New research report uncovers huge potential for heritage in Kent

Sam Wood
Reculver Towers is a prominent heritage site in Kent.

This story was originally published on 29 July.

Research by the Centre for Heritage has highlighted the importance of heritage for Kent, revealing the county as home to some of the leading heritage examples in the UK. This report provides insights for tourism and business development according to county heritage.

Professor David Gill, Honorary Professor in the Centre for Heritage, and PhD student Peter Matthews have produced the report, Kent: State of the Historic Environment (2021), analysing data issued in the Royal Society of Arts Heritage Index (2020).

The report identifies how the public engages with heritage. In Kent, an estimated 55% of the population visited a museum or gallery at least once in 12 months; whilst Canterbury had a participation rate of 79%.

The report also highlights the potential to develop heritage along the Thames estuary, with Medway noted as a key contributor. This will inform strategy to better use the heritage assets in the area.

The Index groups six main themes: Historic Built Environment; Museums, Archives and Artefacts; Industrial Heritage; Parks and Open Spaces; Landscape and Natural Heritage; and Cultures and Memories. The 316 local authorities in England are then ranked on criteria such as the number of historic buildings, funding, and public participation in heritage.

Six authorities in Kent are recognised for their heritage and are placed in the top 100 for heritage in England. Tunbridge Wells at 36 and Dover at 49 are the highest ranked in Kent.

Six authorities have also seen a rise since the 2016 Index. Ashford rose by 61 places, Dartford by 46 and Dover by 35, reflecting the commitment to developing heritage in Kent.

Tunbridge Wells, Canterbury and Dover are in the top 100 for Museums, Archives and Artefacts.

In the themed section of the Index:

  • Canterbury was placed at 12 for Culture and Memories,
  • Thanet at 10 for Industrial Heritage,
  • Tunbridge Wells at 13 for Culture and Memories and 15 for Parks and Open Spaces,
  • Medway at 15 for Landscape and Natural Heritage, and 30 for Industrial Heritage,
  • Gravesham at 17 for Parks and Open Spaces,
  • Tonbridge and Malling at 24 for Parks and Open Spaces, and
  • Swale at 26 for Landscapes and Natural Heritage and 27 for Parks and Open Spaces.

Awarding of National Lottery Heritage Fund grants is charted ranging from over £15 million for Canterbury to £355,900 for Dartford. The majority of grants were awarded to projects in the area of the historic built environment. The data show that over 3.5 million holiday nights were spent in Kent prior to the pandemic. The impact of the pandemic on visitor figures is revealed from the data of seven Kent locations that fell from 2.5 million visits a year to 700,000 in 2020.

An event for heritage organisations in Kent to discuss the report and to plan for further growth will be hosted by the University of Kent’s Centre for Heritage this autumn.

Honorary Professor David Gill said: ‘Heritage enriches the lives of Kent’s residents and is enjoyed by visitors to the county. Our heritage report identifies some of the clear strengths of the heritage sector in Kent, which we can seek to build on as the country emerges from the pandemic.’

Dr Sophie Vigneron, Co-Director of the Centre for Heritage, said: ‘The Centre for Heritage is committed to identifying ways to support heritage organisations across the county and region. Kent’s heritage potential should be developed for the benefit of our community while being preserved for future generations.’

Professor Catherine Richardson, Director of Kent’s Institute of Cultural and Creative Industries, said: ‘This fascinating report has highlighted the huge potential we have in our county. At the Institute, we are developing new interactive, creative ways of engaging our communities with their heritage, and we look forward to working with partners to bring new stories of our built and green environment to life.’