Heritage and the Pandemic: An Early Response to the Restrictions of COVID-19 by the Heritage Sector in England

This 2020 article from Kate Guest (Historic England) focuses on the response of the English heritage sector to the Covid-19 pandemic. It provides insights into the impact of - and responses to - restrictions on the sector, as well as considering lessons learned from the pandemic about how to build resilience for other challenges facing the sector, such as climate change.

Date added 13 January 2021
Last updated 13 January 2021

This 2020 article from Kate Guest (Historic England) focuses on the response of the English heritage sector to the Covid-19 pandemic. Heritage can offer an important sense of place vibrancy, identity and distinction; however, as the article explains, the pandemic has had a massive impact on the cultural and creative sector, with many historic buildings having to close, planned archaeological, conservation, and maintenance work at least temporarily halted, and many staff in the sector furloughed.

A Heritage Sector Response Group was quickly formed to deal with such impacts, ensuring that organisations within the sector had access to timely information, advice, and support during the first national lockdown (and beyond). This group was also able to provide a strong voice for asking for financial support from government. Intelligence gathering has been important, with the group focusing on understanding the effects of Covid-19 on the sector, and sharing with organisations to incorporate in their recovery plans, including through online information hubs. Multiple surveys have also been conducted during the pandemic, with businesses of varying sizes in the sector, and some of these headline findings are included in the article.

A Heritage Online Debate was created, hosted on the Historic England website, where heritage and conservation experts could share case studies, blogs and short articles about the effects of the pandemic, and readers able to share their comments, enabling information and data sharing by a wide audience. Key themes within these online discussions include things like recovery timelines; risks posed by cancelled maintenance work; the need for targeted support; impact on volunteers; and innovative best practice.

The article concludes by considering other long-term issues faced by the sector, which have been further highlighted during the pandemic, such as climate change, the future of urban green space, and the loss of heritage assets. Lessons learned through the crisis tell us that understanding the sector eco-system, planning for flexible working, understanding vulnerabilities, collaborative networks, public engagement, and emphasising the value of heritage to local communities, will help the sector recover from the pandemic, and build resilience to other challenges, present and future.