Avebury Residents’ Pack: bringing together diverse stakeholders in Avebury (United Kingdom)
The Avebury Residents' Pack, developed between 2006 and 2008 by the local world heritage management office, aimed to reconnect the local communities with the archaeological sites in the village, bringing together diverse stakeholders to collect stories from residents and visitors.
About Stonehenge, Avebury and associated sites
Stonehenge and Avebury are among the most famous groups of megaliths in the world. They are located in the county of Wiltshire, in Southwest England. Stonehenge, Avebury and Associated Sites were inscribed on the World Heritage List in 1986 under criteria (i), (ii) and (iii).
The two sanctuaries consist of circles of menhirs arranged in a pattern whose astronomical significance is still being explored. These holy places and the nearby Neolithic sites are an incomparable testimony to prehistoric times. Stonehenge is set in a rural landscape, whereas Avebury henge is surrounded by the village of Avebury, with homes and roads actually crisscrossing the stone circle. The proximity to a residential area creates a particular set of management issues: taking into account the needs of the local community is essential to the sustainable management of the site.
At Avebury, challenges stemmed from the tensions between the residents and the numbers people visiting the site. There are peaks at particular times of year from certain special interest groups; a problem that was not specifically addressed by the community until 2006, approximately 20 years after Avebury was inscribed on the World Heritage List.
Avebury Residents’ Pack: bringing together diverse stakeholders in Avebury
Between 2006 and 2008, a community-centred project sought out to produce the Avebury Residents' Pack, including a variety of materials that aimed to reconnect the local communities with the archaeological sites in their village, bringing together diverse stakeholders to collect stories from residents and visitors. The unique project, available only to residents of Avebury, was designed to celebrate the World Heritage site as a unique and special place to live. The pack was generously sponsored by a number of national and local funders including the North Wessex Downs Area of Outstanding National Beauty, English Heritage, the National Trust, Kennet District Council, the Council of British Archaeologists, the Wiltshire Heritage Museum and The Avebury Society.
The project was motivated by a feeling of ‘disconnect’ and lack of ownership of the World Heritage site by local residents, identified as a key issue by the World Heritage site coordinator. Regarding the main challenges faced, there was a sense of distance implied by the concept of Outstanding Universal Value (OUV), which was perceived to put abstract philosophical ideas of historic and academic ‘value’ above the needs and wants of the local community. This may have been exacerbated during the joint inscription process of Stonehenge and Avebury to the World Heritage List in 1986, in which there was minimal local stakeholder or community involvement, leaving a feeling among some that World Heritage status was being imposed upon Avebury, rather than chosen. The sheer diversity amongst stakeholders (e.g., residents, visitors; landowners, farmers, pagans and archaeologists) also made it difficult to define any shared vision.
Additionally, there was also a lack of understanding between different stakeholder groups, who valued the site for different reasons. Parking congestion and visitor etiquette had been two key matters that created some tensions between residents and visitors, especially during busy touristic periods such as the Solstice. Avebury, like Stonehenge, attracts contemporary pagans and druids from both the United Kingdom and further afield, and these visitors tend to come together specifically around the seasonal solstices and other festivals. Due to the small size and limited infrastructure at Avebury, there are few places for visitors to stay; the resulting ‘improvisation’, in terms of camping and illegal parking, incited tension between residents and visitors.
Ceremony of the Gorsedd of Bards of Caer Abiri in Avebury, 1993. Source: Philip Shallcrass, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons.
Meeting of the Secular Order of Druids, Avebury, Wiltshire, circa 1994. Source: Philip Shallcrass, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons.
The project had the following strategic priorities:
- Engage the local community; replace any view of the World Heritage site as constraint or as excluding local residents with an understanding of the opportunity and inclusivity it represents.
- Identify the broad spectrum of values to be found at Avebury.
- Bring together the diverse stakeholders to facilitate understanding and tolerance.
- Develop a feeling of pride and stewardship amongst residents.
- Use the values identified to develop a more appropriate visitor strategy.
At the outset, all residents were invited to participate in an aerial photograph standing in the henge, which was used to define the graphic identity of the project. The book Values and Voices compiled pieces of writing from a range of people, including archaeologists, residents, farmers, and pagans, both local and from as far away as Germany and America, expressing their personal and professional views of the World Heritage site. The publication evolved organically, with contributions being accepted as they came in, along with a wide range of formal and informal consultation platforms to attract contributions. As the common perception of those managing World Heritage was one of rigid bureaucracy, this flexibility and absence of tight deadlines or barriers made people feel that their opinion was truly valued.
As a result, the publication Values and Voices includes contributions from a range of people and references the many different kinds of significance found at Avebury, from its OUV to its very personal value to those born and raised in the area. Individuals and groups not usually represented on formal management committees, such as druids and business owners, also contributed pieces on their relationship to the site. All the voices are heard side-by-side, with no bias given to any particular narrative. This has helped instil an increased feeling of ownership of the site, and the notion that everyone’s values have been given equal weight alongside the larger concept of Outstanding Universal Value.
Additionally, the Pack included information leaflets from the main organisations involved in the management of Avebury, removing the feeling of bureaucracy, and identifying who was responsible for what in a much more transparent way. The Pack also indicated how residents could be more involved in the day-to-day running of the site, primarily through voluntary duties such as tracking traffic and guiding visitor parking.
The development of the Avebury Residents’ Pack – while not relieving all tensions – has made residents more willing to accommodate pagan interests in Avebury. The village continues to work with the National Trust to make areas of land available for camping at peak times of the year, and the Chair of the Parish Council in Avebury now chairs the Avebury World Heritage Site Steering Committee. The Residents’ Pack is a valued possession – only very few copies have ever appeared on eBay, and those at a price which reflects how greatly the pack and the World Heritage is valued by its residents.
As of 2021, site manager Ms Anne Carvey reports that there are higher levels of awareness and acceptance about World Heritage values on the site, as well as a general feeling that the pack had an impact at the time it was issued. A number of the issues which impact the residents of the village are now better managed, such as parking and the management of pagan festivals. Whilst there is some interest in updating the Residents Pack, this project is not a current priority.
The case study of Avebury shows the importance of facilitating communication between different stakeholders. When interests in a site are as diverse as those at Avebury, it is vital to create a level of understanding between different interest groups to avoid feelings of alienation or disregard in favour of others. Through this type of communication, it is far more likely people will work together in order to uphold these values.
Finally, it is also necessary to recognize the criteria of a site that leads to its inscription may not be felt widely amongst the local community. For this reason, it is even more important to engage with people, find out what they value most about the site, and what they find to be the positives and negatives of inscription. Management must be guided by the needs and values of the local community; otherwise, no management strategy will be sustainable or lead to a sense of guardianship amongst its stakeholders.
Source: Sustainable Tourism Toolkit, UNESCO, 2012. Ms Anne Carvey, site manager, 2021.
Contribution towards the implementation of the 2011 Recommendation on the Historic Urban Landscape
The project aims to contribute to the implementation of the Historic Urban Landscape approach by:
- Recognising the potential of urban heritage to contribute to social cohesion
- Aiming to identify and preserve shared values of cultural heritage
- Developing a multisectoral, people-centred approach to World Heritage site management
- Deploying civic engagement tools that involve a diverse cross-section of stakeholders and empower them to identify key values in their urban areas
- Aiming to facilitate mediation and negotiation between stakeholder groups with conflicting interests.
Historic Urban Landscape Tools
Contribution towards Sustainable Development
The initiative aims to contribute towards Sustainable Development by addressing the following Sustainable Development Goals:
Goal 11. Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable.
- Target 11.3: the initiative aims to enhance inclusive and sustainable urbanization.
- Target 11.4: the initiative aims to protect and safeguard the world’s cultural heritage.
Note: the described potential impacts of the projects are only indicative and based on submitted and available information. UNESCO does not endorse the specific initiatives nor ratifies their positive impact.
To learn more
- Visit www.stonehengeandaveburywhs.org.
- Read the news item on the ICOMOS UK website.
- Consult the Stonehenge and Avebury World Heritage Site Management plan.
- Browse through the Conservation bulletin People engaging with places, by English Heritage.
Ms Anne Carney, Stonehenge, Avebury and Associated Sites World Heritage Site Partnership Manager
Note: The cases shared in this platform address heritage protection practices in World Heritage sites and beyond. Items being showcased in this website do not entail any type of recognition or inclusion in the World Heritage list or any of its thematic programmes. The practices shared are not assessed in any way by the World Heritage Centre or presented here as model practices nor do they represent complete solutions to heritage management problems. The views expressed by experts and site managers are their own and do not necessarily reflect the views of the World Heritage Centre. The practices and views shared here are included as a way to provide insights and expand the dialogue on heritage conservation with a view to further urban heritage management practice in general.