Today, COP26 will focus on elevating the voice of young people and demonstrating the critical role of public empowerment and education in climate action.
CITiZAN project (run by Museum of London Archaeology – MOLA) has shown the potential of a citizen-science approach. In Mersea Island the project mapped 100 years of dramatic coastal change. Using photos, postcards and memories held within the local community MOLA learned more about not just where and when such changes took place, but why they happened. Combining 350 images, several hours of interviews and a series of historical maps, local volunteers created a striking story of Mersea Island’s transformation between 1920-2020.
Focussing on apprenticeships, Sir Robert McAlpine, a leading UK construction and engineering company, facilitated employment for those starting heritage careers with an opportunity to hone skills through practical application, for example during the refurbishment of St Marylebone Parish Church. As part of their wider sustainability strategy, Sir Robert McAlpine has committed to achieving a level of Social Value Return on Investment (SROI) on all projects, demonstrating their commitment to making a difference to the local communities. In ensuring these traditional heritage skills are preserved, Sir Robert McAlpine is helping to ensure that existing building stock can be reused, restored and repurposed, rather than demolished. This in turn should have a positive impact on embodied carbon emissions, where research has shown that demolishing a historic building and replacing it with a new building can result in greater carbon emissions by 2050.
Read the St Marylebone Parish Church case study here.
Both the case studies feature in our report #HeritageResponds, which can be downloaded here.
Accelerating the global transition to clean energy is under discussion today at COP26.
Several organisations are making efforts to create a low-carbon and more sustainable heritage sector. The National Trust (HEF member) for example is committed to protect nature and landscapes together with heritage and – among many actions in this area – is taking concrete steps to maximise energy efficiency in their properties. In the Grade I listed mansion Wimpole Hall, the Trust has installed heat pumps and solar panels and Wimpole is now producing a significant proportion of its own heat and electricity.
The Church of England is also taking significant steps: for example, St Andrew’s Church, Chedworth, moved away from oil-fired heating and now procures its electricity from 100% renewable sources. Thanks to this project, operating costs are lower and church users are more comfortable.
The COP26 agenda today will focus on mobilising public and private finance flows at scale for mitigation and adaptation.
Great examples come from the heritage sector, such as Jubilee Pool – a Grade II listed seawater lido in Penzance (Cornwall) opened in 1935 (see picture – credit: Architectural Heritage Fund). A Community Share fundraising project ensured Jubilee Pool could remain open throughout the year in a sustainable way, thanks to the use of geothermal energy. Thanks to Architectural Heritage Fund (HEF member) who shared this powerful case study with us.
Energy efficiency can strengthen financial resilience of the managing organisations. Take for example Alexandra Palace, which hosts a diverse programme of events throughout the year: their new efficient lighting will reduce energy consumption and electricity costs. The project is a partnership between Alexandra Park & Palace, Salix and Haringey Council.
The UK heritage sector is united in its pioneering response to climate change, according to Heritage Responds, a new report launched by the Historic Environment Forum charting how heritage organisations are taking positive action.
The report brings together the expertise of 26 of the country’s leading heritage organisations – including English Heritage, Historic England and the National Trust – ahead of COP26 in Glasgow to highlight examples of how through revolutionary research, carbon reduction and maximising the potential of the historic environment, the heritage sector is making a major contribution to the response to climate change.
Historic Environment Forum Chair Dr Adrian Olivier said:
“The Historic Environment Forum exists to bring people together. And there is no other single issue that requires us to work more closely together than climate change. As the world turns its eyes to COP26 in Glasgow, this work intends to highlight the positive contribution heritage organisations and their partners are making to the debate, the actions needed to adapt to a changing world, and how heritage itself is part of the solution. The work creates a fantastic repository of good practice, lessons learned and interaction between different groups and sectors that anyone can draw on. I’m grateful to all the organisations who have provided us with such a rich and diverse selection of material. Let’s continue to build on the positive progress we’ve already made.”
Rob Woodside, Chair of the Historic Environment Forum’s COP26 Task Group and English Heritage Estates Director said:
“What Heritage Responds clearly demonstrates is the proactive work of so many organisations across the heritage sector to find solutions – leading on ground-breaking research, innovating on approaches to adaptation, harnessing the use of technology, retro-fitting historic buildings and reducing carbon emissions by retaining and reusing existing buildings. We are working across sectors to bring approaches to nature and culture closer together to help manage the green lungs in our cities and adapt to new environmental challenges. We’re also forging new skills to help maintain and adapt historic buildings. This isn’t about protecting the past but using heritage to find solutions for the future.”
The work is the culmination of six months of collaboration by the members of the Historic Environment Forum and showcases how the sector is responding to climate change, including investment in traditional low-carbon building adaptation techniques, nature-based solutions to mitigate future impacts, and renewed efforts to increase the lifespan of heritage assets and save the embodied carbon which might otherwise be sacrificed in demolition, new construction, or poor upkeep.
The case studies within the report highlight some of the UK’s leading projects to introduce sustainable solutions in the historic environment, including:
The Grade II listed Art Deco Jubilee Pool in Penzance, the first lido in the UK to harness geothermal heating as part of a new scheme supported by the Architectural Heritage Fund opened in August 2020.
A £2.5m project, co-led by National Trust and the Nidderdale Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty– aided by a £1.4m grant from National Lottery Heritage Fund – which will implement nature-based solutions to improve the resilience of the Skell Valley’s resilience to changing weather
A £90m Grosvenor Britain & Ireland programme to reduce energy use and carbon emissions across their historic Mayfair and Belgravia portfolio by over 70% by 2030.
A hidden array of 150 photovoltaic panels installed on the south-facing slope of Gloucester Cathedral’s medieval roof, supported by Historic England.
Ingenious smart sensors being used to help protect the priceless art collection at English Heritage’s Kenwood House in North London.
An innovative new heating scheme from the Church of England at Bath Abbey, using warmth recovered from Roman drains which carry the city’s hot spring water.
Alongside examples from heritage buildings in public ownership, the report also highlights case studies relevant to the almost a third of the UK population who live in buildings built before 1919, showcasing how homes can be made sustainable by adapting and “retrofitting” to help them compete modern low energy standards. These include a ground-breaking project which has seen Victorian townhouses in Manchester adapted to meet demanding PassivHaus standards for energy efficiency, and new training for craftspeople on improving energy efficiency in traditional buildings.
The case studies also shed new light on how the sector is ensuring there is an active dialogue between the natural environment and historic sites, including incorporating issues of flood toleration and improving biodiversity into plans for Somerset’s historic Toneworks textile mills – supported by Historic England – and a CITiZAN’s Museum of London Archaeology historic mapping project which made use of photos, postcards and memories from the community to map twentieth century changes in the Essex coastline.
To complement the report, the Historic Environment Forum launched a Heritage Responds Climate Change Story Map providing digital mapping of all the case studies and demonstrating the geographical breadth of the heritage sector’s action to address climate change.
Read the full Heritage Responds report here and explore the Heritage Responds Climate Change Story Map here.
Ahead of the launch of our report Heritage Responds, #HeritageChat discussed Heritage & COP26.
COP26 is a great opportunity for UK organisations to think about their work, and how heritage is linked to climate change. Participants were asked to share the small and big steps they are taking to tackle climate change; where there are gaps in research; what policy changes need to be made to prioritise the reuse and repurposing of historic buildings. It was recognised that many conversations related to climate change focus on the built environment, so Heritage Chat participants explored how we can make sure other sectors are considered in decision-making, and how we can involve local communities. Linked to this last topic, the Chat finished with a focus on international matters.
This #HeritageChat was run by our own Suzanne Huggett-Jones (HEF COP26 Task Group Manager) in collaboration with the members of the task group and Emma Healey (Heritage Declares).