Orkney Tops National Heritage Index Poll

Orkney has come top in a survey ranking the importance of Scotland’s heritage. This is the second year running that Orkney has topped the Heritage Index which is compiled by the RSA (Royal Society for the Arts)


The index, in collaboration with The National Lottery Heritage Fund, is built from a multitude of different factors affecting an area’s heritage, from listed buildings, levels of public participation, funding streams and more, to reflect the state of heritage in Scotland and the UK today.

As we look at other areas for potential growth in Orkney’s local economy it is far too easy to take for granted the importance of our heritage sites. All sites in Orkney have seen a drastic fall in visitor numbers due to the public health measures introduced to limit the spread of Covid19. Some have not opened in 2020 and funding has become an even bigger issue than usual.

Maeshowe Neolithic Tomb Orkney credit: Martin Laird

Jamie Cooke, head of RSA Scotland, said:

“As a nation, we are blessed in Scotland to have a diverse range of world-famous heritage assets.

” Yet too often we can take these assets for granted, failing to recognise the lessons they offer us from the past, and the learnings and opportunities they open up for the future.

“As the COVID-19 pandemic places many of our heritage venues and assets under financial strain, we need to recapture a sense of urgency around the importance and role that they play in the life and success of our communities, through bringing visitors, stirring civic pride and reflection, and creating jobs and economic opportunities.

“Now, more than ever, we are required to reassert the centrality of heritage, in its multitudes of forms, to the society we live in, and to find new opportunities to enhance, grow and protect our heritage assets for current and future generations.”

The RSA report includes a measure of ‘heritage potential’ – areas that have strong but untapped heritage assets. These were mainly in the central belt, with Inverclyde coming out on top. The report argues that these areas could do more to promote and preserve their heritage as part of a post-Covid recovery.

It argues that the heritage sector could be a vehicle for economic recovery in the wake of the pandemic. It also warns that more needs to be done to protect the heritage sector.

HMS Pheasant exhibition Hoy Kirk Heritage Centre (closed in 2020 due to Covid)

Hannah Webster, senior researcher at the RSA, said:

“Scotland should be proud of the heritage on its doorstep, but also wary of threats to the sector as a result of the pandemic. Local heritage strategies, replicating the success of Scotland’s highlands and islands, could bring visitors to other parts of Scotland, and promote inclusive economic growth across the country.

“The question is: what’s next for the heritage sector? It certainly needs support from government to keep things going, but we are hopeful that it can come out of the pandemic with a new generation of supporters. Lockdown has forced us to think more intensely about our local areas, and we’ve seen a colossal uptick in staycationers this year.

“Rethinking how we use our heritage is imperative if the industry is to thrive in the 21st century. The heritage sector, local authorities and others should be looking at how they can use their untapped assets, and how the sector can build back to a more inclusive vision of heritage.”

Heritage does not need to solely focus on traditional, built assets, it also constitutes shared experience, local histories and ‘intangible’ heritage. In the context of new movements to rethink the history of Scotland and the UK more broadly, the report’s authors call for a new, inclusive approach to heritage.

North Ronaldsay Sheep Photo By Jane Cooper

Ros Kerslake, Chief Executive of The National Lottery Heritage Fund, said:

“For many heritage organisations across the UK 2020 has been the most challenging year to date, and has brought into even shaper focus the heritage on our doorstep, and the contribution it can make to jobs, skills, tourism, economic prosperity and wellbeing.

“As it becomes clear that the impact of the coronavirus pandemic will have longer-term consequences for the UK heritage sector, our focus as a funder will be towards sector recovery and resilience, including through the welcome support of Government’s Culture Recovery Fund for Heritage.

The barn at Corrigall Farm Museum

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