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Heritage Debates

The Heritage Debates

The Heritage Alliance holds an annual Heritage Debate on issues affecting the heritage sector.

Our Heritage Debates aim to stimulate new thinking on the benefits of our heritage. These debates help to transmit new ideas to ensure that the new perspectives generated through research are understood by those formulating policy and practice in relation to heritage, and equally, that the major challenges facing the heritage sector are understand by researchers.

After each debate, we aim to conduct follow-up projects and research to explore recommendations that result from these important discussions. Currently, we are working on legacy projects for:

  • The relationship between heritage and the environment (following our 2019 debate) – planning stage
  • The challenge of diversifying heritage in the 21st century (following our 2018 debate) – planning stage

Following a previous debate, we have now produced a new report on Heritage, Health and Wellbeing.

If would like to contribute to any of these projects, please email

Twitter free icon  Follow our debates on Twitter using the #heritagedebate hashtag.

Ecclesiastical Insurance

Heritage Debates are made possible through the kind sponsorship of Ecclesiastical Insurance.

The Heritage Debate: ‘Young People and Heritage: Creating Lifelong Supporters?’

The Heritage Alliance is hosting its annual Heritage Debate virtually on 23 November 4-6 pm posing the question: “Young People and Heritage: Creating Lifelong Supporters?” Sponsored by Ecclesiastical Insurance.

At a time when 16-24 year-olds are the least likely adult age group to visit a heritage venue, now is the time to ensure that the heritage sector is reflecting on its practice and engaging young people as audiences and collaborators. The last few months have been a demonstration of incredible resilience within the heritage sector, yet with the ability to adapt to our changing society we must ensure we have young advocates for our continued growth.

Panellists will be announced shortly. Click here to book a (free!) ticket for the event.

In the lead-up to Heritage Debate 2020, we have been seeking blogs and vlogs from young people in the UK aged 16-24 with an interest in heritage to answer the question: ‘What does heritage mean to you?’. We have been uploading the content to a dedicated page, which include stories about how the contributors became interested in heritage, their perspectives on what the heritage sector can do to attract more young people, or why they see value in heritage.

All blog and vlog submissions are being entered into a prize draw to win an iPad Air and the deadline for submissions was midnight on Wednesday 18th November. We will be announcing the winners online soon, so watch this space!

The Heritage Debate: ‘Reaching for Net Zero?’

Our 2019 debate focused on the relationship between heritage and the environment. At a time when countries around the world, including the UK, are making commitments to move to a net zero emissions economy, now is the time to ensure that the heritage sector is involved in these discussions as we move into the future.

The panel featured the environmentalist and climate change communicator David Saddington, the environmental adviser for the National Trust Keith Jones, Historic England’s leading environmental analyst Dr Meredith Wiggins, the Head of Environmental Research Dr Hannah Fluck, Capital & Centric’s co-founder Tim Heatley and Faith Kitchen, Heritage Director for Ecclesiastical Insurance.

We are very grateful to Ecclesiastical Insurance Group for sponsoring this event.

The Heritage Debate: ‘Diversifying heritage in the 21st century’

Our 2018 debate was centred around the challenge ‘how do we get more diverse audiences to connect with heritage?’ The speakers discussed class, disability, LGBTI+, BAME, women and youth in relation to the sector, exploring ways we can greater achieve better inclusion in terms of workforce diversity, public engagement and the narrative of collections/material culture and locations. We were looking to give participants a sense of the challenges the sector faces and the good practices we need to put in place to achieve greater diversity.

The audio and slides from the debate are available on our YouTube Channel here. Photographs are now also available here.

The Heritage Debate: ‘Is heritage good for your health?’

We like to think heritage is good for people’s wellbeing and health, and some evidence is starting to be available to back this up. Heritage participation can improve mental health, and the historic environment can provide an attractive backdrop to physical activity (as shown by the increase in Parkrun-type events).  This debate will not so much challenge these statements, as ask how the heritage sector can do better to build bridges with the world of public health. What claims can realistically be made for the health benefits of heritage, and where does heritage best intersect with the public health needs of the nation?

The can listen to the debate on our YouTube Channel here:


The Heritage Debate: ‘Heritage & Research: Bridging the Gap’ 

Our eighth Heritage Alliance Heritage Debate explored how heritage research influences public and private sector decision-making – or not. Millions of choices are made in the property industry and by modest private owners every day, while champions like The Heritage Alliance need to access relevant and timely evidence to support their advocacy.

Universities are increasingly required to be more engaged with external audiences and to demonstrate impact but the outcomes of academic research, whether from history or psychology faculties, do not always reach the audiences that can put them to good use.


The Heritage Debate: ‘The H Word: Heritage ‘revisited”

This seventh Heritage Alliance Heritage Debate explored perceptions of the word ‘Heritage’. Is it a help or hindrance in attracting political recognition or private investment or do outdated connotations perpetuate the myths that heritage is a brake on growth or just a warm bathe in nostalgia? ComRes, the leading research consultancy, launched a new snapshot of public perceptions of the word ‘heritage’.

Speakers from the media and development industry discussed perceptions and misconceptions from their own experience. The aim, with the help of the audience, was to find ways to bring the wider public understanding in line with contemporary thinking of our heritage as a dynamic, strategic resource of benefit to government, industry, communities and individuals.

The podcast for the event is now available below or here. Photographs are now also available here.

The London Heritage Debate: ‘Heritage and Government: Towards a coherent policy?’


Time and location: 14th July 2015, School of Oriental and African Studies, London  

‘Heritage & Government’ – the sixth in the Alliance’s series of Heritage Debates and first to be held in London – examined the changing role the state has played in supporting our heritage for public benefit.Heritage Alliance Chairman Loyd Grossman led an outstanding panel of heritage champions.

Conrad Bird, Director of the Cabinet Office’s GREAT Britain campaign illustrated the importance of heritage to the UK’s position at the top of the soft power league. Sir Laurie Magnus, Chairman of Historic England outlined the new English Heritage model and warned that ‘the gravy train of state support has gone’.

Professor Sara Selwood, Editor of Cultural Trends, examined the relationship between research and public policy making. The 150-strong audience raised issues about education, everyday heritage, VAT and developers’ perceptions of heritage, local authority capacity and the fate of Local Authority heritage assets.


Follow the lively tweets at #heritagedebate or find the images on our Flickr Page, while the podcast is now available below or here.

The Alliance’s Heritage Debates series is generously sponsored by Ecclesiastical Insurance. This event was is held in partnership with the Bartlett School of Planning (University College London) which hosts The Place Alliance.


The Newcastle Heritage Debate: ‘Heritage and Identity: What makes you who you are?’ 


Time and location: 5th November, Armstrong Building, Newcastle University, Newcastle.


Is heritage just a socially acceptable version of tribalism? Has social media produced a culture of ‘place-less’ relationships? These were some of the central themes explored in a major public debate on heritage and identity held at Newcastle University on Wednesday 5th November 2014. The questions of how heritage affects people’s sense of identity and what heritage a North Easterner or Geordie would single out as shaping their sense of self were also on the agenda for the debate. The event was sponsored by specialist heritage insurer Ecclesiastical and held in partnership with University of Newcastle’s The International Centre for Cultural and Heritage Studies.

The discussion was chaired by Peter Stone, Head of the University’s School of Arts and Cultures. The audience of academics and heritage specialists heard from panel members Graham Bell, Europa Nostra Council and Director North of England Civic Trust, Izzy Mohammed, Audience Engagement Coordinator, Library of Birmingham and Dr Rhiannon Mason, Senior Lecturer in Museum, Gallery, and Heritage Studies.Attendees, readers of the Newcastle Journal and local MPs were invited to respond to 4 questions about symbols and characteristics of the North East in the Journal’s piece by 10th November.

  • Peter Stone, Head of the University’s School of Arts and Cultures.
  • Graham Bell, Europa Nostra Council and Director North of England Civic Trust. Download his presentation here
  • Izzy Mohammed, Audience Engagement Coordinator, Library of Birmingham. Download his presentation here
  • Dr Rhiannon Mason, Senior Lecturer in Museum, Gallery, and Heritage Studies. Download her presentation here

The Birmingham Heritage Debate: ‘Heritage & Philanthropy Turning Public Passion into Pounds’


Time and location: 24th June 2014, Austin Court, Birmingham.


The Chairman of The Heritage Alliance, Loyd Grossman, led a lively debate on heritage and philanthropy organised by The Heritage Alliance on 24th June at Austin Court, Birmingham. The debate, Heritage and Philanthropy: Turning Public Passion into Pounds, covered topics including how to persuade people that culture is just as important as other causes in a crowded market, how to attract corporate and donor sponsorship for heritage outside London, how to foster common interests between the heritage and arts sector, alongside demonstrating the importance of social justice factors and the importance of valuing local support.

The four panelists, Loyd Grossman, Heritage Alliance Chairman, Martin Kaufman, Martin Kaufman Philanthropy, Nick Blinco, Director of Development and Alumni Relations, University Birmingham, and Anna Southall, Trustee, Barrow Cadbury Trust, each held the floor before the debate was opened up to the audience.

Nick Blinco, Director of Engagement at Birmingham University, provided a practical perspective on philanthropic fundraising from his experience working in the University and higher-education sector, arguing that heritage organisations should remove all barriers to their fundraising strategies when understanding each individual’s donor’s needs and desires.


Anna Southall, Barrow Cadbury Trust, argued that heritage is essentially a social justice issue, drawing on her own experience to highlight key ‘tips’ for fundraisers in the heritage sector. Martin Kauffman, Kauffman Philanthropy, argued that the lack of an effective unified public campaign which demonstrates the importance of our heritage and culture to the overall social, economic and future well-being of the United Kingdom has meant it will continue to receive minimal private philanthropic giving in comparison to other sectors.

Birmingham Heritage Debate June 2014 podcast


The Cambridge Heritage Debate: Heritage & Tourism: Who Needs Whom?


Time and location: 17 October 2012, Cripps Court, Magdalene College, 1-3 Chesterton Road, Cambridge, CB4  3AD


The Debate explored the relationship between heritage and tourism and the extent to which heritage is becoming understood as simply a branch of the tourism industry.The debate was an opportunity to review the changes in our perceptions and understanding in this relationship as it is the 25th anniversary year of the publication of Robert Hewison’s controversial The Heritage Industry: Britain in a climate of decline (1987). The event brought the heritage community, owners and users, together with senior figures from the heritage movement, the tourism sector, the private sector, and the world of academia.


Chairman: Loyd Grossman OBE FSA, Chairman of the Heritage Alliance



  • James Berresford, Chief Executive, VisitEngland
  • Robert Hewison, Writer, Visiting Professor, Lancaster University
  •  Dame Fiona Reynolds, Director General, The National Trust
  •  Marie Louise Stig Sørensen, Reader, Prehistoric Archaeology, University of Cambridge

The York debate: Heritage & Television: Who Profits More?


12 June 2013, The Merchant Adventurers’ Hall, Fossgate, York, YO1 9XD


Broadcast heritage is a huge source of both information and entertainment, but what does heritage gain from this extensive exposure? The Debate explored whether the face of heritage on TV really is a true picture, how television affects our perceptions of heritage, and how it influences the way heritage organisations engage with audiences.

Chairman: Loyd Grossman OBE FSA, Chairman of the Heritage Alliance


  • Dr Anna Whitelock, Senior Lecturer, Royal Holloway, and Author,
  • John Goodall, Architectural Editor, Country Life
  •  Ed Taylor, Executive Producer, ITV Studios

See the video from the debate here:


The Bristol debate: Heritage & Profit: Who Gains Most? 

6 November 2013, Paintworks, Bath Road, Bristol, BS4 3EH


The Debate explored how public and private interests use heritage to achieve their objectives and how economic activity around our older buildings, our heritage railways, our collections, our leisure moments and festival venues drive millions of businesses across the country.Far from being a brake on economic growth, heritage underpins some of our most powerful industries – tourism, construction and the creative and cultural industries.

  • Loyd Grossman OBE FSA, Chairman, The Heritage Alliance
  • Mayor George Ferguson, Mayor of Bristol, Architect, Entrepreneur
  • Dr Anna Farthing, Director Harvest Heritage, Arts and Media; Harvest Films Ltd
  • Nick Sturge, Centre Director for SETsquared, Director, The Engine Shed