Roof renovation at Canterbury Cathedral

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Roof renovation at Canterbury Cathedral © Historic England/Canterbury Cathedral

Local Partnerships Tackling Heritage Crime Together

By Councillor Robert Thomas, Heritage Champion at Canterbury City Council

Since being appointed Canterbury City Council's Heritage Champion in December 2016 people have commented to me that there seems to be a renewed vigour in the local heritage scene, both within the council and with external partners.

The local community are passionate about making the district the best it can be and the heritage offer is one of the issues at the top of their list. There are lots of challenges to ensure that our heritage is celebrated as widely as possible, both now and for generations to come. Clearly, one challenge that threatens our physical heritage is the theft of metal from our historic sites and buildings.

Metal theft is a blight on our communities. It causes so much damage and often leads to expensive repairs beyond any likely monetary gain, assuming that the damage and theft can be reversed at all.

With the introduction of The Scrap Metal Dealers Act 2013, the government took some positive steps to tackle the problem. However, the theft of heritage metal continues to occur on a regular basis.

Man in high viz jacket and hard hat taking samples of lead from roof
Kevin Lawton-Barrett from Canterbury Christchurch University taking samples of lead © Historic England/Canterbury Cathedral

Modern technology and the power of the internet presents the potential to provide solutions to the problems we face. Such an example has been developed here in Kent with the introduction of Kent Heritage Watch and the Country Eye app. An example of how the future can help protect our past.

The Country Eye App allows members of the public to report on various types of heritage crime, including metal theft. The information is assessed by dedicated volunteers and passed to the police and other partner agencies.

Country Eye certainly seems to provide a positive way in for an individual or an entire community to become engaged in the prevention and detection of this type of criminal behaviour.

As a local councillor, I have regular interactions with people on social media. This has become an important part of my role and it's pleasing to see that the Heritage Watch and the Country Eye app is being promoted there too.

Kevin Lawton-Barrett from Canterbury Christchurch University
Kevin Lawton-Barrett from Canterbury Christchurch University © Historic England/Canterbury Cathedral

As a local authority, Canterbury City Council has the power and ability to drive forward local policy and change. One such policy will be the development of a new Heritage Strategy which is being prepared following the adoption of the Local Plan. The strategy will provide a focus on the key heritage issues that exist within the district for the future.

The protection, promotion and enhancement of the district's heritage will be at the heart of the strategy. Its protection will certainly entail preventing crime.

We will be working closely with experts from Historic England's South East and Heritage Crime teams in order to shape and develop the processes and measures that will ensure that we can prevent and investigate heritage crime and to stay up to date with best practice.

Heather Newton from Canterbury Cathedral and Kevin Lawton-Barrett from Canterbury Christchurch University
Heather Newton from Canterbury Cathedral and Kevin Lawton-Barrett from Canterbury Christchurch University © Historic England/Canterbury Cathedral

One of the key challenges for me as Heritage Champion has been to identify key stakeholders in the local heritage scene and bring them together to form the Canterbury District Heritage Forum.

The district is home to the internationally renowned World Heritage site of Canterbury Cathedral, St Augustine's Abbey and St Martin's Church. As a diverse local authority district containing three urban areas, coastline and rural communities you'll understand that the depth of heritage we have is extensive. Broadly speaking the group is made up of four key areas of heritage organisations: business and local community groups, academic, and other interested parties. The forum has provided the opportunity for networking and sharing information about projects and the challenges those organisations face. I'm sure that the group will embrace the challenge of tackling heritage crime in all of its forms.

I would very much like to see our partnering university research centres extend their studies in this area and provide the next phase of innovation and solutions to preserve our country's fantastic heritage for years to come.

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