I love Blue Plaques, but my first thought on hearing the recent press reports saying that the scheme was about to be suspended by English Heritage because they can no longer afford to pay for it, was less panic and more disbelief. Surely this is one of the most “feel good” and popular ways in which heritage has infiltrated everyone’s lives–I can’t imaging there is anyone who thinks Blue Plaques are a bad idea. I assumed that the story had been put out by EH at a quiet news moment to try and flush out a corporate sponsor for the scheme.
Would that be such a bad idea? or in such recessionary times is it simpl;y pragmatic to farm out one bit of EH’s good work that might actually appeal to potential sponsors? I guess it would all depend on what the terms of a deal would be. Any influence on the selection or wording should be ruled out. Corporate logos on the beautiful ceramic plaques themselves would be horrible. So would doing cheaper versions of the lovingly crafted plaques themselves. Although they are expensive to produce I can’t imagine that much of the scheme’s annual budget (which is excess of £250,000 a year) goes on actually making them. The budget must mainly cover the costs of employing research staff and administering the decision making process (who gets a plaque and where it should go).
EH says that despite all that’s been said, it ” remains committed to the Scheme and it will continue”. However, it has apparently built up a backlog of plaques that have already been agreed but not yet installed , and presumably there are more at various stages in the selection process.
I guess it is admirable to look at ways in which they can reduce the cost to the tax payer, but really, in terms of the amount of pleasure it brings, the Blue Plaque Scheme must be staggeringly good value. I think it would be short sighted of EH to hand over the kudos to any other organisation, and it should instead look to build on the success of something that very effectively links a wide view of history with the significance of individual buildings.