The Sunday Times says

A people-led heritage movement

Culture matters because a modern city could appear soulless and dull, notwithstanding its abundant display of gleaming infrastructure, bling and robotic efficiency. For its residents, culture helps to shape identities, encourage connectedness with the past, and promote a sense of belonging. Given its undoubted value, it is a good sign that interest in cultural heritage is on the rise here.

One indication of this is the growth in the number of heritage volunteers over the past five years: ordinary people who serve as museum docents and hosts, heritage trail guides, cultural festival volunteers and digital volunteers. Collectively, they help to bring culture closer to people by giving a voice to exhibits, traditions, beliefs, rituals, foods, pictures, buildings, cityscapes and rural scenes, heritage trees and gardens, and more.

The larger the pool of such people, the more diverse the heritage stories that can be told. Objects and scenes can come alive to different groups when volunteers with a range of language and creative abilities are tapped. From understanding cultures, one might value them more; by caring for varied forms, enjoyment of their expression will grow; and from enjoying it, "comes a thirst to understand". The virtuous circle, mapped by Simon Thurley, is likely to be dynamic when people from all walks of life are involved in the process.

Naturally, the object is to appreciate all cultures both in their original and evolving forms. Heritage is often the starting point. Elements of the old might then find their way into contemporary practices, symbolic forms and stories. And as new technology platforms are harnessed to conserve and project heritage, such content could become grist for the mill of a variety of digital subcultures.

Given the interplay of the new and old, youth volunteers are as welcome as seniors. The sight of teen or expat heritage guides shouldn't surprise one. All with a passion deserve a listening ear.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on January 21, 2018, with the headline 'A people-led heritage movement'. Print Edition | Subscribe