The legacy of Angels

Rescuing buildings does more than preserve our built environment, it brings people and communities together. On this occasion it was within the plush interior of the Palace Theatre in London’s West End: the great and the good, celebrities and journalists and, importantly, people from across the country who had saved their local heritage. These people represented sixteen individuals or groups who had been shortlisted from more than 200 local groups that had applied to win one of the first English Heritage Angel Awards launched by Andrew Lloyd Webber back in June.

All those shortlisted had made outstanding contributions. But this was a competition and it was left to the six winning groups to demonstrate to us the single minded determination that people can bring to rescuing some of the most important parts of England’s heritage.

Andrew Lloyd Webber said “the winners stood out for their passion, perseverance and imagination, for the scale of the challenges they had taken on and for the legacy they leave behind”.

Thinking about this legacy reminded me of an earlier initiative. In 2000 the Government asked English Heritage to lead a review of policy and strategy for England’s historic environment.

MORI was commissioned to survey people’s attitudes to the historic environment. It revealed that 87% thought it was right that there should be public funding to preserve it and that 85% thought it was important in promoting regeneration in towns and cities. Interestingly 76% thought that their own lives were richer for having the opportunity to visit or see it and 75% thought that the best of our post-war buildings should be preserved, a figure which rose to 95% of the 16-24 age group.

These findings were published in Power of Place. What they show is that the conservation of our heritage is not just about using the right materials and traditional craftsmanship, it is about embracing social and economic factors. Our heritage should not be seen as a burden but a benefit. After all, historic places are good for property prices, they contribute to quality of life, they create jobs and, as the Angel Awards show, they bring people together. In other words they help create sustainable places.

Image: Arnos Vale Cemetery, Bristol – joint winner for the best rescue of a site from the ‘Heritage at Risk’ Register Credit: English Heritage