Adam Wilkinson: Old and New Towns benefit all

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This week we will be celebrating World Heritage Day, a moment when people around the globe pause to recognise the diversity of cultural and natural heritage and the many places now listed by UNESCO as World Heritage Sites.

The Old and New Towns with their striking contrast in architecture are clearly appreciated. A survey last week showed that Edinburgh citizens are proud of their city, with 95% saying it was the city’s historic landmarks they loved most about where they live. We know too that the World Heritage Site is the primary draw for the 3.7 million tourists who visit every year, with 93% listing simply walking around as their favourite activity.

World Heritage is more than a status symbol for Edinburgh, it is about recognising the contribution that the city’s different communities have made to its regeneration, about recognising that the ancient heart of the Capital is of value and to the benefit of everyone. It is about using World Heritage Status as a tool for supporting social, environmental and economic improvements – sometimes self evidently in the projects we support, sometimes discretely with potential investors.

We have recently worked with the Edinburgh Art Festival for example, using a mixture of heritage conservation and public art to regenerate neglected corners of the city, such as at Regent Bridge. These installations have not only improved the environment, but also helped to significantly reduce anti-social behaviour, and brought the areas to life once more.

Our grants help to restore the city’s historic buildings, such as Surgeon’s Hall and Panmure House, but they also support important traditional skills. Each project requires a range of specialists, from stone masons to slaters, joiners and blacksmiths. A recent initiative with St Mary’s Cathedral Workshop has supported their apprentices in helping to improve the grounds of the cathedral.

The Edinburgh Graveyards Project looks to help conserve and promote five historic graveyards within the World Heritage Site, but community involvement is crucial to its success. Last month Edinburgh World Heritage supported the volunteers of the Friends of Canongate Kirkyard as they launched a series of trails and podcasts, highlighting the many stories behind the burials for visitors. This project is a great example of how heritage has inspired local residents to take action.

Edinburgh’s Old and New Towns were recognised as a World Heritage Site because of their international importance, but their historic buildings and streets also provide real and tangible benefits for everyone in the city.

Adam Wilkinson, Director of Edinburgh World Heritage