Sector Spotlight: Hannah Shimko, CLOCK Sector Expert and Head of Policy and Events at The Heritage Alliance 

In sector spotlight CLOCK members speak with us about their latest projects and share insights from their sector.

CLOCK Sector Expert Hannah Shimko started a new role with The Heritage Alliance just before the pandemic hit and like many of us has worked from home since March 2020. Here she speaks with us about the heritage sector’s advocacy priorities, trying to master a work-life balance when your home is your workspace, and supporting her team’s well-being.

Tell us about your sector and what you’re working on right now. 

I am Head of Policy and Communications at The Heritage Alliance. I oversee the delivery of our advocacy and influencing strategy and deliverables by working with both policymakers and heritage organisations to understand their views on policies and legislation. This year our advocacy has heavily centred on Covid 19 relief and recovery, the end of the EU Transition period and niche areas such as new planning policy and frameworks, agriculture and environmental policy post-Brexit, mobile (planes, trains, automobiles) issues, education and training, and funding and fiscal priorities beyond the end of the pandemic.

I’m also overseeing a big infrastructure upgrade that includes designing and delivering a new website with my team, a new streamlined look and purpose for our newsletter, and our new communication strategy. I run two large events, Heritage Debate and Heritage Day, with Heritage Day coming up in late March.

Each year we take on a project too, and in 2020 it was heritage, health, and well-being, highlighting the role of heritage in well-being, especially in the pandemic. This year’s project will focus on the diversity and inclusion of both audiences and the sector workforce.

How have you navigated the challenges of 2020/2021? Any tips or strategies to share with the CLOCK community?

I started my role in January 2020. From mid-March, I worked from home. I jumped headfirst into the world of advocacy and just took each day as it came as I navigated being part of a relatively old-fashioned sector that had to move to online working. I worked too much at the start of the pandemic, and my best tips are to maintain a work-life balance when working from home so as not to feel overwhelmed. I haven’t yet mastered this, but I work at it each day. My other priority is to support my team’s well-being and provide adequate support so they can work to the best of their ability. This means recognising limits, checking in and modelling good working habits myself. I wish I had more tips to share, but it has mostly been get on and make do! Having two computer screens, a desk, and desk chair has also been key.

How has your sector responded to these challenges?

The sector immediately moved to home working where possible. Those working in B2B organisations supported their contacts, and at first, those with heritage sites tried to keep their grounds open, but then most closed in the first lockdown. The sector was incredible at moving programming content online, from lectures to guided tours to festivals! That all happened with shoestring budgets, and the sector knew financial difficulty would come swiftly. Therefore, more public-facing heritage organisations furloughed their staff and kept only the minimum necessary.

The inability to be furloughed part-time in the first part of the Covid crisis was a problem as many museums and heritage sites needed conservation work, fundraising work, and had other deliverables, which didn’t necessarily require full-time employment. Our advocacy work has included the hugely successful initiative to furlough part-time employees and allow paid for parks and gardens to open as places for respite and exercise. Research undertaken in lockdown showed that as heritage sites re-opened, they were seen as a safe place to see family and friends.

The sector worked hard to get their portion of the £1.57 billion culture recovery fund that supported visitor-facing sites that closed and the supply chain of specialist craftspeople who rely on heritage projects which support their businesses and heritage crafts. Freelancers and SMEs in our sector were also badly hit, and the heritage sector is working with the wider creative industries to ensure recognition of the difficulties these professionals face. Heritage sites have worked hard to become Covid safe, introducing protocols and measures for social distancing. We successfully advocated for special planning permissions around listed buildings to be changed temporarily to put up marquees for more socially distanced cafes and create wider footpaths for social distancing.

In subsequent lockdowns, most visitor facing heritage sites closed, except for ticketed gardens and parks. The culture recovery fund has allowed many capital works projects to continue to support the supply chain. Now we’re looking towards a recovery plan, hopefully from springtime and the second round of the recovery fund.

What do you think the main priorities are for your sector in 2021?

Recovery from the Covid 19 pandemic is our absolute number one priority and understanding how ‘the long tail of Covid’ will impact heritage organisations, possibly in ways we cannot see yet. We are also prioritising the impact of Brexit, which we also have yet to see because the sector is so focused on Covid, and regular business isn’t happening. We also need to replace funding lost with the UK leaving Creative Europe and other programmes.

Other priorities are to support the sector to become more inclusive and diverse and advocate heritage’s role in supporting well-being and being part of the solution for other sectors. There’s also the Environment Bill, the proposed Planning White Paper, and other planning proposals. Finally, the ‘levelling up agenda’ and how heritage and the historic environment can be a key driver of place-building.

Tell us something surprising about your sector?

I think the most surprising thing about the sector is the breadth of it. Heritage is everything from country houses to steam fairs and historic carousels. It’s this diversity that makes it so special. I feel privileged to work in an organisation that allows me to meet many people with passions for a range of heritage.

Author Liz Appleby


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