“Understanding and valuing heritage is integral to achieving the aims of international agreements, and to building more equal, inclusive and sustainable societies.”
James Ömer Bridge, Secretary-General and CEO, UK National Commission for UNESCO
Culture in general, and cultural heritage more particularly, permeates many aspects of daily life and is deeply interwoven with peoples and places. Its relevance as a driver for sustainable development has been widely recognised by many international cultural organisations. With support from the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC), the UK National Commission for UNESCO and PRAXIS at the University of Leeds hosted ‘Heritage and Our Sustainable Future: Research, Practice, Policy and Impact’, a virtual conference from 22nd February to 2nd March 2021. The conference brought together a diverse range of cultural heritage and sustainable development contributors, including policymakers, practitioners and researchers, but also non-governmental organisations, museums, private sector representatives, students, and other stakeholders from across the globe.
The conference explored how best to apply cultural heritage research to drive forward the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), especially in Official Development Assistance (ODA)-eligible countries. There were 60 panellists, over 1500 registrations, and 10 days of discussions spanning climate change, mental health and well-being, disaster response, capacity building, people-centred approaches and impact evaluation. Each session involved 150-200 participants, including researchers, practitioners, and policy-innovators from 34 countries, who came together across sectors to connect and learn from each other, and promote positive change. Conference contributions covered different heritage aspects: the tangible and the intangible, the fixed and the movable, the physical and the virtual, the natural and the cultural, the formal and the informal, the official and the unofficial.
Building on previous work in this field, this conference constituted a milestone in our understanding of heritage itself, of heritage processes and practices, and of their contribution to the SDGs. The Heritage and Our Sustainable Future Series highlights key insights, issues and challenges from each conference session, and provides recommendations for research, policy and practice as well as concrete case studies.