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09.00  The Assessment of a New Cultural Heritage: Religious and Social Practice at the Sikh Gurdwara in Britain

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This paper will outline research currently being undertaken considering Sikh gurdwaras in Britain, which focuses on the perceptions of space and value by user communities and other stakeholders. It will argue that the significance of gurdwaras, and therefore their future management as sites of built heritage, is fundamentally at odds with accepted heritage management practices, which are dominated by the employment of value-driven planning methodologies. The discussion will be framed as a critique of current heritage management practice that privileges artistic value and the continuity of original physical fabric. Referring to a number of case studies, it will draw attention to the unique position of gurdwaras as sites of re-use for everyday religious and social practice, where value may have little to do with original or intended built forms. 

This paper will offer the results of a study that challenges professional subjectivities regarding the valuation and assessment of cultural heritage. Interdisciplinary understandings of the plural nature of space and its construction through everyday lived realities provide the background for empirical research. Participant interviews, observation, and other qualitative methodologies have been employed in establishing a new approach to the assessment of built heritage involving direct engagement with user communities and other stakeholders. In this way, this paper can contribute to discussions about the way in which we analyze built heritage through methods of co-production and, specifically, how practice-based value-driven methodologies may be altered in response to such studies. Furthermore, the findings of this research can contribute to broader debates in cultural heritage studies regarding practices of heritage production, the role of professional expertise, and possibilities for change. 

This research has been carried out in partnership with Historic England, and has been developed as a result of a lack of understanding of non-Christian places of worship by Historic England. Outcomes will contribute to guidance produced in the heritage and planning sectors regarding the character of gurdwaras and the way in which they are valued by user communities.

Clare Canning


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