Preserving culture and natural heritage is the lesson of the day

22nd October 2010 at 01:00
But it was delivered by 45 youths from five World Heritage sites in Scotland - and Bermuda

Billy Connolly has a lot to answer for. His notorious naked dance around the Ring of Brodgar inspired many copycats, at first several a week, but even now a few brave souls a year are known to strip and dance around the stones in Orkney.

This was one of many facts students learnt when they attended the recent Unesco UK World Heritage Site Youth Summit at New Lanark, sponsored by Historic Scotland. Forty-five young people from five World Heritage sites in Scotland, as well as St George in Bermuda, met to discuss how young people can help to preserve the cultural and natural heritage on their doorsteps.

Each group presented its case for why its site was deserving of its status. Anna McNairney, 14, from St Thomas of Aquin's High, took part in the presentation on Edinburgh. Traceable back to a small settlement on a crag of volcanic rock in 1000BC, its heritage status covers the medieval old town and 18th-century new town, the largest area of Georgian architecture in Europe.

"I didn't know much about Edinburgh history beforehand, but do now," said Anna.

With the conference well attended by education officers from Historic Scotland and education co-ordinators from World Heritage sites in Scotland and England, it was clear that the pupils were being listened to.

"This came about from a need for all sites to involve communities and schools," says Isabelle Uny of Unesco. "Because sites are protected for the future, we can't protect and promote them without young people."

Knowledge of the historic sites varied. Pupils from Orkney and Bermuda, where they are part of their heritage, were knowledgeable and talked with pride of wanting to tell more people about them: the Neolithic Maeshowe, standing stones of Stenness, Ring of Brodgar and Skara Brae; and the old English town of St George with its early forts built by European colonists.

Youngsters from Bellahouston Academy in Glasgow admitted to knowing nothing about the Antonine Wall prior to their involvement. But having spent time researching and visiting this part of the frontiers of the Roman Empire, they all came to the conference with a fresh passion for their site.

Geography teacher Murdo Macdonald said: "The pupils loved it. One said he wants his family to see it, and they have been speaking with other pupils about the wall."

But the day was about more than just appreciating the sites; it was about ideas for the future. Each group had to grill the expert for their site, then come up with three ideas on how it could further engage young people.

Some ideas were cheap (a campaign in Edinburgh to tell people to look up); others were money-making (a rock concert in Orkney on the scale of Glastonbury), and some were adventurous (a Great Climb on St Kilda).

The winner was Bellahouston Academy with its proposal for a sustainable bus service along the route of the Antonine Wall, where young people could use digital technology to learn about special stories and landmarks. The bus would be No 142 to reflect the year it was built.

Anne Breivik, UK national co-ordinator for Unesco associated schools, said they (pupils) were good at condensing their ideas and responding to questions. "It shows that when people are given information and tools, they can make new and fresh perspectives on how to engage with young people."

Sue Mitchell, head of education at Historic Scotland, thought the pupils did an amazing job: "The presentations were so diverse and a passion for their site came through. It is young people giving ideas on how to work with young people."

All the ideas will be collated and sent to the participating sites and their steering groups, says Ms Breivik. They will also go to Historic Scotland and culture minister Fiona Hyslop, "so she will be aware what great ambassadors they are".

"It was great to see their pride in the place they come from," says Ms Brievik. "I don't think there is any question that young people aren't interested. We need to continue our work with schools and sites. It goes to show that making it accessible and making it fun grabs young people."


Having attended last year's youth conference in Lyme Regis, students from The Berkeley Institute in Bermuda were keen to take the chance this year to visit Scotland.

As the only British overseas territory site represented, Bermuda was chosen in order to put the sites into a world context and highlight that not only are we part of a network of Scottish World Heritage sites, but that this stretches further. They represented the historic town of St George.

St George is the oldest English town in the New World. Permanent settlement there began in 1612, and the forts are examples of the first defensive works built by the early European colonists.

"Our stories are similar and we are all connected," said social studies teacher Michelle Morris. "We all have something to learn."

Janae Smith and Sudan Furbeth were among the group who entranced the audience with photographs and explanations of moongates and quoins.

"It is important to tell tourists about Bermuda," said Sudan. "But it is also important that we appreciate it."

"We have a historic town," added Janae, "and it is important to tell future generations."

- Sir E Scott School in Harris represented St Kilda; St Thomas of Aquin's High represented the old and new towns of Edinburgh; Kirkwall Grammar and Stromness Academy represented Heart of Neolithic Orkney and Lanark Grammar represented New Lanark.

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