Sandra Stancliffe.jpg

SANDRA STANCLIFFE VISITS ST PETERSBURG

Sandra has worked in the field of heritage learning for 22 years. After training as a primary school teacher and completing a Museum Studies post graduate diploma Sandra worked at Derby museums, Tullie House Museum in Carlisle and had several roles at Bristol Museums. She joined English Heritage as Education Director in 2010 and held roles including Head of Interpretation. She transferred to Historic England when it was created in April 2015 where she now manages education, inclusion and volunteering. Sandra is a governor of a primary school in Bristol, a trustee of the Bristol Architecture Centre and a member of the National Trust’s external advisory panel for collections and interpretation. 

About St Petersburg

I visited St Petersburg over 5 days to explore the relationship between heritage, identity and resilience.

I began the visit by considering the impact of conflict on the city's built heritage.  Almost the first thing I saw was the memorial to the siege of Leningrad which began in 1941 and lasted for 872 days. The siege is still very much in the consciousness of the people. Hardly surprising when  you consider that 1.5 million people died and the survivors suffered incredible hardship.

I also visited Peterhof palace built by Peter the Great and modelled on Versailles. Peterhof is an extraordinary embodiment of the city's  determination to reconstruct its heritage and identity after the total devastation wrought during the second world war. The palace was completely destroyed but today is magnificent in a landscape of fountains just outside the city.

The impact of the Communist era is still very evident in the architecture of the city as are reminders of the Glasnost era.  The Square next to the breathtaking St Isaac's cathedral saw the beginnings of the Perestroika movement in the city after a rumour circulated that the city authorities planned to demolish the Angleterre hotel  in the square.  The square was soon occupied by protesters but this was the first mass demonstration that was not oppressed by the authorities. This paved the way for future grass roots organisations dedicated to heritage protection.

One of these organisations is Living City, co-founded by Elena Minchenok. I met Elena who is inspirational in her passion and commitment to preserving the built heritage of her beautiful city. Elena explained how Living City has no budget and no paid staff and remains an unofficial organisation. However, its members are like Elena, passionate and resilient. They don't always win and vehemently opposed the extension to the Mariinsky theatre for example, but have been at least partly successful along with thousands of other campaigners to have the city's first skyscraper moved away from its proposed location in heart of the historic city.  The resilience of Living City seems to have been based on their relevance and ability to connect with mass public opinion rather than size or funding.

In total contrast I also met with two teams from the State Hermitage Museum. The Hermitage, entirely state funded,  is all about size: 4 million visitors, 41,000 free public events. The Youth Education department and the Schools Education department share complimentary aims but don't work together at all and are managed by different departments. The Youth Education department run very innovative programmes and have a very productive relationship with all of the higher education organisations in the city. The schools team focus on programmes for young gifted artists and do brilliant work with disabled people.  Interestingly, the Hermitage invests its earned income in staff bonuses.

St Petersburg is a remarkable place to visit. Its people are rightly proud of its heritage and were warm and welcoming.

Things I learned about resilience during the trip:

  • People have enormous capacity for resilience in the face of overwhelming pressure

  • When resilient people work together they can make change happen

  • Resilience can be born from deep rooted passions, not necessarily money and qualifications

  • Organisations are resilient when they are big and have lots of money

  • Organisations are resilient when they are small and have no money

  • Resilience is relevance

And personally - for me resilience lesson is:

  • Persistence, resourcefulness, seeing the big picture and available credit (needed when you miss your flight home a few hours before your visa expires!)