer as tribute’, in those vertebrae-chilling words of the great Katniss Everdeen. Having worked as a Room Explainer at my local English Heritage property, Kenwood House, during sixth form, I was recommended to the ‘Shout Out Loud’ initiative a year later. This is one of twelve ‘Kick The Dust’ youth programmes across the UK, supported by the National Lottery Heritage Fund. Working alongside other Young Producers and with a new emphasis on promotional media, this collaborative body is the platform for voicing the concerns and executing the aims of young people for the future of heritage. Offering new insight into England’s stories from a youth perspective, whether it's erecting a play, creating a film, or curating an exhibition, one of its primary goals is to foster a broader engagement from teenagers with their historical past. You may now offer yourself up to English Heritage…if you’d be so kind.
There is often the misconception amongst people around my age that heritage sites are dull. The occasional youth has bewailed that they simply rekindle suppressed trauma of that one family holiday sodden with old property visits. You will be grateful in the end when history becomes your degree choice and visiting historical properties miraculously appears as your ‘passion’ on the old UCAS application. Working at Kenwood and as the Youth Representative for English Heritage completely redefined my approach to these sites. Explaining about the history of the room, the house and the art collection to visitors was nothing short of a privilege. Walking around a historical property is like stepping into a fragment of our past; history is not confined to textbooks, but something tangible that ought to be explored, preserved and engaged with. With your help, England’s heritage and historical sites will have a new voice and platform to assert fresh prominence in our society.