With National Heritage Week taking place this week, KPMG’s Liam Mannix looks at the meaning of heritage and how we interact with it every day.

We use heritage every day. We just don’t know it. As National Heritage Week takes place, this is a good time to think about how we interact with heritage throughout the year. What is remarkable, is just how pervasive heritage is. It doesn’t just mean visiting a castle or a National Park, we live it every day.

When examined through the prism of our daily routines it becomes obvious that heritage not only enriches our lives but helps bind our communities together and is a powerful supporter of the national economy. Perhaps it is exactly because of its everyday presence that we often overlook the possibilities heritage provides.

During my own work on projects such as Town Centre First Plans or tourism strategies, I am constantly looking at a place’s heritage for direction on how to create a set of actions that are a good fit for the client’s capabilities while responding incisively to the challenges they face.

Below are just some of the ways in which heritage helps our society throughout the year and not just for the nine days of Heritage Week. Hopefully, they will help spark ideas in you that if implemented could improve your organisation or neighbourhood.

Knowledge economy

Many of the higher profile co-working spaces in Ireland such as Dogpatch Labs in Dublin and Skibbereen’s Ludgate Hub are housed in old structures. Data from the UK and US has shown that urban centres with higher densities of historic structures also have higher concentrations of start-up companies. Indeed, research has revealed that beautiful cities disproportionally attract more highly educated people than less picturesque places.

This ‘Beauty Premium’ is fundamentally connected with the number and quality of historic buildings, streets and squares and the presence of bodies of water, parks and mountains.

Retail

Heritage means business. In the annual list of the Top 100 Irish stores issued by Retail Excellence, roughly 30% are located in a historic structure. Evidence from the US indicates that more than half of Millennials prefer to shop or dine in unique or historic urban centres rather than chain restaurants or shopping malls. Using a historic location as a place of business or incorporating heritage into branding are frequently used to create a stronger emotional connection with consumers and communicate quality.

Festivals

Heritage acts both as an inspiration and backdrop to some of the country’s biggest and most vibrant festivals. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, the five most attended festivals in Ireland were all based around heritage. The top five were St Patrick’s Day Dublin Parade, Heritage Week, Culture Night, the Fleadh Cheoil and the National Ploughing Championship. Of the 11 multiday music festivals with camping that took place in 2018, seven were located on the grounds of historic houses. Two others occurred in places of high natural beauty.

Tourism

It is often taken for granted, but our built, natural and intangible heritage (e.g. traditional music) forms the basis for the country’s tourism offering. In research conducted by Fáilte Ireland, five of the seven factors considered by foreign holidaymakers when choosing Ireland involved heritage. Heritage-based attractions also consistently dominate the annual visitor lists with the vast majority of the top 20 fee-paying and free attractions being historic buildings or places of natural beauty.

Food and drink

Agriculture would be impossible without essential services provided by nature. Biodiversity is vital for pollination, the breakdown of nutrients in soil and pest control. Similarly, biodiversity in our rivers and lakes provides another crucial service by improving water quality. The value of this water quality service alone is €385m annually.

Heritage also has an impact on where and what we eat. Of the top 100 restaurants in Ireland chosen annually by the McKenna Guide, the vast majority are located in historic structures. Both the whiskey and artisan food sectors base much of their marketing material on messages and images connected with nature, historic buildings and craft.

Homes

Many of us not only live in historic towns and cities but also in old structures. Over one in eight dwellings in Ireland were built before 1946. Except in cases where the cost of repair is very high, the renovation of existing buildings is typically more economical than demolition and new build. Given the same monetary expenditure, conserving old houses creates more jobs than constructing new buildings. It is also far more environmentally sustainable.

Combating climate change

Working with nature and our historic building stock will be essential in the fight against climate change. The most environmentally sustainable building is the one that already exists. Most of our historic building stock is robust, highly adaptable and with regular maintenance will continue to endure. Ireland’s natural peatlands are a significant carbon sink.

Evidence from the UK shows that restoring bogs is a relatively inexpensive way of absorbing carbon dioxide emissions. Bogs and marshes also act as sponges, slowing down the release of water into rivers that might otherwise cause damaging floods.

Health and wellbeing

Experiencing nature during the pandemic has been essential to many of us maintaining our physical and mental health. All the country’s greenways and blueways which have brought so much enjoyment during the various lockdowns either follow natural rivers, or reuse routes created for Victorian railways or Georgian navigations.

In general, exposing children to nature has been shown to increase their self-esteem. Finally, visiting museums helps to improve our health and well-being by providing experiences that reduce isolation, decrease anxiety and increase positive emotions.

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The pace of change is challenging leaders like never before. To find out more about how KPMG perspectives and fresh thinking can help you focus on what’s next for your business or organisation, please get in touch with our Future Analytics team. We’d be delighted to hear from you. 

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