ENGAGING WITH PLACE AND MANAGING SPACE: Transforming policy, statutory advice, management, and visitor experience in England's historic churches

Lead Research Organisation: University of York
Department Name: History


'Engaging with Place and Managing Space' offers a unique opportunity to use historical and social science research to enhance visitor enjoyment and appreciation of the cathedrals and great churches which comprise many of England's most important and best-loved heritage sites.

English cathedrals now welcome over 10 million visitors each year and have a growing role in promoting community cohesion, sharing their rich spiritual, cultural, and educational resources, and stimulating economic development in urban and rural contexts through tourism. The AHRC 'Pilgrimage and England's Cathedrals, Past and Present' (PEC) project explored ways in which much greater historical understanding of the use of buildings in the past, coupled with fresh evidenced-based insights into visitor needs today, could support cathedrals in engaging wider audiences and serving communities. Key issues highlighted include finding new ways to accommodate the multiple roles of buildings; the value of creating user-friendly, inviting spaces for visitors from all backgrounds; the centrality of sensory experience; offering an open-ended welcome to all visitors; and the need for greater recognition of these factors in decisions about adapting or changing buildings to enhance visitor provision.

In the final year of the project, the opportunities and challenges facing cathedrals were unexpectedly brought into urgent national focus by the publication of three major government and church sponsored reports: Cathedrals and their Communities: A Report on the Diverse Roles of Cathedrals, Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth (Department for Communities and Local Government, 2017); The Taylor Review: Sustainability of English Churches and Cathedrals (DCMS, 2017); Cathedrals Working Group Draft Report, 2018. The PEC research outcomes have been universally welcomed as offering essential perspectives in the current process of review and planning. Key stakeholders are now requesting help in embedding the PEC research in long-term policy-making, statutory guidance, management and training for all churches. This Follow-on project is thus driven by:

- the catalyst of PEC project findings on the value of applying historical understanding of the management of space to visitor needs today
- acknowledgement that current processes for assessing 'significance' (the sum of the cultural and natural heritage values of a place), will benefit greatly from PEC research perspectives, promoting understanding and strengthening project evaluation and approval
- recognition that greater understanding of the ways in which buildings function will help funders and applicants to develop more soundly-based and effective projects
- pressures created by the changing landscape of heritage volunteering and the need for additional information and training to help staff and volunteers engage increasingly diverse audiences

This initiative, requested by the key stakeholders in England's largest heritage sector, will bring about a new, transformative collaboration between Historic England, other statutory bodies, the Church of England, and those managing its 42 cathedrals and 16,200 parish churches. This project has 5 key strands of activity building on PEC research findings:

SHAPING NATIONAL POLICY in partnership with Historic England, other statutory advisors, and the Church of England

PILOTING FRESH APPROACHES TO VISITOR ENGAGEMENT, working with selected cathedrals and churches to enhance key spaces and offer creative new opportunities for visitor interaction

PROVIDING NEW NATIONAL GUIDANCE through an online handbook and workshops, in partnership with the Church of England and Historic England

SUPPORTING AND TRAINING STAFF AND VOLUNTEERS through a national volunteer strategy/programme focused on understanding, managing, and adapting spaces to enhance visitor experience and enjoyment


Planned Impact

'Engaging with Place and Managing Space' builds on the exceptionally productive networks and responsive relationships forged with partners during the 'Pilgrimage and England's Cathedrals' (PEC) project. These partners include the Church of England, Historic England, and other key bodies concerned with management, sustainability and sustainability of cathedrals and major churches, and their spiritual, cultural, educational, and economic contribution to society through their role as guardians of shared national heritage and places of meaning and memory for local communities.

The PEC project sought to show how the past can inform the present and help to shape the future. The chief findings include the importance and benefits of managing multiple functions within one building effectively; the need to understand historical patterns of use of space; the need to create 'human-sized' spaces with specific focal points, similar to those which existed in medieval buildings; the key roles played by art, architecture, sensory experience, and movement in learning and response, and the need to provide appropriate prompts and tools. The connected strands of this impact strategy have been designed with partners to help apply these findings to their planning and practice. The responsive nature of this project will thus ensure the longevity of the benefits through incorporation into existing, sustainable partner programmes and activities. Impact will be evaluated, collated and compared through partner networks. The evidence will help shape the long-term strategic outputs at national level.

All partners are actively seeking new strategies but lack research capacity. This project will thus have a transformative impact at national, regional and local levels, with direct beneficiaries including policymakers, public sector agencies, practitioner groups, cathedrals and other historic churches, local communities, and the wider public, including over 20 million people from all cultural and faith backgrounds who visit cathedrals and other historic churches every year. Chief beneficiaries will be:
1. THE CHURCH OF ENGLAND CHURCH BUILDINGS DIVISION, THE CHURCH BUILDINGS COUNCIL, THE CATHEDRALS FABRIC COMMISSION FOR ENGLAND And THE ASSOCIATION OF ENGLISH CATHEDRALS who are developing new guidance for cathedrals and major churches on understanding the dynamics of sacred places, managing, enhancing and supporting creative use of spaces and promoting visitor engagement with history and spirituality. PEC research will shape these outcomes
2. HISTORIC ENGLAND AND THE NATIONAL AMENITY SOCIETIES (including SPAB) who have a statutory responsibility to review and comment on proposed development schemes. Historic England wish to review policy and guidance on the uses of and changes to historic buildings in the light of the PEC findings
3. CLERGY AND LAY STAFF RESPONSIBLE FOR PRESENT AND FUTURE MANAGEMENT, USE AND SUSTAINABILITY OF CATHEDRALS AND MAJOR CHURCHES PEC-generated analysis and evidence will be applied to specific Case Study church projects and then incorporated into national guidance for all churches
4. VOLUNTEERS Cathedrals typically have hundreds of volunteers whose performance is vital to effective space management and successful visitor engagement but the Church of England has no national policy on volunteer recruitment, training, support and discipline. A new Volunteer Managers' Forum has been established to address these issues and PEC research findings will help shape the priorities within a new policy and training strategy
5. FUNDERS who wish to provide more understanding and guidance to strengthen future development projects
6. VISITORS OF ALL AGES AND BACKGROUNDS PEC evidence shows that visitors today are very keen to engage with buildings but often lack the historical knowledge to do so. This project will develop new tools and approaches to help visitors explore and enjoy the largest sector of our national built heritage


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