Humanities and Policy

7 years Heritage logo on a starry background: Sharing Knowledge, Building Partnerships, Growing Expertise

As part of this week’s #TORCHGoesDigital theme of Humanities and Policy, Dr Oliver Cox reflects on seven years of close collaboration between the Heritage Partnerships Team and policy makers.


COVID-19 is the biggest crisis to hit the UK Arts and Heritage sector since the Second World War. Across the country, charitable organisations who own, manage and open heritage sites to the public face unprecedented challenges as visitor spend dries up, grant giving bodies pivot to crisis funding with the consequence of reduced project funding for the foreseeable future, and staff are furloughed ahead of potential redundancies. As one of the members of the Helping Things to Happen Group for Heritage2020, I was part of conference calls in late March that were by turns sobering and encouraging, as the sector first looked to understand the scale of potential losses, before quickly switching to a co-ordinated approach to lobby government to adopt policies that will enable the sector can pull through the crisis.


This is the latest example of a series of engagements between the Heritage Partnerships Team, policy makers and NGOs. Our ability to build sustainable partnerships between Oxford staff, students and organisations at different scales across the UK that deliver mutual benefit has attracted the attention of policy makers. Early work through the Thames Valley Country House Partnership featured in the National Centre for Universities and Business State of the Relationship report in 2015, and the flagship partnership with the National Trust in 2019. Our Knowledge Transfer Partnership, Trusted Source, was included in the influential Mendoza Review, which outlined key recommendations for how government can support the museums sector in England.  


Our membership of The Heritage Alliance is a crucial link into policy decisions at Westminster. In 2016 I participated in The Heritage Alliance’s flagship Heritage Debate, arguing that accurate, authentic and accessible content was the key to creating new interpretations and new ways of engaging audiences. This was a valuable platform, enabling me to share the work of colleagues in Oxford, and advocate for the value gained from collaborating with universities. I now chair the Alliance’s Digital, Learning and Skills Advisory Group and am an Industry Champion for the Creative Industries Policy and Evidence Centre, providing further opportunities to represent the views of colleagues in Oxford and ensure that Oxford projects are featured in policy reports and briefing notes. We work closely with the University’s Head of Policy Engagement to share good practice and broker new opportunities.


This close connection with The Heritage Alliance also allows us to grow the next generation of heritage professionals and advocates for heritage. Through the Heritage Pathway training sessions, we work with other Alliance members to give our students insights into the skills and knowledge required to build a career in the heritage sector, and through our wide-ranging paid internship placements (in partnership with the University’s Careers Service) we ensure students can put this theoretical knowledge into practice. Heritage Pathway alumni are now building their careers in the arts and heritage sector, whilst our current collaborative doctoral award holders work ever closer with partner organisations. Elena Porter, a second-year doctoral research, was recently selected to join the cohort for the prestigious Europeaum Scholars programme.


Paid internships have proved a fantastic way of getting to know an organisation. Our researchers are our greatest asset when it comes to demonstrating the potential for partnership work with Oxford. Recent internships include projects with UNESCO UK and a long-running series of policy-focussed projects with The Heritage Alliance. The Micro-Internship programme provides five-day placements with organisations, and as part of the National Trust PartnershipAlice Purkiss has secured placements for our students in the Director General’s Office at the National Trust, giving undergraduate and graduate students enormous insights into Europe’s largest heritage membership organisation. The strategic research partnership between Oxford and the National Trust has provided the forum for debating future policy decisions in terms of diversity and inclusion and climate change – bringing together leading experts from across academia and civil society to explore new approaches and opportunities.


The short-term survival and longer-term sustainability of the arts and heritage sector will rely on ever closer collaboration. The Heritage Partnerships Team will continue to build partnerships, grow expertise and share knowledge ensuring that Oxford insights connect with policy makers now and in the future.

TORCH Heritage Programme Homepage

National Trust Partnership Homepage