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Europa Nostra UK submits COVID-19 evidence

To get a better and more complete understanding of the effects of the COVID-19 crisis on cultural heritage and the specific needs of the heritage sector to overcome it, Europa Nostra sought input from its members in March. The objective was to use this information as a basis for joint advocacy efforts towards the European Union, its Member States and other relevant international, European and national bodies. Europa Nostra UK offered the following response:

1) How is your organisation and/or heritage organisations in your country being affected by COVID19 pandemic and the measures to contain it? What consequences do you expect as a result of this pandemic (in the short and longer-term)?

Europa Nostra UK have been affected by the COVID19 pandemic in various ways, specifically as a result of the social distancing measures in place. Our scheduled events for the year will be impacted most. Namely, our planned young person initiative, which was based on young people interacting with previous UK winners of the Europa Nostra awards to gather inspiration and career advice, will be greatly affected. The likelihood is that the meetings will have to take place virtually, which though possible, can be difficult for those that do not have access to suitable technology.

ENUK were in the process of planning a series of Architecture Days at various museums, events that enable guests to interact with others in the cultural heritage sector. These have been postponed until later in the year/2021.

ENUK’s AGM, planned for September, will likely need to be postponed until the start of 2021 as we anticipate that the month of September will be saturated with postponed activities, professionals catching up on missed work, and people who are likely still going to be anxious about gathering in large numbers.

The short-term consequences we have already experienced are the postponing of events, as previously mentioned. This could adversely affect our membership as we are not able to engage with them as much as intended.

The longer-term consequences are directly related to the impact that the virus has had on the British economy. Our member organisations are primarily NGO’s who rely on membership contributions, donations and site visits. The impact of social distancing on organisations that rely on tourism to their site/s is unprecedented. In 2019, the National Trust had 26.9 million visits made to their properties over the course of the year. This number will be drastically affected by the closure of all their sites from the 22nd March 2020 as social distancing measures in the UK were increased.

Our other member organisations will be affected by the reduced income through events and withdrawal of financial support from governments towards projects. A key example is one of our members, Edinburgh World Heritage. They released a statement that summarised the closures: “At Edinburgh World Heritage, fundraising events have had to be cancelled, our World Heritage exhibition and retail operation at the Tron has been closed, and important conservation work has been postponed.” Furthermore, the city of Edinburgh, and indeed the whole country of Scotland, will face a significant financial loss through the cancellation of the annual Fringe Festival, the world’s biggest art festival that contributes around £1 billion to the Scottish economy through direct spending, employment provision and additional spending within the city of Edinburgh. The long-term effect of the cancelled festival on artists, the city and charities in Scotland is yet to be seen, but for member organisations like Edinburgh World Heritage it is potentially catastrophic.

For Europa Nostra, especially in the UK, there may be an impact to the annual awards programme. If winners of the 2019-2020 awards cannot be celebrated, ENUK will lose a primary marketing opportunity. Furthermore, the submission of entries to the awards for Conservation and Research may be reduced as people. This is because in the cultural heritage sector are unlikely to be carrying out conservation projects due to site closures and reduced staffing capacity (around 44% of the UK’s companies are expected to furlough at least half of their workforce). In addition, with no access to libraries or archives, research may be difficult to complete, thus impacting submissions to the Research category.

2) Which measures are your organisation and/or heritage organisations in your country implementing to overcome the crisis (in terms of re-organisation of daily work, use of virtual tools, economic plans, creation of digital content and alternate-delivery programmes, etc)?

We are hoping to explore digital technology to alleviate some of the issues caused by social distancing. We are doing our Committee meetings via Microsoft Teams, a conference call system. ENUK are also hoping to collaborate with the SPAB to run some lectures about European Cultural Heritage and the Europa Nostra UK award winners.

Finally, we are hoping to increase our presence on Twitter, our primary social media outlet. We will do this by releasing content about Europa Nostra UK winners and by sharing information about European Cultural Heritage initiatives.

3) What can the heritage world learn from this crisis?

It is already evident in the actions of many UK and European based NGOs, museums and other organisations, that the primary lesson to be learnt is the power of digital resources. The ability that technology grants those who are disabled or without the financial means to travel is now understood by the general European population, who in their isolation have had a taster of the life of those unable to access cultural heritage sites usually. The impact of reduced travel and tourism will also be evident across lots of external sites, such as gardens and ruins. With infused faith in technology, the heritage world can begin to invest more concretely in methods to make assets digitally accessible, assisting in the global battle against climate change.

4) In the following months, what do you consider will be the most urgent needs of the heritage sector?

Financial support will be incredibly urgent for most organisations in the heritage sector. Reduced economic stability across the European economy will result in less disposable income for the population, and thus less spending in the heritage sector. For organisations that rely on tourism or membership as a source of income, the impact will be profound and the need for financial support undeniably urgent.

5) Which measures do you think are needed at local/national/European level to support heritage organisations during the pandemic and after the pandemic (in terms of legislation, resources, financial support and subsidies, etc)?

Financial support will be required across a range of sources, from supporting organisations with grants, loans or tax relief. Specifically, reducing taxes on tourist goods, building materials and other heritage related expenditure will be useful to a great range of heritage organisations and groups.

6) How can the cultural heritage world contribute to Europe’s socioeconomic recovery in the aftermath of the pandemic?

Cultural heritage is a massive contributor to economy in Europe. From events such as the Fringe Festival, to Open City, the income generated through cultural heritage activities can be substantial. Large group events such as those mentioned will be incredibly useful in the recovery of the socioeconomic aftermath of the pandemic. The benefit of positive, interactive and exciting events to people who are recovering financially and psychologically from extreme isolation will be incredible. Cultural Heritage should be at the forefront of the recovery effort, as it is psychologically reviving and often charitable.

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