Our guest blogger for the Festival of Archaeology 2022 is Sarah Cattell, Project Officer for the South Yorkshire Local Heritage List who explore the festival’s theme of ‘journeys’
Depending on how you look at it, the road to the Local Heritage List has been either very long or very short. Very long because local heritage listing as a concept has been around almost as long as National listing and scheduling, but it’s uptake across the country has been decidedly patchy over the years. Some local authority areas have had a full local list of their own for years, whereas others have just had partial lists, focussing on specific asset types such as parks & gardens, buildings and Conservation Areas, or no list at all. The four local authorities that make up South Yorkshire have had a mix of all three, so the new South Yorkshire List represents different stages along their individual journeys to local heritage protection. For some, this is not the first time that a local heritage list has been suggested or drawn up and over the past decade the question of local listing has been addressed by civic societies and councils all over South Yorkshire, either as part of local and neighbourhood planning or as an entity in its own right. As a result, the new local list has benefitted from this prior knowledge and enthusiasm from councils and the public alike.
It’s been a short journey too, because for those outside local government, the new list has suddenly appeared out of the blue. Although the four councils had been thinking about local listing in one form or another, there were no firm plans in place to create a list at the time. It was perfect timing then, when in late 2019 the government put out a call for expressions of interest in their Local Heritage List Campaign. This resulted in 22 local authorities being awarded funding to create new local heritage lists for their counties, or to enhance ones they already had. In the case of South Yorkshire, we had a really good base to work from as the Elsecar Heritage Action Zone had already created a list in Barnsley the previous year, and Doncaster, Rotherham and Sheffield all had either locally listed parks and gardens or Conservation Areas, so we were able to get started pretty quickly.
Far from being the end of our journey, the funding took us off down a new road as we began to organise actually putting the list together and getting formal approval from the local authorities. The two main aims of the South Yorkshire Local Heritage List are to make sure that the list is publicly nominated and that it is formally recognised by the county’s four local councils to ensure the best chance of protecting the historic places included on it. This meant getting the word out to everyone in South Yorkshire as quickly as possible so that people knew what we were trying to do, as the funding grant carried a 12 month time limit. We started by contacting local heritage groups, civic societies, universities and all sorts of other groups we hoped would be interested in being involved to tell them about the list and what we wanted to achieve. Luckily, we had a really positive response from everyone we spoke to!
The grant funding allowed for the appointment of a dedicated officer to oversee the project as it required considerably more time and resources than what was already available at either SYAS or the individual councils and so, I took up the post in July 2021. As we’re on the subject of journeys, I’ll give you a brief overview of the one I took to South Yorkshire, mostly by train as I was previously a community and field archaeologist in Manchester, where I still live. Over the past 10 years, as well as running commercial excavations all over Greater Manchester, I had been responsible for community engagement at Salford Archaeology. The largest of these projects was ‘Dig Greater Manchester’, a county-wide excavation and education programme to enable members of local communities and school children to get hands on with their own heritage. It was brilliant fun and after it ended I was always on the lookout for other opportunities to get people involved in the discovery and protection of their local heritage. It was this aspect of the Local Heritage List project that brought me to South Yorkshire and the enthusiasm and passion I’ve seen since last July has confirmed I made the right choice!
So, back to the Local Heritage List. Once I was in post, we started to focus on the project website (https://local-heritage-list.org.uk/south-yorkshire) as this is the place to go for everything South Yorkshire Local Heritage List, whether you want to find out more, see what’s on the list or add something new. At the same time, we kept up our contact with local groups and interested members of the public to get them ready to start nominating things as soon as the website went live. The Local List and its website were launched in late September 2021 with some great publicity and free-to-join webinars to explain what it was all about, and within 2 months we had received over 100 nominations! These were mostly for buildings, but there were also some archaeological sites, areas and parks & gardens too, so it was an interesting mix.
At the same time, we had also started on the path to getting the list adopted by the councils of Doncaster, Rotherham and Sheffield, Barnsley had already adopted the process when the Elsecar list was created and have now incorporated it into the South Yorkshire List. This has been an interesting process and has certainly taught us a lot about how things work at local government level! Having passed our report between various committees and departments and gaining signatures in triplicate, we were able to present our proposal to Sheffield Council. I’m pleased to say that they approved it and we are now on the final leg of finalising the documentation needed to internally record the decisions made about individual candidates. A similar process is also underway in Rotherham and Doncaster, but as yet, we don’t have any firm dates for when the list might be approved in these areas yet. Still, 50% approval isn’t too bad!
Now we had nominations and support, if not formal approval, we needed to start assessing the candidates so they would be ready to go on the list when the relevant governance process allowed. This was a fascinating process as the wealth of knowledge and experience of the members of our Assessment Panel made for some really interesting discussions. Over two rounds of assessment we now have over 130 candidates from across South Yorkshire ready for formal approval by the relevant local council. In addition we’ve got another 60 nominations coming up in our next assessment round at the end of July, so the people of South Yorkshire clearly have plenty of places in mind!
One really enjoyable element of the Local Heritage List journey has been the actual journeys (and virtual visits) I have made all over South Yorkshire to meet lots of enthusiastic people and groups who are keen to be involved with the project and nominate their local assets. It’s been amazing to hear all the stories of the buildings and sites that have made their mark on local people and the landscape or townscape they occupy, and really encouraging to see the devotion that people have to the conservation and protection of these places. This public support for heritage makes the list all the more important, as it truly is a reflection of what places really matter to local people.
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