New research highlights value of Kent heritage and its challenges

Olivia Miller
Dover Castle by Wikimedia Commons

A new research report conducted by the University’s Centre for Heritage, which analyses the social and economic benefits of heritage for (county) Kent, has reflected on the concerning challenges facing the sector.

The report shows encouraging investment over the past 10 years that demonstrate the social and economic benefits that heritage in Kent brings, yet major falls in income and future challenges are also highlighted.

The COVID-19 pandemic has caused a major fall in income from tourism for the county from £4.1 billion in 2019 to £1.6 billion in 2020. This included a fall of 61 per cent on day trips, and 60 per cent on overnight trips. This had an impact on employment in the tourism sector accounting for a drop of 39 per cent to 50,026 individuals. The fall in income due to the pandemic is particularly noticeable for Canterbury with a loss of over £300 million, while Medway and Thanet both saw losses over around £200 million.

The report also considers the impact that Brexit may be having on visitor numbers from Europe. Prior to the pandemic and Brexit, French and Belgian schools regularly arranged school trips to the UK, but additional costs such as the requirement for visitors to have passports may well be reducing visits.

The challenges facing heritage in Kent, cited in the report, include:

  • Pressure on local authority budgets reducing budget for heritage
  • Cost of living crisis impacting disposable income of families to visit heritage locations
  • Coastal heritage affected by erosion, increased flooding risks and climate change
  • Poor water quality levels and pollutant risks in natural wetlands
  • The need to further encourage public participation and engagement with heritage
  • Sites at risk from unlawful metal-detecting
  • New housing impacting heritage landscapes, their wildlife and eco-systems

Case studies relating to heritage in Canterbury, Dover, and Folkestone and Hythe local authorities are presented. These show how each of the areas has been able to use its heritage assets to develop its tourism economy, and to attract significant funding from the National Lottery Heritage Fund (NLHF).

The economic benefits of heritage are underlined by the scale of NLHF awards made to projects in Kent, as well as the value of tourism, in part driven by heritage attractions and assets. Heritage projects in Kent were awarded over £79 million in grants from NLHF from 2013 to 2020. The largest amounts were for £13.7 million for the Canterbury Journey awarded to Canterbury Cathedral, £4.8 million for Chatham Historic Dockyard Trust, £4.6 million for the Maison Dieu in Dover, £4.6 million for the Sheerness Dockyard Church project, and £3.4 million for Chartwell.

The report additionally identifies four key heritage themes for the county: coastal heritage; Christian heritage; historic houses; and natural heritage and historic landscapes. These themes embrace elements such as the Roman forts of the Saxon Shore; Dover Castle; the artillery forts of Henry VIII; coastal resorts; the UNESCO World Heritage site of Canterbury; the cathedral city of Rochester; historic houses including Knole and Chartwell; and the Kent Downs Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB).

The research was carried out by Honorary Professor David Gill (Kent’s Centre for Heritage), Christopher Moore (PhD student at Kent School of Architecture and Planning) and Jon Winder (a freelance heritage practitioner).

Honorary Professor Gill said: ‘This report highlights some of the challenges facing heritage in Kent and outlines the need for further discussion, debate and formulation of workable solutions to address them. Local authority and national policies must align to ensure heritage sites, museums and archives can collaborate more productively. A strategy to integrate the historic built environment with related objects and documents that can be found in museums and archives within the county will also be valuable, along with developing more digital engagement opportunities between heritage sites and the public.’

Dr Sophie Vigneron, Co-Director of the Centre for Heritage and Reader in Law at Kent Law School, said: ‘Heritage in Kent must be preserved for future generations and to enhance tourism across the region. This report demonstrates the value of heritage sites and provides advisory actions that local authorities, Kent County Council, heritage professionals and organisations must take note of.’

The report is titled ‘Historic Kent: The Value of the County’s Heritage Sector’ (Gill, D. W. J., C. Moore, and J. Winder). doi: 10.22024/UniKent%2F01.02.95708