Flow is delivering (with Cimex Media) an integrated multi-partner learning programme and website for the coast and seas in Northumberland. So I wanted to make sense of coastal heritage management in the UK. One reason for wanting to know the bigger picture is a concern about the increasing threat to the coast from the effects of climate change. This threat affects wildlife populations, areas of natural beauty and our cultural heritage, as well as our living towns and livelihoods. The National Trust has just published their report, Shifting Shores, to draw attention to this issue and to promote their plans to conserve their many threatened coastal sites, which includes both environmental and cultural heritage. The NT is one of a large number of bodies responsible for coastal management, and this large number of bodies is slowing down action. I’ve described before how this confusing jigsaw of responsibility is affecting Happisburgh. The Marine Bill is currently going through parliament, aiming to create a more integrated system for marine and coastal planning and conservation.
My interest in coastal heritage is personal too. My roots are entirely steeped in the coast, with only the occasional inlander cropping up in our family trees. Most of my relatives come from the heritage coasts of North Norfolk, Northumberland, South East Scotland and South Suffolk. Over the centuries, my relatives have made their livings by fishing, coastguarding and the Navy, and now some who are marine biologists and naval engineers. My great grandfather won a medal for predicting the 1953 floods and co-ordinating the rescue when he was the coastguard at Aldeburgh, Suffolk.
This was a devastating and frightening flood but it was not as frequent as the surges that occur now. The coast is also eroding rapidly in places due to an increased wave height and other factors. A map of the UK coast at risk looks as if a child drew round it in thick red crayon, then rubbed away a few bits of the line. Most of it is at risk, with the most worrying portions down the East coast, including the Thames Estuary where the Government is investing massively in new housing, industry and even thinking of a new airport. At least new planning can take account of the threat, but it’s harder to protect the heritage of millennia of human habitation around the coast.
Brancaster Staithe is an old village with a round-towered Saxon church and evidence of a Roman fort. Its heritage of fishing (especially for mussels) continues today. Every Spring it floods. The National Trust owns the land here and has invested in shoring up its harbour and flood-proofing its buildings. This is reassuring action but further East, there are plans under consideration for ‘managed retreat’, letting the sea breach 15 miles of coastal defences, letting it in for 5 miles, taking 2500 acres of NT property, thousands of homes, ancient churches and windmills. This is where I grew up, my homeland. It is just a proposal for now, and in theory managed retreat is logical. But it hurts!
Heritage management policy is about conserving where possible and, when it’s not, recording it before it goes. This recording of heritage can involve communities and it can be therapeutic for people to be involved in it. Sometimes, people do it themselves. For example, here’s a Flickr group called Disappearing Norfolk, inviting people to submit photos of the parts of Norfolk scheduled to change drastically. Sometimes, people are involved through organised projects, such as Holding Back the Tide, an HLF-funded project co-ordinated by CoastNET, collecting stories, pictures and artefacts from East Anglian communities about coastal change. The blog shows evidence of some great schools projects. (Note that the HLF told the project owner that this was the first HLF-funded project they had seen to have a blog, in 2008, which seems extraordinary.)
It would be a positive move to see community heritage projects like this expanding, using the power of the web, led by agencies such as English Heritage, National Trust and Natural England working together. Perhaps DCMS can consider how to support such collaborative working when the Marine Bill comes into force…
In the meantime, I’ve created a Flickr group for people to record images of threatened coastal heritage:
In the back-up files and on the shelves of all the UK’s cultural institutions sit thousands of reports: feasibility studies, research, evaluations, manifestos and action plans. Some of these were rigorously researched, cogently argued and well presented. Some of these were produced with minimum angst between client and author. These are the ones most likely to be read and distributed, and to have some impact. Of the ones in that category, many have been authored by Rick Rogers.
Sadly, Rick died on Sunday, still working on the second report from the Culture and Learning advocacy project led by the Clore Duffield Foundation. He had been suffering from cancer some time but continued to work, passionate as he was to articulate the value and qualities of cultural education.
Frequently the media decides to profile the ‘hottest stars of the cultural world’, showcasing the directors, curators and artists. Rarely do they showcase people who work in cultural education and even less do they showcase people who work behind the scenes of cultural education in doing the research, evaluation and advocacy that underpins the quality of its provision. It’s almost impossible to find Rick when you Google for him, because he didn’t need to promote himself and because of so many other shining stars, Richard Rogers the architect, Richard Rogers the Australian artist, Rick Rogers, an actor. But deep in those search results, there are bound to be many reports that have stood the test of time.
Not only for his work will he be missed. He was an incredibly sweet and calming person, a real pleasure to work with.
Donations in his memory can be sent to the Wigmore Hall Trust, to support their work in bringing children to music. Online donations here.
I went to the BFI on 30th September for a panel debate: Fast Forward, Cultural Institutions and Public Service Broadcasting. The keynote was Peter Bazalgette, reprising a speech he had given to the Royal Television Society, which he said "went down like a cup of cold sick". It didn't have that effect on me because I was heartened by Bazalgette's vision in this speech for a public service search, an online aggregator of culture, not just culture from the BBC but from the whole UK cultural and creative sector. Unfortunately he seemed rather dismissive of his own idea, probably because of the whiff emanating from its reception at the RTVS. It meant that the idea didn't really take shape through dialogue in this forum.
Peter Jenkinson, the Chair, asked if we are really hurtling fast forward into a digital revolution or just standing still. What effect will the Ofcom review of Public Service Broadcasting have in forging a new future for the cultural sector and broadcasting?
The context was outlined: A collapse in advertising, young people not watching TV so often, the dumbing down of programming (ref. 'Snog, Marry or Avoid'), children's and arts TV are both threatened. However, there is great opportunity in the creative community being proactive, creating their own media channels and content. Artists have failed to take part in making TV but a merging of broadcast and new media can change this. Public sector reform is about how to stitch people into this reform in a role of co-creation, with audiences now becoming the film-makers, curators and critics. TV is deeply affected by Reithian values, but people are no longer happy with this condescension, in the age of We Think.
Peter Bazalgette then talked about his RTVS speech and the cold reaction to it: He said broadcasting was about more than BBC and C4, that these broadcasters were presumptuous and boring, that the BBC actually feeds off regulators, that it's a closed world and so on. The options for Ofcom on PSB reform boil down to the question about how to fund C4, through a part of the BBC licence fee or other options. Andy Burnham has recently said that he wants to get on and enable this by January, so it seems the DCMS has made the decision.
The BBC i-player has already seen 160 million downloads but the license fee is based on ownership of a TV, so that funding system is irrelevant. The BBC itself is not irrelevant, because within the mess of the internet you need more trusted sources of information and the ability to nurture talent that the BBC offers. He insisted often that his view was 'let's change it but only a little bit'. He wasn't arguing against regulation or public ownership but suggesting identifying parcels of money (for example by privatising Radio 1 and 2) to diversify and modernise broadcasting. He can't see why ITV and C5 should have to make public service content. The regulators are obsessed with plurality, which is a fig leaf: The news agendas of C4 and BBC are identical so how can this be described as plurality?
So, what would he do with the released funds? He recognises, rightly, that one of the biggest issues in online 'broadcasting' is search to find the best free and authoritative content. He proposes 'Boggle' as a public service network for online/streamed interactive broadcasting for multiple forms of media, so that the whole cultural sector can channel their content. He suggests you could create an opera community for peer to peer review, streaming opera to remote audiences etc. He thinks all these things are already happening in a fragmented way and there is no conversation about it between C4, BBC and Ofcom, even though there are many opportunities to advertise to online engaged communities with targeted content.
Questions were raised:
Louisa Bolch asked: If a large part of public service media is about science, how will such a cultural service deliver this? Bazalgette's reply focused on the second part of the question, which was about how, if you force C4 to be more commercial, will they deliver science programming. He said that that giving public money to broadcast companies also takes away independence. If he had been more positive about his proposal, he might have replied that an online cultural aggregator doesn't preclude science content and could involve the UK's many science museums, foundations and communication bodies in its creation.
Baroness Lola Young raised the question of access and diversity. She referred to Bazalgette's notion that the 'three Nicks', the directors of the Royal Opera House, the Tate and the National, can be supported to create public service media, asking 'where is the space for the smaller voices who can't find the space?' Bazalgette felt that his vision was about real plurality that could be afforded by creating a much more open field that supports smaller voices to find better channels and funding for their work.
Louisa Bolch asked at least twice where the money would come from for all these organisations, as the cost of making culture to broadcast is so great. Her question wasn't directly answered, but Bazalgette had already mentioned some pretty large sums of money e.g. £160 million, and made a few suggestions on where the money could come from. What he could have said was that cultural content doesn't have to be so expensive if you support smaller organisations and individuals to create it, those who can be more ingenious on smaller budgets. It is possible to crowdsource good quality content. Also, there is an enormous amount of cultural content which could be more affordably generated by the clever digital curation of cultural collections e.g. film and theatre archives.
The ex-arts editor from C5 said that Andy Burnham doesn't address radical ideas about digital strategy and asked if there is a more softly-softly way to build on existing systems of funding to create and distribute culture more broadly?
Bazalgette said that the BBC will be forced by necessity to convert to an approach in which they really partner with others and don't crush them in doing so. He reported that C4 has 'stitched up' with Andy Burnham a list of public services they can offer in exchange for public funding, but feels that C4 has no special right to this arrangement and that all kinds of organisations could do it.
I suggested that Bazalgette should look beyond the Arts sector & ACE to collaborate on his public service search vision with the cultural collections sector, where there are people dealing with questions of aggregating cultural content online through strategic projects led by MLA, Culture 24, museum directors and others (and not just individual organisations like Tate). Louisa Bolch dismissed this as 'MLA TV' with a laugh, but John Newbigin, chair of Culture 24, supported my suggestion. He said that although the cultural sector is tiny, economically, compared to TV there are synergistic ecologies that could reap great benefits, with the broadcasters acting as aggregators and nurturers of creativity, opening up their archives and cuttings to others, for example.
I hope this discussion can continue, and involve the cultural sector as they collaboratively pursue a strategy for digital innovation, and isn't just dismissed as Bazalgette's silly Boggle idea as the DCMS sew up public service broadcast by the end of January.