The International National Trusts Organisation (INTO)

6 things we learned from ‘Heritage & Pandemics’

BlogsEvents October 13, 2020

In October 2020, we were delighted to co-host a two-part programme looking at the Asian heritage sector’s response to Covid-19. Working with the Indonesian Heritage Trust and the V&A, we brought together diverse voices to discuss ‘Heritage and Pandemics’.

Heritage and pandemics webinar schedule

The themes of ‘Heritage and Pandemics’

As communities across the globe work hard to repair the damage of Covid-19, how can we ensure that heritage plays a role in the rebuilding of places and communities as we move forwards?  What do we need from government and the private sector? And what’s the best way for heritage NGOs to communicate and advocate those needs? What messages do we need to send?

Watch the video below for highlights from the second day, where we were ‘Looking to the Future.’   Our speakers Dr Thant Myint-U, HRH Princess Dana Firas, Karni Singh Jasol and Hamdan Majeed gave insights from across the Asian sector. How might we harness the value of heritage when reimagining thriving and liveable cities in the wake of Covid-19?

If you would like to access a full recording of either session of ‘Heritage and Pandemics’ please contact the INTO Secretariat.

1. The Importance of local audiences

Programmes that focus on local communities have been more resilient in the face of Covid-19.

We heard about the wetland restoration work the National Trust of Korea has crowdfunded from local supporters.  Of major sites like Mehrangarh Fort turning their attention towards domestic tourists. From the surrounding area, but also people enjoying road-trips around India.  And of guided walks in Ahmedabad which have been raising people’s awareness of their local heritage.

At a time when governments are thinking about stimulus and economic recovery packages, the right investments [in heritage] made over 2021/22 can have incalculable advantages going forward for decades ahead.” 
- Thant Myint-U, Founder of the Yangon Heritage Trust

We wrote a series of case studies for the Asia-Europe Foundation back in 2012 which featured Ahmedabad.  Read more about Debashish Nayak’s work with heritage trails to transform Indian cities.

Sustainable tourism in stats

of residents of Wadi Musa (nearest town to Petra) rely on tourism for their livelihoods
people visited Mehrangarh Fort in 2019
religious buildings in one square mile of Yangon, Myanmar
tourists visit George Town, Malaysia each year

2. Heritage is good for your mental health

Through Covid, people have become more aware of their environment and cities need to become more liveable. With better air quality, walkability and access to nature, as exemplified at the South Korean eco-park.

The Heritage Alliance recently published this report on heritage and wellbeing.

Among the people of Jodhpur there is a saying that if they don’t see the Fort once in a day, their day is not complete. This is the level of emotion that people attach to heritage and in these difficult times, when people are feeling under such great pressure, heritage has an important role to play in wellbeing.”
- Karni Singh Jasol, Director of Mehrangarh Fort

3. We need government leadership

Many of our speakers talked about the need for government investment in heritage.  Which would be good for the economy, for people’s health and for the environment.

Real leadership is needed. Leadership that doesn’t just allow market forces to do their worst.  We heard about changes in government policy in Myanmar to strengthen and extend the demolition moratorium. But also leading by example and finding new uses for empty government real estate in downtown Yangon.

4. Bottom-up approaches work too

Fiona Reynolds speaks at heritage and pandemics webinar

What we have seen in Malaysia is that heritage preservation work started in George Town is beginning to create an impetus for other parts of the country. And this practical, demonstrable experience is now gaining traction at the policy level.
- Hamdan Majeed, Managing Director, Think City

Close collaboration between all stakeholders – government, entrepreneurs, ngos and the public – can have lasting results. Like how the National Trust of Korea reached a compromise with developers at Cheong-Ju. Their environmental citizenship campaign enabled them to raise awareness and funds. And ultimately to begin making changes to the legal system that will extend the reach of public ownership.

Not all approaches were this successful however and speakers referred to clashes with authorities and developers.  Lastly, a note of caution.  Princess Dana warned that hard-won advances in balancing development and cultural heritage preservation may be reversed. We all need to advocate strongly that governments should not just “switch the development switch back on”.

5. Inspiring leadership can make good things happen

In 2011, a group of architects, historians, businesspeople and others banded together to form the Yangon Heritage Trust in a last-ditch attempt to preserve Yangon’s unique character. Under Thant Myint-U’s inspiring leadership, and utilising his connections into government, the Trust was quickly able to stop demolition in the old city.

Since then, Yangon Heritage Trust has continued its important work. Providing technical assistance to private owners, engaging the public in local history and working with the authorities on urban planning issues.

Tourism can be part of the economic recovery going forward and heritage preservation can be a big part of that. But there is a wider argument to make, as Myanmar is trying to move from a poor country to a middle-income country, having a beautiful city, a liveable city, is a priceless asset. And that preserving and integrating our heritage as part of the future of the city is also a priceless asset for the country going forward.”
- Thant Myint-U, Founder of the Yangon Heritage Trust

6. There are strong links between cultural heritage and resilience

Petra National Trust heritage monument

Here is an inspirational quote from another inspirational leader.

“If you’re trying to build an inclusive sense of identity, you go back to your cultural heritage. If you’re trying to build public space in which to debate, talk and bring in different perspectives, that can be done through cultural heritage. And if you’re looking for resilience strategies – how communities throughout history have dealt with adversity, how they have adapted, how they have changed – that comes to us through knowledge of our cultural heritage.”

 – Princess Dana Firas, President of the Petra National Trust


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