Our shared heritage
Our historic landscapes and buildings are essential links to the past and important touchstones for the future. Yet it can be challenging for everyone to connect with heritage. A lot of our historic fabric wasn’t designed with accessibility in mind.
If people are to connect with historic places, they need access, not just to the fabric, but to the stories and spirit of the place. This is why our work aims to improve access and create inclusive, sensory experiences. It opens up experiences to people of all ages and disabilities.
Inclusive heritage means more access for more people and richer experiences for everyone. Wider access and sensory engagement with heritage has been at the heart of the Sensory Trust's work for over two decades. Our guidance, access reviews and sensory engagement techniques are designed to help heritage owners, managers and designers enrich their heritage experiences and open up access to the widest range of visitors.
Improving access to heritage
We have created tools and techniques to review sites and identify ways of improving accessibility whilst conserving heritage value. Our work with Historic England, Natural England and Natural Resources Wales has introduced freely available guidance to steer good practice for opening up heritage to a wider audience.
Our access reviews balance the need to respect heritage value and constraints with making access improvements. We identify barriers to access and offer tailored solutions. For example it may not be appropriate to add new signage to a heritage venue however there are other ways of conveying information.
We are working with Paths for all on a review of the seminal Countryside for All good practice guide. Originally produced by the Fieldfare Trust the guide was one of the first of its kind to produce standards for access to the countryside. These standards continue to be used as a benchmark for everyone from countryside rangers to heritage destinations.
The importance of connecting people with heritage
We believe that interacting with heritage through all of our senses is key to making personal, long lasting connections. This applies to heritage buildings, landscapes and cultures and traditions.
Our multisensory techniques are designed to engage and connect more people with heritage.
In our Pilchards Pits and Postcards project we created sensory guides and digital apps to celebrate the oral history and natural landscapes of four unique heritage outdoor environments in Cornwall.
By guiding people through a story walk of an area the apps offer an innovative approach to accessing heritage. Places such as King Edward mine are bought to life through personal accounts of the people who worked there. The unique sounds of the machinery and the songs of the workers give a fresh perspective on the heritage of the landscape.
Sensory guides draw out the sensory highlights of an area once again encouraging all visitors to experience heritage through their senses.
Sensory-rich interpretation makes richer experiences
Developing sensory interpretation with industrial heritage is proving to be a fascinating focus for us. Our More than Words project is working with industrial heritage venues in Cornwall to identify how to open up stories and messages to the widest audience.
Heritage venues are keen for people to know more about their histories but it can be challenging to find ways of sharing information to best engage people. Complex, information-heavy interpretation can be inaccessible to many visitors.
By focusing on sensory experiences, we create opportunities for a wider audience to engage and connect with Cornwall’s industrial past and the natural heritage which is its legacy.
Using techniques like sensory trails and sensory stories, we are working with children and adults with different disabilities to test and refine our ideas.
Our aim is to encourage visitor destinations around the country to rethink interpretation and move away from heavy text towards more sensory-engaging materials. We will be sharing best practices from venues around the world and producing guidance on how to make interpretation more accessible and engaging.
Image credit: Tom Johnson