Bringing the Bayeux Tapestry ‘home’ to Hastings and winning UNESCO World Heritage Site status for the town were on the agenda when Hastings & St. Leonards (Civic) Society held an open meeting earlier this month.
Silverhill Councillor Margi O’Callaghan is fronting a campaign to win support for her plan to bring the tapestry to Hastings. It was announced early this year that the authorities in Normandy are allowing the Bayeux Tapestry to be displayed, on loan in a suitable and appropriate place in England in the near future.
Also on the agenda was a proposal to work on an application for UNESCO World Heritage Site status for an area of Hastings and St. Leonards. Several groups concerned with local heritage and a number of interested individuals attended the meeting, with local MP Amber Rudd and the High Sheriff of East Sussex, John Moore-Bick in attendance.
Ms O’Callaghan is looking for support from the community to have the Tapestry brought to Hastings. To achieve this a suitable building needs to be found in which the Tapestry will be secure and will also meet all conservation requirements. No decision about where this may be has yet been made.
Ms Rudd confirmed that she has been involved in discussions with Normandy about the prospect of the tapestry being loaned to Hastings, if all requirements can be met. Ms Rudd also pointed out that the MP for Battle is also interested in having the tapestry displayed in that town.
There was significant support for Ms O’Callaghan when she asked for volunteers to drive forward the campaign to bring the tapestry to Hastings.
Julia Hilton also gave a presentation on the process for applying for UNESCO World Heritage Site status, and this was followed by a general discussion.
The meeting heard that to be considered for World Heritage Site status, justification of outstanding heritage value is foremost. The application process involves a great deal of work and expense, but UNESCO status would benefit tourism, provide employment opportunities and provide a positive way of protecting the heritage and natural environment in the town via the National Planning Policy Framework.
Hastings Borough Council (HBC) has indicated its support for a UNESCO application but has said it would be necessary for most of the work to be done by volunteers and most of the funding for the application to come from outside grants. However, the council has seen that national funding organisations are willing to support work on UNESCO applications.
The meeting heard that in the long-term a successful application should open up further funding opportunities to maintain, promote and improve the World Heritage Site.
Ms Hilton stressed that the process for the application would be very time consuming and would require a team of volunteers drawn from the community, especially people with funding application experience, research skills and knowledge of local heritage.
The example of Chatham Dockyards’ UNESCO application, which has been stalled at the UK ‘tentative list’ stage since 2012, was given. Despite the amount of work and expense involved and that the bid may ultimately be unsuccessful. However the meeting was told the Chatham’s team remain positive about the UNESCO application process, for it positively engages the community and emphasises the value of local heritage.
To progress the proposed UNESCO application, it will be necessary to determine a heritage point of focus for an area of Hastings or St Leonards. To discuss this a ‘scoping group’ is to be set up, with the support of Hastings Voluntary Action. A show of hands at the meeting confirmed that the majority of those present supported progressing the proposal and some prospective volunteers came forward. It was also agreed that something needs to be done to protect the very significant historic environment of Hastings and St Leonards, and to promote that extensive heritage around the world.
Ms Hilton’s presentation is being made available on the Hastings & St Leonards Society’s website: www.hastingsandstleonardssociety.org.uk anyone who wants to get involved with the scoping group can contact Ms Hilton through the Hastings & St Leonards Society by using the email facility on the website.
The Hastings & St. Leonards Society is the umbrella organisation (civic society) for groups and societies in the Borough concerned with heritage and civic matters. The society is not the lead for the UNESCO World Heritage Site Status proposal.
Following the meeting, Ms Rudd said: “I was grateful for the opportunity to listen to and see the very interesting presentation from Julia Hilton on the possibility of Hastings becoming a UNESCO site. The informed presentation was fascinating to listen to and it felt like Hastings could achieve this if we set our minds to it.
“I look forward to seeing the progress of this project.”