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About the project

The Improving Access project is an exploration to understand how we can improve access to the heritage sector’s workforce and understand the current barriers. The project was made possible by funding from the National Lottery Heritage Fund and Young Foundation’s Heritage Innovation Fund.

This project was developed by the Improving Access Group, an action-centred delivery group made of employers, development bodies, public bodies, and community groups.

To provide guidance and direction for this project’s work, we’ve recruited a steering group formed by representatives from across the sector with expertise in equalities and improving access work. The group members are:

  • West of Scotland Regional Equality Council
  • Museums Galleries Scotland
  • Chartered Institute for Archaeologists
  • National Trust for Scotland
  • Scottish Crannog Centre
  • University of Edinburgh Heritage Collections
  • Historic Environment Scotland
  • Enabled Archaeology Foundation

Project aims

The project seeks to identify the cultures, processes, and structures that discriminate people from the sector’s workforce in Scotland and understand how we, as a sector, can embed practice which will support transformative change.

The main project aims are:

  • Develop a collaborative, cross sector approach to increase workforce diversity
  • Address the barriers that prevent people from entering the sector as well as maximising inclusive opportunities
  • Address the fragmentation and scale of activity happening to ensure the sector develops regional sustainable pathways in heritage occupations from school to entering the workforce
  • Provide accessible opportunities for all, with targeted support for those who currently face exclusion

Why now?

There are two main drives behind this project. One is the well-known long standing issues with diversity and accessibility in the sector’s workforce, with surveys highlighting time and time again that the workforce is largely highly educated, female, heterosexual, abled and white (see Fox, 2022; Chief Economist Directorate, 2022; Aitchison, 2021; Inc Arts and the Bridge Group, 2020; Davison et al. 2019; BOP Consulting, 2016; Kemp, 2017; Hook et al., 2016).

The other is a survey for heritage sector organisations that the Improving Access group undertook in June 2022. The results highlighted the need for action and raised questions about the future of workforce by showing us that:

  • Less than 50% of the organisations who responded offered any paid work-based learning opportunities and only 28% offered bespoke opportunities to people with backgrounds excluded from the workforce
  • 79% were unable to offer all the opportunities they would like to
  • The majority wanted to increase or change their offer, with 11% not offering work-based learning opportunities but wanting to start, 36% wanting to increase their offer and 31% wanting to offer different areas/levels of work

In spring of 2023, the Improving Access group ran a series of lunch and learn equalities sessions for heritage sector organisations to raise awareness of how to maximise inclusive opportunities and how to address the barriers people face when trying to enter the sector. These sessions showed us that there is an appetite to do better and improve access to the workforce among heritage sector organisations.

What's happening right now?

Key questions

These are the four key questions that the projects wants to tackle:

  • What activity is happening in Scotland’s regions to improve access to heritage careers? How accessible are these opportunities and how well do they align to create clear, consistent career pathways for people looking to enter the workforce?
  • What is the future, current and past graduate, apprentice, trainee, intern, and fellow experience of entry opportunities? What are the main barriers they face and their retention rates once they enter the sector?
  • What are the experience and perceptions of heritage from individuals with lived experience of protected characteristics under the Equality Act of 2010, and those from excluded socio-economic backgrounds?
  • What support mechanisms need to be put into place to support organisations to develop and deliver accessible opportunities, and for people to access them?

How will we answer these questions?

Informed by the public

As part of the research, we will engage with the public and organisations working in heritage through a series of focus groups that have an element of co-design to ensure we involve people in the development of any potential tests of change. To understand people’s experience entering the sector, the focus groups will consult people with lived experience of one or more of the protected characteristics outlined in the 2010 Equality Act, people who come from a working-class background, current and past work-based learners, and current and past graduates.

Led by the sector

To provide guidance and direction for this project’s work, we’ve recruited a steering group formed by representatives from across the sector with expertise in equalities and improving access work. The group members are West of Scotland Regional Equality Council, Museum Galleries Scotland, Chartered Institute for Archaeologists, National Trust for Scotland, Scottish Crannog Centre, University of Edinburgh Heritage Collections, Historic Environment Scotland, and the Enabled Archaeology Foundation.

What will be gained?

By the end of this project, we expect to have:

  • Enhanced understanding of barriers individuals with protected characteristics face finding, entering, and working in heritage and how to tackle them
  • Enhanced understanding of the barriers organisations working in heritage face with supporting different entry routes into the sector and how to address them
  • Develop recommendations and work towards the creation of a process(es) to develop sustainable evidence-based solutions to ‘long-time’ systemic issues with the lack of diversity
  • Build confidence in a collaborative approach to addressing this issue, and gather evidence for investment, to advocate to leaders in the sector.

What will happen after?

In April 2024, we are hosting a spring symposium to discuss the project’s learnings and facilitate conversations with the sector, encouraging organisations to input into the implementation of the project’s recommendations and testing of any future pilot approaches. The symposium will be open to the historic environment sector, funding groups and community organisations engaging in accessibility work.

After the Improving Access Spring Symposium, we will use the findings and initial recommendations to identify key actions and goals which will form the Improving Access group’s action plan. The steering group will engage in the dissemination of the project’s learning via social media, print, and blog posts.

How to be involved

If increasing diversity in the sector is something you’re passionate about, then you’re invited to get involved by joining our upcoming Improving Access Spring Symposium, sharing best practice, learning together, or helping us test out new approaches to employability in the heritage sector.

If you have experiences or ideas to share, or you want to find out more information on how to get involved, please contact Mar Roigé Oliver, Skills Development Coordinator at Historic Environment Scotland at