The workshop on community engagement took place in the afternoon of the second day of the HerMa HUB conference, on 6 December 2019. Twenty groups and initiatives form Athens and various areas in Greece met at the newly refurbished conference room of the Workers Centre of Elefsina. The workshop was organized and moderated by Dr Aris Anagnostopoulos and Dr Lena Stefanou.
The central themes of the workshop were the methods employed by such groups in approaching local communities or the public in general, the difficulties they meet in their actions, and the prospects they see for the future.
Among the activities and approaches recorded to engage communities and publics were educational programs, oral histories, urban games, the opening of inaccessible buildings and sites for public visits, theatre and role-play, cooperation with local authorities or ambassadors, the revival of old customs, cultural walks and tours, festivals, crafts workshops, collaborative design, and digital communication platforms.
The issues the initiatives raised were many and very challenging: primarily economic in nature (fundraising, the lack of strategic planning and the lack of returns for local societies), but also strategic (lack of adequate vision and realistic planning); also, questions of the presence or lack of cooperation locally, the difficulty of cooperating with local authorities, the lack of experience in dealing with social issues (e.g. inequalities) and difficult heritage; the gamut of issues also touched upon access in a community and the acceptance of heritage projects (values and attitudes, varying aesthetic preferences, suspicion towards outsiders, and “closed” communities) as well as the lack of communication on various levels (the reception of actions by the public, the transference of specialized knowledge, ideological disagreements and conflicts).
The workshop closed with a brainstorming session and open discussion on the prospects and needs for further development of community engagement initiatives. The points participants touched upon were the need for a clear setting of goals and planning strategically, the development and exchange of skills and the re-evaluation of collaborations, training in economic management (business plans, management plans, and budgets) and sustainability; They also expressed the need for further networking and synergies amongst groups and initiatives, interdisciplinary approaches, communication tools to approach communities and publics as well as to gauge and measure the impact of heritage actions on local communities.