Values-Led Heritage Leadership through Change

13th February, 2021

This introduction to values-led heritage leadership through change is linked to two case studies:

Colston Hall to Bristol Beacon – finding a way through the culture wars

Reshaping the YHA to better serve young people, despite a financial crisis

“As leaders, we must say yes before we are ready, because people are looking for somebody in times of change to take responsibility” – JC Niala

Introduction to values led heritage leadership through change

Values are our anchor in choppy waters and help us make difficult decisions. These three stories of heritage leadership through change describe how cultural organisations of very different sizes navigated a new path. All describe a moment when they were confronted by the pandemic – but it’s not the main problem in every story. Sometimes it even appears as a partly positive force: a catalyst that forces leaders to abandon business as usual – and in doing so, deal with issues that have been quietly undermining the organisation in the background.

These are also stories about how organisations have liberated themselves for their next stage in development by addressing inner fault lines. This has sometimes meant facing opposition from sections of society – or an organisation’s own supporters – who assert that ‘how things have always been done’ is the only possible future. Rebalancing who is at the table, including younger and more diverse groups for the first time, can be a vital element of good leadership. Having the courage of your convictions, and realising that heritage cannot always occupy neutral ground is also crucial.

About this material

This resource is drawn from a webinar on values led heritage leadership through change first given in partnership with Clore Leadership in summer, 2021, with senior leaders from Bristol Beacon, the Youth Hostel Association and Horniman Museum and Gardens. You can watch the whole recording here. We hope this version will draw out some longer-term lessons for leaders – and help you gain perspective on whatever challenges you are facing in your own organisation.

What are the lessons from across these case studies?

Caution often isn’t the safest way out of a crisis. Leadership sometimes involves committing and saying yes – giving a structure that others can depend on – even when you haven’t worked out all the detail.

Have a plan. Nevertheless, having a provisional plan early on is important – even if the detail changes several times depending on what’s being thrown at you. That plan should draw on your core aims and values – what above all else are you trying to achieve? – while minding the nuts and bolts of your financial situation.

Finding the positives. Any crisis is emotionally draining, and when the whole survival of a project or even organisation is at stake, deserves to be treated with proper seriousness. However, all three of our speakers talk about moments of joy and/or liberation from long-standing issues hanging over them, as they took bold steps towards new solutions. Having an eye on your final destination, and how you will feel when you have resolved the crisis is important.

A good time to expand who gets heard. Most cultural organisations have given thought over the past few years to diversifying their audiences. To really embed this doesn’t just mean new programming, but giving people a genuine voice, whether through consultations, as at Bristol Beacon, community co-production at the Horniman or the new Youth Advisory Board at YHA. This can rebalance the assumptions being made by your organisation as a whole, and free it to push out in new directions.

Read the case studies:

Colston Hall to Bristol Beacon – finding a way through the culture wars

Reshaping the YHA to better serve young people, despite a financial crisis

Rethinking relationships and building trust around African collections [Coming soon!]

This article was written by Kate Smith of Goosegrass Culture.

Adapted from content delivered in partnership with:

  • Clore Leadership
  • JC Niala, Acting Keeper of Anthropology, Horniman Museum and Gardens
  • Sarah Robertson, Communications and Special Projects Director, Bristol Beacon
  • James Blake, Chief Executive, Youth Hostel Association

Follow the links below for a detailed case study from each speaker – or watch the original webinar here.

More Resources

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