Interpretation for local people

Using interpretation to communicate with local people has been an important part of many of our recent projects. It calls for some rather different approaches than interpretation for tourists.

Apple Day celebration in Sussex makes involving local people with their heritage an involving, participatory  social event.

Apple Day celebration in Sussex makes involving local people with their heritage an involving, participatory social event.

We have been working with individual heritage attractions, with landscape areas and with the whole city of Cork. In all of these very different situations we have ended up recognising the importance of including the local audience as a core part of the interpretive planning. Local people are vital for many interpretation projects , whether the objectives focus on local conservation or international tourism.

Local people as site users

Countryside sites, whether they are small nature reserves or whole landscapes, often want to communicate with the people who use the site, often to harness their support in caring for the place. Often those people will be local.

Most of the people who walk on the South Downs heathland sites where we have been working recently are local people. They visit very regularly, often several times every week. They therefore require different approaches from tourists who visit once or infrequently; sticking up a permanent panel won’t work for them. We are therefore recommending more dynamic solutions, including face-to-face interpretation, events, and regularly changing fixed interpretation.

Helping people have a stronger connection with local sites and their management is an important role for interpretation.

Local people as visitors to attractions

Local people can value their local heritage but not visit it. We have regularly encountered outrage at the proposed closure of a local museum from people who have not been through the doors in decades.

Locals may need reassurance that the attraction is not only for tourists. They may also need a stronger incentive to get round to it. Targeted events and time-limited offers can change an intention to visit ‘sometime’ into an actual visit.

Local people can be the largest group of visitors to successful heritage attractions particularly outside the peak season.

The ‘ Visiting with Family and Friends’ audience is important to many areas. In the Churnet Valley (a beautiful but little-known area with rich wildlife and historic interest where) they form the great majority of visitors form outside the area. It will usually be the local hosts will often make the decision about activities.  We are therefore working with Churnet Valley partners to support local people in ‘thinking and talking’ the area and its attractions.

Local people as advocates

Talking to local people can be an important influence on what tourists do in an area.  The views of accommodation providers, taxi drivers, shopkeepers and bar staff on local heritage attractions matter.

In Cork we are planning how visitors to the city can have a stronger experience of the city’s maritime heritage. Our proposals cover many attractions but also address ’embedding the maritime heritage in the streetscape. Ultimately we want to do more than that, we want to embed Cork’s connection with the sea into the conversation so it something that visitors encounter regularly and effortlessly.

We have recognised that local people are crucial to the way that visitors experience the city. They have the potential to be the strongest ambassadors for Cork’s maritime heritage. To do this they have to feel a sense of connection and pride in the city’s heritage and its heritage attractions. The attractions will need to reach out to them as much as to their many  international visitors.


My next blog will contain some thoughts about what can make a site or attraction more attractive to local people.


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