Supporting the High Streets Heritage Action Zone Programme
Bringing local and national together to support the delivery and legacy of the High Streets Heritage Action Zone Programme
Interview with Laura Emmins, Learning & Networking Officer, at Historic England
Historic England manages the Heritage Workspace set up on Knowledge Hub, and it seemed like a natural home for us to set up a support network for one of our national programmes – High Street Heritage Action Zones (HSHAZ).
Working on a national programme that works with over 60 external organisations to deliver local HSHAZ Schemes, we wanted something two-fold. A document store to put all our programme guidance in one place to make sure that we have clear version control for people, so they know where to go for the latest versions of our documentation. We also wanted a mechanism to enable our partner organisations to have a direct dialogue with each other, so that they didn’t feel that they had to go through Historic England to ask a question, share knowledge and support between schemes.
Enabling shared learning
The purpose of the High Street Heritage Action Zone (HSHAZ) Group is to share a wealth of expertise, skills and experience across HSHAZ Schemes. It’s a place to share and learn through interacting directly with other schemes, as well as Historic England, to discuss matters relating to the delivery and legacy of the high street HAZ programme.
Our members can share good news, case studies and if they are having particular sticking points, they can ask questions of people on the delivery end. They can say: “We are having a problem with X, has anyone else got experience with this?” This has led to some really good examples of people sharing their own documents and guidance that they have adapted and to showcase how it’s been working for them and what the pitfalls were, enabling shared learning to help other schemes with their thinking.
“Knowledge Hub is an incredibly useful mechanism to make sure we can provide consistent messaging and documentation and facilitate knowledge sharing.”
The group offers opportunities for peer-to-peer expertise, knowledge sharing, mentoring, showcasing case studies and best practice. We have used it as a means to collate and answer questions about the programme, making a link between live Q&A sessions, so that there is a record of the discussion, and also to provide details to those who were not able to join sessions.
It also provides a place to discuss any training we are offering, where they can ask questions in advance of the training, so that we know the sorts of things they might want to cover, signpost them to any relevant third-party training and try to promote that learning and what is widely available in the sector.
“It provides a different mechanism for people to engage, and the group is the place for them to have that more peer-to-peer element.”
The group is not our only means of communicating with our partners to deliver the programme – the group is designed to complement, and not replace, existing relationships with members of staff that are on the delivery end in our regional teams. It provides a different mechanism for people to engage, and the group is the place for them to have that more peer-to-peer element. We may refer people to have ‘off group’ conversations with colleagues to discuss particular topics or themes, particularly if there is a sensitivity to them or a project decision needs to be made in accordance with our Programme Guidance.
Facilitating and engaging members
I am the lead facilitator for the group and am supported by three additional facilitators. While this is a team effort, it sits within my job role to manage the group, and other colleagues kindly give a bit of their day job time to support it too. I am responsible for:
- Setting up the framework for how the group will be used and creating user guides which links through to the generic help pages about the more technical side of how to do things. For example, we want to use the group blogs for a particular purpose (case studies), and I have set up a template for how we want our blogs to appear so that members follow a similar framework, and it’s easy for them to read and get the information they want from them.
- Accepting members and writing the welcome information for our new members, and our decline message for members – if somebody wants to join who is not part of our defined membership group, we have a polite way to explain to them why they might not be able to join and what they might like to consider joining instead. We have created a joining document that we send out to invite new members and this is also saved in our group library for reference.
- Moderating the forum, checking posts are in the right place and setting up the categories for specific areas of our programme delivery. This involves re-jigging/moving threads around where necessary and keeping an eye if members have not responded to posts. Then I will flag them and highlight them to members as part of our announcements by saying: “This was posted and it would be great if anybody could contribute and share.” Giving a nudge to certain people who I know might have the information to potentially post a response.
- Posting event details and keeping the library up to date with our programme documents, version control, removing documents that are not relevant anymore, or if there are changes, making it very clear to members the document has changed and where they will go to see the changes.
We use the announcements feature in different ways – for time-specific things happening within the programme. For example, “A national press release went live today, here’s where you can go for more information.”
Recently I have started to use the announcements for monthly hints and tips on how to navigate the group. We also have an “ask the facilitators” forum thread, that we signpost to via the announcements, so people know where and how to ask for support.
Providing consistent and up-to-date content
“Our partner organisations can ask a question in the forum, and this is a bit more transparent and visible to other people who are trying to deliver parts of the programme as well, who might have a similar question, but not asked it.”
- One really clear benefit is the library. We have a place for our external delivery partners to be able to go to where that guidance is, rather than there being lots of emailed versions that might get out of date.
- Our partner organisations can ask a question in the forum, and this is a bit more transparent and visible to other people who are trying to deliver parts of the programme as well who might have a similar question but not asked it. Or it might be something that came up in a previous discussion and can be signposted.
- It helps with consistent messaging, and not necessarily having multiple people answering the same questions at different times. It means we can be consistent and cut down on some of that questioning. But equally there are some questions that we do take off-group, where we have people with particular technical skills and expertise that members of our group might then respond to a very specific question that has been asked. We try to share the broader learning and bring it back into the group.
- The group has helped us reflect on how we are presenting our information. We can see feedback and questions on programme documentation that is being produced and this has helped us see where we might need to explain things in a different way or provide further training and supporting resources.
- An interesting point is seeing how our external partners and internal staff interface with each other and trying to get people to see the value of the group. In some cases, it’s been easy and in others, it’s a longer sales pitch about how this can be beneficial to people and the aspect of the scheme or Programme they are working on.
“It was a useful way of getting information across to people in a very short timeframe.”
Getting answers to people’s questions quickly and easily
A new monitoring tool was developed as part of our programme and we needed to introduce it to our partners. It was really helpful to use the forum as a Q&A and ask members: “Do you have any questions about this? What would you like to address? What would you like to be considered?”
We posted an announcement to say that this tool is coming, it’s now in the library, this is how you can access it, and also linking it to a live Q&A session. It helped to get the answers out to people’s questions. Not everyone would have attended the live session, but the forum set up allowed us to very quickly post people’s questions and answers so that they were available for everybody to see even if they did not attend the live session. It was a useful way of getting information across to people in a very short timeframe.
Sharing what we know positively
This is a national programme that has schemes happening across the whole country and it’s really nice to see the interactions and seeing our partners ask and answer questions of each other, and calls for help, without having to go through a third party to put them in touch with each other. They can just ask their questions direct.
“Our programme went live during the pandemic and we couldn’t have been doing this face-to-face, therefore this was a nice way of getting people to meet each other in a virtual sense.”
It’s a really positive way of sharing what they are doing and supporting each other. Although they are working on their individual schemes, they are part of a broader national programme. It’s nice to be able to see that blend of local and national coming together. They might be delivering a scheme in their particular high street but it is part of this bigger picture to use heritage as a means to both support regeneration and encourage people to high streets, and to be more aware of the value that heritage and high streets can bring to locals, people visiting, businesses and the economy.
Our programme went live during the pandemic and we couldn’t have been doing this face-to-face, therefore this was a nice way of getting people to meet each other in a virtual sense. Even if it hadn’t been for COVID it still would have been a really valuable platform because we are covering the length and breadth of England, and you are not necessarily going to have as many opportunities to get people together, so having a virtual space has been really valuable and will continue to be really valuable if life ever goes back to whatever normal happens to be.