Adapting to digital heritage | Media Centre

19 October 2020

Digital attractions are essential for the future of Britain’s museums, theatres and art galleries, new research finds

  • 87% of Britain’s museums, theatres, art galleries, stately homes and castles have started offering digital attractions as a result of COVID-19
  • 83% fear for the future of the heritage sector post COVID-19 if the sector doesn’t adapt and use digital attractions
  • Nine in 10 believe the heritage sector needs to invest more heavily in technology in order to thrive in the future

Research1 commissioned by specialist heritage insurer, Ecclesiastical, has revealed the vast majority (83%) of decision makers working at museums, art galleries, theatres, stately homes and castles in the UK fear for the future of the heritage sector post COVID-19 if the sector doesn’t adapt and use digital attractions.

Britain’s heritage attractions embraced digital during coronavirus lockdown

In response to the coronavirus lockdown, the survey found that most (87%) of Britain’s heritage attractions started offering digital attractions, such as online galleries, virtual museum tours and live streamed theatre performances, as a result of COVID-19. While one in 10 (11%) heritage attractions did not currently offer digital attractions during lockdown, but had plans to do so in the future. Just 2% have no plans to offer digital attractions.

Four in five (80%) of those surveyed felt that the use of digital attractions became more important for their organisation during the coronavirus lockdown. While a quarter (25%) said digital attractions greatly increased in importance.

Lack of digital skills is a challenge for the heritage sector

Heritage attractions plan to offer virtual events, video content and virtual tours in the future

Of those surveyed, 87% said that digital attractions will be important to their organisation in the future as a result of COVID-19. While a third (36%) said this will be extremely important.

Of those who either currently do, or plan to offer digital attractions in the future, three in five (60%) plan to offer virtual events in the future as a result of COVID-19 and half (50%) plan to offer video content. 44% plan to offer virtual tours, while two in five (40%) plan to run social media Q&As.

Workers fear for the future of the sector if heritage organisations fail to embrace digital

Of those surveyed, the vast majority (83%) agree they fear for the future of the heritage sector post COVID-19 if the sector doesn’t adapt and use digital attractions. With 29% strongly agreeing this is the case.

Nine in 10 (90%) agree the heritage sector needs to invest more heavily in technology in order to thrive in the future post COVID-19. With 41% strongly agreeing.

Digital attractions will be a vital revenue stream for heritage organisations

Of those who either currently do, or plan to offer digital attractions in the future, more than half (57%) will charge people to access digital attractions with a membership subscription and 48% will encourage people to pay a small donation. 44% will charge a one-off fee while only 6% do not plan to charge people in the future.

For example, for summer solstice this year, English Heritage offered live coverage of sunset and sunrise at Stonehenge2. The events were streamed live across English Heritage’s YouTube, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram channels. While the event was free to attend, members were able to make a small donation to the charity on a voluntary basis.

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Faith Kitchen, heritage director at Ecclesiastical, said: “As the UK’s leading insurer of Grade I listed buildings, we’re passionate about protecting Britain’s heritage. It’s interesting to see that 90% believe the heritage sector needs to invest more heavily in technology in order to thrive in the future. The coronavirus is having a major impact on heritage organisations and many are facing financial difficulties. We recognise that it’s an incredibly challenging time for the sector so it’s really encouraging to read that many heritage organisations are embracing digital attractions as a potential income generator.”

Lizzie Glithero-West, chief executive at The Heritage Alliance, added: “The Heritage Alliance has been encouraged by the creativity of our members and the wider sector in stepping up to meet the increased digital need as a result of COVID-19. From National Historic Ships UK pivoting their annual photographic competition into an online gallery, to Chawton House hosting a virtual Garden Festival, we’ve seen the sector display impressive ingenuity over this period. With our timely National Lottery Heritage Fund supported Heritage Digital programme, there’s a great opportunity for up-skilling. We are providing free vital digital skills training and support to over 700 organisations across the sector, now and through next year, that will help them to survive the emerging challenges of a prolonged COVID-19 crisis and, importantly, to engage and attract new audiences.”

1 The survey was commissioned by Ecclesiastical Insurance and conducted by OnePoll with 500 decision makers who work at museums, galleries, theatres, stately homes and castles (100 per organisation) from 17th – 28th September 2020.

2 Members’ Exclusive: Stonehenge Summer Solstice 2020, English Heritage.


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