Why I get excited about Heritage

Beth McHattie joined English Heritage in 1996 from Sotheby’s where she had been Head of Corporate Press. As Head of Media, her role is to use all forms of communication to inspire as many people as possible to share English Heritage’s aims and to value, care for and enjoy the heritage around them.

“A truly happy day!”, that is how one of our guests summed up the feeling after the third annual English Heritage Angel Awards ceremony yesterday as we celebrated at a post-show reception for the winners and runners up. Our guests were enjoying meeting each other, swapping stories of their trials and challenges and having the chance to get to know our host and judges – Paul Martin, Bettany Hughes, George Clarke and the Bishop of London. This wasn’t just hand-shaking, there were deep and passionate conversations going on between our Angels and their tv heritage heroes. Paul Martin, I couldn’t help noticing, spent an awfully long time kneeling in front of a seated group of our more elderly award-winners.

It felt in many ways, like the gathering of a clan.  Kate Moore, whose family have restored the Frome Silk Mill, said: “It was lovely to have my family all involved and around me when we restored the mill. We gained an extended family when people came to stay with us in return for contributing their skills and labour to the project. And now I feel my family has grown again, to include all these other people who have been saving historic buildings.”

Another family project was the rescue of Scargill Castle in Northumberland, bought by Niall Hardie-Hammond for his wife Caroline as a wedding present. In both cases, children in their teens and twenties had been involved in the projects. Perhaps we should have a special “Family Endeavour” award next year.

The Angels has so many angles to it. There is the history embodied in the buildings saved. There is the contemporary story of the restoration process itself and the lives of the people involved and there is the wider story of the jobs, skills, economic activity and business ideas that these rescue projects generate. If there had been a few manufacturers in the room they would have come away inspired to make things like safety lights for fire-escapes that blend in with old walls and smoke-alarms that match the colour of old beams!

In my Communications hat, I’m keen to keep the flow of information, exchange of news and experience and the inspiring stories going through whatever means I can. I’d like to bottle the fizz in that room and send it to you but for the time being visit our YouTube channel to view videos of all these wonderful people which is the next best thing.

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