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There has been very significant change to the work of the FBWHMG over the past three years, dominated of course by the Pandemic. It is amazing to reflect that the last big public meeting to take place in the Contact & Education Centre in Queensferry was the Forth Bridge’s 130th birthday party, which was a major effort by members of the Group and was a great success. The educational programme during the day involving mostly local schools and was a vibrant event. The day was rounded off in the evening by some outstanding lectures.
One of the great personal achievements over this period had been the creation by Michael Dineen (of Transport Scotland ) of a scale model of the Forth Bridge built from Lego. The campaign to have it formally adopted and manufactured by Lego achieved the impossible by getting into the final, so it was very disappointing that if failed at the final hurdle. However, to get this far was extraordinary, given the obstacles that it had to overcome.
Meanwhile, it was pleasing to see the Forth Bridge attracting the attention of senior politicians during COP26 in November 2021, with both President Biden and his Secretary of the Interior, Deb Haaland requesting visits to see it in-person. And, the Bridge continued to appear on the cover of publications, including those published by UNESCO itself , HES and the STUC.
There is no doubt that the onset of the Pandemic has accelerated some change whilst arresting progress in some areas. It is, for example, extraordinary that the membership of the FBWHMG has almost entirely changed since its creation following inscription in 2015. This makes maintaining continuity difficult. There have also been setbacks, such as the closure of Edinburgh’s World Heritage Centre at the Tron Kirk, which had only just started prominently promoting the Forth Bridge. However, new videoconferencing platforms (notably MS Teams) allowed for the work of the FBWHMG to continue, perhaps more efficiently than before, and we are very grateful for the support of Bear Scotland in this respect.
The biggest challenge facing us now is the appointment of a World Heritage Coordinator. Recent progress has been made with Network Rail, the aim being the establishing of the post and resourcing it properly. It is becoming increasingly clear that this will require the drafting of a Memorandum of Understanding between Network Rail, Historic Environment Scotland and Transport Scotland. The hope is that this will also help inject new vitality into the Forum itself.
Once this is achieved, it will be possible to proceed with the vital task of refreshing the Forth Bridge World Heritage Management Plan. This process will also be able to tap into the new energy being provided by the local community councils, whose recent approaches have highlighted the need to address tourism and infrastructure needs in and around the Forth Bridges.
Thanks are also due to those people who have continued to send in examples of ForthBridgery. Ultimately, we hope to engineer a way of sharing this material more effectively via the Forth Bridges website. At the same time, the formation of the FBWHMG Collections Group is very significant. This offers major research opportunities (as demonstrated to great effect by Frank Hay, especially in relation to Tower Bridge), and again will deliver output for wider dissemination via the website. There is also the added excitement of potentially appointing Barbara Henderson as an Author in Residence. There are many tales to be told (especially in this, the Year of Stories).
Most recently, we were surprised to discover that the recent rebrand by UNESCO meant that we needed to have our Forth Bridge World Heritage logo redesigned. However, the good news is that this is a service provided without charge by UNESCO, and was done very rapidly once we requested it. As a bonus, they have also produced a Gaelic version. This provided us with a reminder that we want to produce some Forth Bridge Gaelic language resources (probably films, in the first instance) in the coming months.
Finally, we have been deeply upset by the invasion of Ukraine by Russia and the targeting of Ukrainian heritage in particular. Industrial heritage has proved to be particularly vulnerable, and the amazing images of the Mariupol steel works by Czech photographer Viktor Macha are a potent reminder of the scale of the loss and trauma caused by the invasion. Against this background, it is no surprise that UNESCO has postponed the next World Heritage Committee meeting, which was to have taken place in July in Kazan, Russia. No alternative venue or time has been announced so far.
Click here to view presentation slides from the Forth Bridges Forum public meeting held on 14 June 2022.