As part of the Skills theme of our Sector Resilience Interview series, we heard from Liam Smyth, Project Implementation Manager for the UK National Commission for UNESCO’s Local to Global Project. Local to Global aims to create a resilient community of practice across UK UNESCO designated sites, promoting skills, confidence and capacity-building in three key areas.
Read on to find out more.
Liam, tell us a bit about yourself and your role in the heritage sector.

My name is Liam Smyth and I am the project implementation manager in charge of the ‘Local to Global’ project at the UK National Commission for UNESCO.

UNESCO, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation, is a specialised agency of the United Nations with the mandate to use culture, education, science, communication and information to promote mutual dialogue between countries and peoples and foster peace.

The UK National Commission for UNESCO (UKNC) was founded in 1947 and is a constitutional part of the UK Government’s membership of UNESCO. It is grant-funded by the Foreign, Commonwealth, and Development Office to provide independent policy advice, support our network of UNESCO sites and projects across the UK, as well as UNESCO’s global mission.

What can you tell us about the Local to Global project? What does it aim to achieve for skills and capacity in the heritage sector?

Local to Global is supported by the National Lottery Heritage Fund, thanks to National Lottery players, and is about building a more resilient network of UNESCO sites in the UK. Uniquely, this is a multi-designation, multi-level approach that covers all of our Biosphere Reserves, Global Geoparks and World Heritage Sites. The UK’s UNESCO sites are destinations of world-class natural and cultural heritage that bring people, communities, businesses and organisations together to mobilise solutions locally, regionally and internationally.

Our previous research on ‘Sites for sustainable development’ and ‘National value of UNESCO to the UK’ successfully demonstrated that all UNESCO designations localise global challenges and address them through collaborative and equitable governance arrangements. Local to Global steps up this learning to define and contribute to best practice in inclusive and participatory approaches that can be shared across our network. 

The project focuses on three key pillars that are relevant across all types of UNESCO designation in the UK:

  1. Audience Development, Stakeholder Mapping and Inclusion
  2. Fundraising and Financial Sustainability
  3. Digital Transformation

Local to Global has commissioned experts in these fields to develop open source resources that draw on case studies from the UK UNESCO network.

 What contribution will this make towards the resilience of the heritage sector?
  • Best practice: the resources developed as a result of this project will support our network and the heritage sector at large to share and benefit from learning and innovations that address a range of intersectoral and systemic challenges.

  • Greater awareness: of the breadth of world-class UNESCO sites in the UK and the people and partners they convene to generate social, natural, economic, and cultural capital.

  • Bridging the research-practice divide: we invite leading academics to present their research to our sites and inspire discussion about how new ideas can be implemented on the ground. Recent online workshops we’ve run have focused on “Women and girl’s safety in parks and public spaces”, “Sustainable tourism” and “The role of visitor centres in UNESCO sites”.

  • Global advocacy: UKNC advocates on behalf of the UK on the world stage, presenting our rich and diverse heritage sector to national commissions worldwide. The Local to Global project has recently featured in presentations at the UNESCO HQ in Paris, the 45th World Heritage Committee in Riyadh and to the Norwegian UNESCO network.
What does success look like for the Local to Global project – how do you plan to measure this?

We want Local to Global to support a sustainable, inclusive and dynamic network, by being responsive to the present and future needs of our sites and their stakeholders. Through iterative evaluation cycles, we are involving all of our sites in co-defining challenges and working collaboratively to prototype and test solutions. Success for Local to Global will be measured by how well we engage and integrate our full network of sites in this process.

An early success of Local to Global was the creation of a brand new illustrated map, which, for the first time, showcases all 58 land-based UNESCO designations in the British Isles and encourages more people to discover them:

The map was co-created and co-promoted with all sites, which demonstrates the power of a network in driving groundswell and engagement with UNESCO values. During the map launch campaign, in summer 2023, average daily visitors to the UKNC website rocketed by 600% compared to the four weeks prior and social media posts had over 2,000,000 impressions worldwide.

By the end of October 2024, the Local to Global project will have delivered a new website for UKNC that will host a series of toolkits and resources that will support ongoing network-building activities and resilience pathways for UNESCO sites.

Image (c) UK National Commission for UNESCO, with original illustration by Tom Woolley.

An illustrated map of the British isles in pastel colours with the logo of the UK National Commission for UNESCO in the top left hand corner. The map shows each of the 29 World Heritage Sites, 13 Creative Cities, 9 Global Geoparks and 7 Biosphere Reserves in the UK and crown dependencies, represented by a round designation icon and an individual illustration of a significant heritage landmark from the built or natural environment. Two squares on either side of the map show a close-up of London and Edinburgh where there is a higher concentration of UNESCO sites.
Where can we find out more?

We regularly update our project page with blogs and opportunities to get involved:

If you have an interest in a key aspect of the project then you can email the project implementation manager, Liam Smyth:

Overall, what do you think is most crucial for ensuring a resilient heritage sector?

The sustainable development challenges faced by the heritage sector in the 21st Century are complex and interwoven. It is impossible to address these challenges in silo, so what is most crucial in ensuring a resilient heritage sector are stronger and more inclusive ‘partnerships’ (see: Sustainable Development Goal 17). 

Further, UKNC recognises that beyond ‘resilience’, the heritage sector must also be prepared to ‘adapt’ to changes and realise new opportunities together.

This Sector Resilience interview was shared by Liam Smyth as part of our Heritage Sector Resilience Plan activities. 

If you’d like to contribute an interview as part of the series, follow the link below to find out more:

Sector Resilience Interviews – Historic Environment Forum