IHBC Yearbook 2015

R E V I E W 35 ACCESSING OUR HERITAGE HEATHER JERMY Buildings and landscapes have been altered and augmented throughout human history and while we can only guess what changes future generations will make, we can be confident that development and change are certain to continue. The story of our heritage, then, is one of adaptation, and in recent years accessibility has become a major consideration in this process of change. Accessibility is generally understood as the means by which people enter, move through, understand and experience a place. It applies to physical access, including usability for those with hearing or visual impairments, as well as intellectual access. Museums and Galleries Scotland defines intellectual access as the provision of a comprehensive experience and understanding for all people, ‘regardless of their subject knowledge, social or ethnic background, mental health, reading age, literacy levels or learning difficulties’ (‘Improving Intellectual Access’, 2003). Accessibility is not typically the primary objective in the conservation world, where retention of significance, viability, functionality and maintenance usually take precedence. However, championed by the Heritage Lottery Fund and supported by English Heritage, Cadw and Historic Scotland, awareness of the need for accessibility has steadily increased. More practical requirements such as the Building Regulations, the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 (revised in 2005) and, most recently, the Equality Act 2010, have also raised the bar. The increasing viability of heritage sites as visitor attractions has also helped to establish the importance of accessibility. However, accessibility is not an issue which should be guided by the aim of acquiring grant money, listed building consent or higher visitor numbers. It is an issue which is at the core of what heritage is and what makes it significant – the people who appreciate, live in and work in the historic built environment. To that end, the aim should be to provide access to as many and as varied a range of people as possible while respecting the physical fabric, setting and character of heritage sites, and to look at access as an opportunity for creativity in design and education rather than in terms of legislative or other constraints. Although the lift at Kew Palace, London may seem out of context it is located in the position of a historic water closet shaft. (Photo: SWNS)