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Guidance for public bodies reviewing contested heritage

Updated: Jan 11


Ben Stephenson – Director, BAS Consultancy; Senior Fellow, Institute of Place Management

Dr Joanna Burch Brown – Senior Lecturer, School of Philosophy, University of Bristol; We Are Bristol History Commission

Dr Marie-Annick Gournet FRSA - Director of Part-Time Programmes at University of Bristol; Director of MAG Consulting

About the research

The toppling of the statue of Edward Colston on Bristol in June 2020 set in motion a national debate about our heritage and who we continue to commemorate. At least 150 reviews and audits of contested heritage took place in the UKs towns, cities and institutions in 2021/21 and many were carried out with little guidance, with actions of both removal and retention without consultation arguably contributing to social division in some places.

This document uses primary and secondary research data, including in-depth analysis of past reviews of contested heritage to present guidance for public bodies engaged in reviews of their heritage assets and place names.

The guidance focuses on best practice in process design rather than what action should be taken with individual monuments and it has informed the processes of a number of partner public bodies. It covers:

  • Different models of review

  • The factors and contexts relevant to reviews

  • Key principles to underpin and guide reviews

  • Process design and implementation

  • Guidance on inclusive community engagement

  • Some possible courses of action

Policy recommendations

  1. In conducting sensitive reviews of contested heritage, public bodies must follow processes that are fair and transparent, inclusive, participatory, evidence-based and committed to justice.

  2. Engaging communities in constructive and participatory conversations about contested heritage is a necessary part of deciding what to do.

  3. There can be no single recommended approach to reviewing contested heritage – the local landscape should guide the shape of the review.

  4. Where the prevailing recommendation is to ‘retain and explain’ controversial monuments, this presents both an opportunity to think creatively about how we represent heritage holistically and the potential for further division due to the lack of definition of this process of ‘explaining’.

  5. Existing models for guiding community conversations exist which promote mutual understanding around sensitive subjects. These can be tailored for reviews.

The full document can be downloaded here.

Guidance for public bodies reviewing contested heritage
Download PDF • 394KB

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