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HER Forum Gives ‘em Hull
HER Forum Summer Meeting 2016, The Guildhall, Hull, 4th July 2017

(Post presentation questions and comments – in italicised type following each abstract – are based on notes taken at the meeting). 

View from the Chair – Chris Webster (South West Heritage Trust)
The HER Forum summer meeting moved, for the first time in many years out of what has become its comfort zone, to the UK City of Culture 2017 – Hull. Attendance was reduced, I suspect because of the need for an overnight stay for many people but those who did manage to wangle the travel expenses met up and had a pleasant evening sampling the culture.

The meeting itself opened with a talk on the transformations to the public realm in Hull that had been stimulated by the City of Culture designation. This was followed by talks on the strategies for heritage data in England (Sarah Poppy) and Scotland (Robin Turner) providing an interesting comparison of two different ways to approach a similar problem.

After lunch, Alice Cattermole talked on her project to evaluate the enhancement of HERs with early prehistoric information and Lucie McCarthy talked on the role (or not) of the HER in the City of Culture plans. This was followed by a walk around the old town area of Hull visiting both historic features and explaining the changes that the City of Culture designation had brought.

Repurposing Hull Old Town – Alex Codd (Hull City Council)
Hull City Centre represents the historic core of the port of Hull in terms of trade and commerce.  The City being one of the most Easterly ports in England has a long history of fortification and the first defences were built between 1321 and 1324.  The defences formed 3 sides of the Old Town and the River Hull was the Easterly boundary.

This is the area that represents Hull Old Town.  Hull City Centre is going through significant development due ot Hull City of Culture and the multinational investment from City to the Eats of the City – Siemens investment demonstrates how important the port remains in terms of economic prosperity across the City. 

The Old Town has seen several major developments in recent years across the Old Town including the investment in a new public realm, an extension to the New Theatre, the refurbishment of the Ferens Art Gallery, the redevelopment of Holy Trinity square, the construction of the Venue and the development of the Centre for Digital Industry. During these developments a significant amount of Archaeology work was required which has unearthed some interesting facts about the city.

The presentation will also focus on the Status of Hull Old Town as one of ten nationally designated Heritage Action Zones and will provide some clarity on how Archaeology is central to the repurposing of Hull and its core objective of being a World Class Visitor destination.

Heritage Information Access Strategy Update (Sarah Poppy, Historic England)
The Heritage Information Access Strategy (HIAS) is a partnership project interlinking a range of strands with the overall aim of simplifying access to Heritage Data. Its aspirations accord with those subsequently recognised in the government’s Culture White Paper and the UK Digital Strategy, and its drivers include improving access to heritage information for planning purposes and for local communities.

The broad aims of the initiative can be listed as follows:

• Provide clarity and reduced duplication in handling of heritage information
• Wider engagement with and improve information flows from those involved in planning the built environment.
• Developing improved links and signposting between HERs, records offices, museums and archives.
• Creating a single point of access to the national overview.

These are needs which have been illustrated by a range of preceding projects: The existence of a wide range of community generated research material (as yet poorly linked to any framework to promote its accessibility) was clearly identified by a study conducted by Worcestershire County Council for Historic England. The EngLaid project, meanwhile, which trawled archaeological data on a national scale, ultimately took 460 days to retrieve the information which it required and expended a huge amount of effort in assimilating it for use. These initiatives and others like them have made it evident that an improved means of accessing and sharing data is required.
In terms of its management structure, HIAS is co-ordinated by an internal HE Programmes Board supported by an Advisory Board which is drawn from a range of heritage stakeholders who act as advocates from the sector. Its efforts are founded on the 8 HIAS principles which form the rules of operation and strike the balance between national and local interests.  The principles were ‘tweaked’ after sectoral consultation in 2016, feedback from which showed consistently strong support for the approach advocated. 

The development phase of HIAS (Phase 3) are organised into 12 work-packages, led by Historic England, ALGAO and the Archaeology Data Service, underpinning what is a modular but collaborative approach. Five of these can be highlighted here:

NRHE and HERs data transfer: Principle 1, specifying that local authorities should be the first port of call for and primary trusted source of historic environment data, has led to a detailed investigation of the practicalities of transferring around 400,000 records from the HE AMIE database (a resource derived from the respected National Archaeological and National Buildings Records) to the relevant local authority HERs.

National Maritime Heritage Record: Principle 2, specifying that Historic England should serve as the first point of call for and primary trusted source of national datasets such as the National Heritage List for England (NHLE) and the National Marine Heritage Record aims to underpin HE’s responsibilities in its statutory planning and advisory role. To this end there has been extensive consultation with HERs regarding the management and availability of maritime data, of how partnership roles can be developed and how data may be shared in future.

Collecting and updating data: Principle 4, specifying that heritage research data or knowledge should readily be uploaded, validated and accessed online, has returned attention to the OASIS project. Here a major re-development of the system is being contemplated together with steps to encourage culture change and promotional measures to widen participation in the initiative.

Additionally the Oakleigh consultancy has done a business process mapping exercise for the built historic environment to aid understanding of the business flows and processes in operation within that sector. Whilst no ‘quick fixes’ can be promised (resource capacity, confidentiality and copyright being amongst the challenging issues which need to be addressed) there has already been much positive engagement in this area.  

National overview: Principle 5 specifies that a national overview should be delivered online by the Heritage Gateway. To this end work is in progress to develop a clear vision for the Gateway, which sits at the heart of HIAS. The high level requirements necessary for a fully updated Heritage Gateway are also being examined.  

National Security Copy: Principle 7 specifies that Historic England should ensure that a security copy exists of all investigative and research data. This would include safeguards to allow copies to be retrievable in the event of HER services being withdrawn. A survey was carried out by HE and ALGAO in November 2016 which gathered background data to guide this process.

Further work will now be undertaken to carry out an options appraisal and draft best practice and guidance.

Further information on the HIAS project can be found at:

Comment: HER Officer (1) – It appears that greater involvement in the strategy is needed from the academic sector.

Response – We would be very pleased to do so. There are presently two academic bodies on the advisory board including University Archaeology UK. Recent experiences with projects such as EngLaid have also provided valuable information on the practical aspects of the initiative.

Comment HER Officer (1) – More needs to be done regarding feedback from academic projects into HERs.

Response – It’s perhaps a little early to discuss specifics but there’s no doubt that HERs have great potential as an academic resource. We would be glad to take this issue into the action plan. Collaborative projects like Englaid have already brought this particular interface into sharper focus.

SHED Strategy update (Robin Turner, Historic Environment Scotland)
Scotland’s Historic Environment Data Strategy was launched in April 2014, and has been driven since then by a Programme Board and a smaller Management Group. It is a strategy for the wide range of bodies involved in creating and publishing heritage data within Scotland. Our tagline is ‘Working together to deliver better heritage information.’ Participants come from Scotland’s SRM Forum, Historic Environment Scotland, ALGAO, IHBC, archaeology units, academic institutions, and leading bodies within the museums, galleries and archives sectors. The Strategy is designed to ensure that we work together to make sure our data is created and maintained as efficiently as possible, and is as useful as possible to those involved in managing change and with an interest in Scotland’s past.

Over the past three years we have made good progress in a number of areas, including maintaining and enhancing PastMap, our historic environment portal; in devising and maintaining data standards; and in making data available and discoverable in the best ways from our users’ points of view. We are now beginning work on a new workstream to look at the linkages between HERs and museums and archives, to make the most of the potential synergies, and to provide users with a richer combined resource.

Our progress is mapped out in our SHED Implementation Plan, which we are using to assist prioritisation of our aspirations, and to provide regular updates. Our top priority for the time being is to ensure that there is Scotland-wide polygonisation of national and local HER records to a common standard, and good progress is being made on that front thanks to partnerships between local and national bodies.

SHED is being included at strategic level, within Our Place in Time – the Historic Environment Strategy for Scotland; in the Annual Operating Plan of Historic Environment Scotland, and in Scotland’s Archaeology Strategy Delivery Plan. By embedding this national, sectoral initiative it is easier to make a strong case for our activities, something that is reflected in the steady progress being made on several fronts.

Through the auspices of Scotland’s SMR Forum, SHED is a good example of the sector working together to make sure that our historic environment data is increasingly more robust and useful, and that we invest our limited resources efficiently and effectively.

Question: HER Officer (2) – Have any of your methodologies been made available? Clear examples of how your work has been implemented would be very useful to us all in practical terms.

Answer: (RT) -The principal issues will be the same in England as in Scotland. The polygon and its implications have a material bearing on the planning process. Planners therefore need to be in a position to access and interpret the data.  

(Alex Adamson, HE Scotland) – We have a situation where there is no ‘correct’ polygon.  For example, a polygon is created for the area which has been scheduled, and another for the known extent of a site – they are often different as they serve different purposes.  In Scottish SMRs only about 10% of the recorded assets are designated and they are mostly held as point data.  We are working with the HERs to create known site extent polygons for point-based records. Polygon can be found on the SMR Forum website at:

Training material has been created for the system which can be provided to anyone interested.

Question: HER Officer (3) – The importance of using historic environment data in this context is widely acknowledged. Do any mechanisms exist to measure usage of SHED?

Answer: (RT) – At present we achieve this through PastMap data relating to visitor and download figures. The SHEA (Scotland’s Historic Environment Audit) also provides headline data of usage.

Question: HER Officer (3) – Is there any feedback relating to customer satisfaction?

Answer (AA) – Steps are being taken to try to understand our audience. A survey is planned to check our presuppositions regarding why people visit our sites and what they are attempting to accomplish. This is to be undertaken across a number of Historic Environment Scotland websites. Some surprises are anticipated. 

(RT) – Additionally, we have been carrying out research into what members of the public perceive as heritage, and what they consider to be the most significant heritage. This was been initiated after some interesting findings relating to designation work in Scotland. In the forefront of these was the designation of ‘The Tinker’s Heart’. Whilst this structure had been moved from its original location, it was reassessed for protection in light of its currently being the only monument recognised as being of significance to the gypsy and tinker communities.  

A questionnaire has been issued and workshops held, with the aim of establishing what the wider population feel is important. Armed with this knowledge it is hoped that the appeal of heritage can be broadened and the process of designation made more responsive. Also, in terms of buildings, thought is being given to trying to look forward in time to predict what might be seen as important to people in 50 years’ time.

It has been recognised that we need to look seriously at our constituents and to expand out from the traditional middle-class audience that has shaped the existing parameters. We are asking ourselves what we are going to do differently. 

(AA) While the impetus for this work came from a question about designation, preliminary results seem to suggest that what, or whether, particular sites are scheduled or listed comes low down the priorities of the public.  We are getting a lot of information that will help Historic Environment Scotland to better tailor its activities to the priorities of the public.

An Evaluation of Early Prehistoric HER Enhancement Projects - Alice Cattermole (Alice Cattermole Heritage Consultancy)
The projects reviewed stem from a number of Historic England’s 2012 corporate proposals which were specifically aimed at improving recording of the early prehistoric period by HERs. No particular methodologies were specified and HERs were left to devise their own approaches.

As a result the evaluations extended across a range of areas and themes including:

Checking evidence
Digitising datasets
Deposit mapping and modelling
Incorporating relevant data from other sources

Locally the projects undertaken examined the following specific topics: Essex sought to identify areas of Palaeolithic potential; Kent focussed on the Stour Basin trying to establish Palaeolithic character areas; in Norfolk the aim was to enhance old records using information drawn from museum collections; South Yorkshire HER’s objective was to identify areas of high or limited potential for early prehistoric distribution; the West Berkshire project looked at combining desk based study with fieldwork and in West Yorkshire museum material was studied in detail. All except Essex combined the work with HER enhancement.   
A range of issues were identified:

Legacy Records
The content of legacy records proved to be hugely varied. Levels of detail and scope need to be definitely established.

How graphic material is handled. Photography and digitisation needs to be consistently employed to made this accessible.

A lack of expertise in the early prehistoric period: This results in general uncertainty as to how information should be used and indexed.

When adding information from sources most of the participants attempted to identify additional sources from which information could be made newly available. However:

Some sources were couched in technical terminology inaccessible to the non-specialist.

Journals were sometimes difficult to track down and occasionally behind pay-walls.

On the positive side, the Wymer and Jacobi archives are now newly accessible.

Within museums a great deal of material was held within antiquarian collections which gave rise to data-exchange problems with HERs.

Some of the museums held objects of this type in geological rather than archaeological collections.

Objects held by museums often lacked information of geographical provenance.

Deposit and predictive modelling
This was received with varying levels of enthusiasm. Questions were asked as to how useful it was in practical terms.

Some were put off by the complexity of the information and problems with buried ground surface and borehole data.

The resulting models required keeping up to date, something which seemed potentially problematic. The various processes involved needed to be repeatable.

Having reviewed the six projects and their findings the following recommendations can be put forward. They must be prefaced, however, with the caveat that the varied circumstances faced by HERs exclude the possibility of any ‘one size fits all’ solutions or prescriptive methodology:

Enhancement should take place within the HER’s digital environment (rather than bodies of assembled data being integrated at a later stage).

Avoid ‘mission creep’ by establishing and drawing up selection criteria at the start of the project.

Concentrate on key sources rather than being side-tracked onto more peripheral archives/publications.

The creation and enhancement of records should proceed in tandem rather than making them into two separate jobs.

Consistent conventions are needed for ‘splitting and lumping’.
Agree and document methodologies to accommodate poorly provenance material.

Multiple and previous interpretations need to be recorded and this should be considered at the outset.

Projects involving legacy records are often deceptively complicated. Sufficient time needs to be allocated to complete them satisfactorily.

A deposit-based approach is essential.

Predictive models need to be supported by repeatable methodologies.

Any models created need to be accessible to the non-specialist.

A refinement of monument and artefact terminologies is urgently required.

The data range for human activity in England needs to be extended back to 980,000 BP.

The chronological framework used in quaternary science should also be used for in situ deposits.

Recording policies should make more accommodation for artefacts (particularly in respect of unit of record).

Recording policies should also make more accommodation for palaeo-environmental data and material.

OASIS and HER recording should be conditional to project funding.
Museums would benefit from advice/training on recording geographical provenance.

Digital images should be used wherever possible to promote intellectual accessibility.

Enhanced HER records should provide enhanced access to development managers.   

City of Culture: Lessons, opportunities and legacy – Lucie McCarthy (Hull City Council)
The Humber Historic Environment Record covers the city of Hull and East Riding of Yorkshire, including urban deposits, rural landscapes and coastlines. Heritage assets range from Mesolithic deposits to 20th century tidal barriers.  
Hull is 2017 City of Culture, celebrating the uniqueness of Hull, a city which until recently has often been overlooked.  The area is currently undergoing significant development and has been successful in attracting multinational investment.

The HER is using 2017 as ‘our year of opportunity’, as a springboard to similarly develop and grow to become a modern, user friendly service. The presentation will discuss where we are now and how we are undergoing a programme of change to become the dynamic resource the team aspires to be.

The presentation will focus on opportunities that are available as a result of City of Culture, how perceptions are changing as a result of this, and how we can create a legacy to ensure that current interest in the areas historic environment continues to develop and strengthen.

Question: HER Officer (3) – Regarding the apprentice you’re seeking to appoint, how is this to be undertaken? Is this something that has been arranged within the city council?

Answer – Apprentices are used a lot within planning. We are looking at it as a good way to make some inroads into our backlog.

Question: HER Officer (3) – Will this be linked to a training programme?

Answer – Yes, that is our aim.

Question: Alex Adamson (HES Scotland) – You refused to be put off when you were left out of the plans for City of Culture. What lessons did you draw from this?

Answer – That you should keep on badgering and don’t take no for an answer. Also, try to think imaginatively. Had we arrived at the idea of a computer game earlier it might have opened up a few more doors.

Comment: Collections Information Manager – I work in the Isle of Man and I’ve not seen this approach before. You seem to be moving away from the familiar perceptions of HERs being ‘the past for planners’. Marketing the HER in a fairly raw state seems quite a brave thing to do.

Response – A conscious decision was made to move away from the traditional model of an HER. Happily our managers and the archaeology board have been very supportive in this.

Comment: Collections Information Manager – The decision not to hold back from marketing the service despite the HER not having achieved ‘perfection’ is a very refreshing one.

Comment: HER Officer (4) – Elements of this scheme seem to be in accord with Robin’s comments (see Implementing the SHED Strategy – above) on identifying and recording structures which will have future significance.

Response (LM) - We have to take more account of the fact that these are things that really hold significance for people. 
(Vicky Bowns – Hull City Council) – They are the things that define Hull.