What is Cultural Heritage?

Since launching in 2019, our business support programme Prosper North has worked with over 80 cultural heritage organisations across the North of England. The Prosper North community comprises a varied range of organisations that operate in the cultural heritage sector and provide positive social impact to their communities. So, what exactly is cultural heritage? And why are programmes like Prosper North, Heritage Compass, and Rebuilding Heritage important for cultural heritage?

When we think of cultural heritage, we often think about physical objects – archaeological sites, historical churches, sculptures, paintings, books, and collections – but this is just one facet of cultural heritage. In more recent history, immaterial entities have become more widely accepted as cultural heritage too. This includes but isn’t limited to traditions, oral history, performing arts, traditional craftsmanship, knowledge and skills passed down between generations. What links both tangible and intangible cultural heritage is the role they play in connecting communities to their past, providing a framework within which people are socialised and create a sense of belonging. In an increasingly globalised world, preserving cultural heritage not only has economic and environmental benefits, but is also crucial in helping us to understand our incredible cultural diversity.

The plethora of cultural heritage organisations who have taken part in the Prosper North programme act as testament to the cultural diversity of the region. We’ve worked with Chetham’s Library, the oldest library in the UK; Tribe Arts, a radical-political theatre and production company that amplify black and Asian stories and voices; the Eskdale Mill project, which works to conserve and present the historic Eskdale Corn Mill; Rural Arts, a registered charity that delivers creative opportunities to support the wellbeing of vulnerable people living in rural communities; Bright Box Makerspace, a space for people of all ages to explore tech, engineering and arts; and Homotopia, the longest running LGBTQ+ arts festival in the UK. And that is just six examples out of the 80 organisations we’ve worked with! 

Even though access to and enjoyment of cultural heritage is understood to be part of the human right to take part in cultural life, cultural heritage can also be vulnerable to various factors, from environmental damage to lack of funding. And of course, let’s not forget that the sector is also having to respond to the ongoing impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. Business support programmes like Prosper North, Heritage Compass, and Rebuilding Heritage are important in providing the skills, tools and time to dedicate to laying firmer foundations for a sustainable future, through engagement, protection and innovation within the sector.