This has been an exceptionally busy month for HTF – and an exceptionally good one for partnership working. Parliamentary and networking events with CADW and BEFS have led to the forging of stronger partnerships, with forthcoming joint events and future working encouraging outcomes; meetings with VisitEngland and attendance at their LEP event at Anglesey Abbey reinforcing the link between the Heritage and Tourism sectors; and HTF events on Localism and LEPs in Newcastle and London bringing us a new audience, healthy debate within our existing membership, and incredible support from partnership organisations. We may all be struck by funding cuts but they don’t seem to have dampened anyone’s enthusiasm – if anything the appetite for joint working and support among our new and existing membership seems stronger than ever – and while this may be a necessary byproduct of the cuts themselves it says a lot for the sector that we are just getting on with it.
And getting on with it is something it is apparent we must do with regards to Localism and LEPs in particular – as highlighted by prominent speakers at the recent HTF events. The emerging agenda around Localism grows in clarity but questions remain over actual empowerment of communities when faced with existing strategies and lack of funding, capacity and guidance – our Newcastle event underlined this with speakers from DCLG and law firm Bircham Dyson Bell spelling out the practicalities of these issues for what might be an average Neighbourhood Forum, and how these practicalities might help or hinder communities in engaging with the Localism process. Government and LEP speakers at our LEPs event presented LEPs engagement as to some degree an open book – with a ‘right of initiative’ and an onus on those seeking to engage to take the initiative and get on with it immediately while the local enterprise landscape is still in flux. While the deliberate lack of government guidance on LEPs may seem confusing, speakers presented it as an opportunity in a similar way to that of Localism – that Government recognising economic and neighbourhood areas as distinctive and diverse rather than as generic and ‘one size fits all’ creates a greater opportunity for communities to grow and develop in the best ways possible. While the cynic might say that there is so little guidance and so much decentralised onus to engage because plans have not been given adequate consequential thought, the opportunist and optimist might say So what? Let’s get on with it. This is our chance to shape our localities, to empower our heritage communities, and to make our places. So let’s get on with it. Before somebody else does.