5. Audiences

5.1 The Site and Its Audiences

Durham World Heritage Site has a particularly wide ranging and multifaceted set of audiences. This is because it is a site that has been in continuous use for over 1000 years by religious and learning communities and a destination for visitors, from pilgrims to tourists, for a similar period. This continued use is central to its designation and character as a World Heritage Site and also part of the site’s vitality and popularity with visiting audiences of many kinds. It also makes audience development a potentially complex area of work for the WHS Co-ordinating Committee.

5.1.1 Appreciation/Understanding of the World Heritage Site:

Durham’s World Heritage Site consists of a world-renowned set of buildings that visually defines Durham City, the county of Durham and indeed, the North East of England and comprises the historic centre of the city. However, the associations of ‘Durham’ with Durham Cathedral (both as a building and an institution), of Durham Castle (as a building) and of Durham University still supersede the public’s association of Durham as a World Heritage Site. That said, awareness of Durham’s World Heritage Site status is growing: It features in Durham University congregation and matriculation speeches attended by thousands of students (and in the case of congregation, their families and friends as well), and is often referred to in literature related to the city. The World Heritage Site is mentioned in the ‘About Durham University’ page of the University website, (http://www.dur.ac.uk/about/) and features on the Cathedral’s website (https://www.durhamcathedral.co.uk).

Figure 5.1: The WHS Visitor Centre

5.2 Resources Audit and Analysis

The Durham World Heritage Site Visitor Centre is the place where the staff and the resources that support the World Heritage Site are located. It is a space that is dedicated to and holds many of the new resources that explain and communicate Durham’s World Heritage Site to visitors. In its first full year of operation the centre received just over 100,000 walk-in visitors, with a clear peak between June and October (approximately 1/6th of the annual footfall in the Cathedral) and hosted an average of 12 evening gatherings per month. Visits to the centre follow the seasonal pattern of visitors to the city. The centre is already referenced in a wide range of partner communications as the information hub of the site, the place where visitors can orient themselves and plan their exploration of the site.

The World Heritage website (https://www.durhamworldheritagesite.com/ ) is the main source of information for visitors of all kinds. Its nature means that it has the potential to reach out to people of all nationalities and with a very wide range of interests. In effect it can play a central role in developing knowledge and understanding among all target audiences. The number of unique visitors it receives monthly (14,500 in 2015) is a good measure of its reach. The site sets the tone and approach to interpretation of the World Heritage Site. In addition to this, many resources are held at the Cathedral and University and on their respective websites. These institutions work collaboratively to ensure maximum benefit for the various audiences.

5.3 Audience Development

As a context for the audience development plan, the visitor economy is currently worth over £191 million to Durham City, attracting over 4.1 million visitors per annum and supports over 2,700 people. Current statistics show that c.720,000 of these visitors include Durham Cathedral in their visit and over 100,000 visit the WHS Visitor Centre each year. Visit County Durham’s Durham City Destination Development Plan (http://www.visitcountydurham.org/dbimgs/durham-city-destination-development-plan.docx ) includes the vision:

Figure 5.2: Visitors to Durham City, crossing Framwelgate Bridge, WHS in the background

For Durham City to be the cathedral city in  England, known for its heritage and river experience with an enviable reputation for offering high quality festivals.  Durham will convey a “perfect little city” by polishing the experience of its smaller attractions, animating the city centre and opening up the river to visitors.  An upturn in the economy and excellent planning and promotion of site opportunities will  deliver a high profile new visitor attraction in the city by 2020 and new hotels that will add choice and meet growing demand.  That reputation will be enhanced by Lumiere, was reinforced by the Lindisfarne Gospels in 2013 and delivered by the Durham Brass and Book festivals and Durham Mysteries.  Transforming the experience of the river peninsula will create a second hub for visitor activity that complements the cathedral and Palace Green. This investment will make a strong visible statement about the city’s confidence in Durham’s future as a visitor destination; an  important positioning leading to inward investment in new attractions and hotels including a new national profile visitor attraction in the city centre.

Complementing this vision, the focus of the WHS audience development plan is to develop new audiences and better satisfy existing audiences who are not resident on the site but ‘visit’ it for a range of purposes. Although resident audiences are not the focus of the plan, it is hoped that with its emphasis on audiences in the broadest possible terms, it will also enhance their experience and understanding of the site.

This plan is designed principally to help Durham’s World Heritage Site increase the number of people who know about, understand and appreciate its significance. This is an aim that is valid in its own right and is one of the requirements of UNESCO for inscribed cultural sites.

However, it is also understood that audience development supports other strands of the WHS management plan including conservation, development and investment.

Figure 5.3: Visitors queuing to see the Lindisfarne Gospels Exhibition, Palace Green Library 2013

Figure 5.4: Guided tours of Durham Cathedral

Figure 5.5: Guided tours of Durham Castle, © Copyright Derek Voller

Audience development is concerned with both how many and what types of people are engaging with the site and the depth of their knowledge and understanding of the site. The high profile and wide recognition of the site’s component institutions and buildings means that many audiences will not be drawn to the site for its designated status. In many instances the audience will not know that they are engaging with a World Heritage Site. The number of people engaging with the site, virtually or actually, each year probably includes a majority who have no knowledge or just a vague idea that the site has World Heritage Status .


  • The WHS Audience Development Plan is based on a set of assumptions which are kept under review;
  • That audience development in this instance encompasses increased awareness of, understanding of and appreciation of Durham’s World Heritage Site among new and existing audiences;
  • That tourists, academics, educators, young people and the faith community are the main ‘visiting’ audiences that need to be addressed;
  • That increasing visitor numbers and diversity is desirable;
  • In common with other World Heritage Sites, it is not the designation itself that attracts people to visit but what the site actually encompasses;
  • That World Heritage Status is one of three identities that relate to site. Durham Cathedral and Durham University are the other two and all three must coexist in balance;
  • That dedicated resources, human and financial, to develop the World Heritage Site’s audiences are unlikely to materialise and therefore delivery of this plan depends on the good will of the owning institutions and other relevant partners.

Figure 5.6: The Challenges of accessibility on a Medieval site

5.4 Strengths and Challenges

The plan begins with a brief analysis of the strengths and challenges of the World Heritage Site under the headings:

  • accessibility
  • interpretation
  • market research
  • promotion
  • education and outreach

These are practical areas of work that are fundamental to developing audiences for cultural sites. There are more that could be added but these five seem most appropriate to Durham at the current time. The WHS plan suggests how strengths can be built upon and how challenges can be addressed. It identifies a set of opportunities and actions for all the partners to the site to consider.

5.4.1 Accessibility

  • Dedicated information centre
  • Dedicated website produced with multiple audiences in mind
  • Pool of staff and volunteers
  • Physical and visual cohesiveness of Cathedral, Castle, Palace Green and surrounding buildings
  • Physical cohesiveness of the site bounded by the River Wear
  • Good facilities for study and research
  • Good disabled access at Cathedral and Palace Green Library
  • Lack of or out of date signage
  • Physical challenges, including situation on a hill, cobbled streets, woodland
  • Staff and volunteers focused on their specific part of the site
  • Hill top, river surrounded location – you can see it but can you get to it
  • Limited amount of information for general public
  • Limited range of information for specific audiences eg languages
  • Limited public access to parts of the site
  • Challenges of landscape and some buildings for people with disabilities
  • Cathedral Bus Times and frequencies
  • Parking for Disabled People
  • Traffic Congestion
  • Poor/Dangerous state and damage by heavy vehicles of some pavements.

Figure 5.7: Exhibition Space, Palace Green Library

Figure 5.8: Proposed New Cathedral exhibition space in the Great Kitchen, Open Treasure (Purcell)

5.4.2 Interpretation

  • Dedicated information centre
  • Other outlets for interpretation e.g. Heritage Centre, Cathedral information desk, Palace Green Library entrance etc.
  • Pool of well trained and committed staff and experienced and committed volunteers
  • Strong narrative relating to the site
  • City narrative is based on the story of the WHS
  • Interpretation skills within the owning institutions
  • Partner commitment to help the WHS reach new and larger audiences
  • Legacy of the Lindisfarne Gospels exhibition
  • New exhibition spaces at Palace Green Library and the Cathedral
  • No WHS interpretation plan
  • Interpretation provision is largely focused on the WHS Visitor Centre and Cathedral, rather than across the whole site
  • Lack of clarity over purpose  of  WHS interpretation  e.g. supporting Cathedral and University or attracting in its own right
  • Multi-faceted nature of the site
  • Lack of articulation of a single coherent narrative
  • Multiple audiences – as complex as city World Heritage sites ie Edinburgh
  • Lack of a coordinated, unified experience in terms of tours/groups etc.

5.4.3 Market Research

  • Regular evidence gathering since WHS visitor centre opened
  • Strong market intelligence resource via Visit County Durham
  • WHS and Cathedral website as a tool for information gathering and surveying
  • Events and tours on WHS as opportunities to gather information from large audience numbers
  • 700,000 visitors to the Cathedral annually from a wide range of audiences
  • University and other partners’ strengths in market research
  • Strong interest in the WHS as a subject of academic study relating to perception, experience etc
  • No market research plan
  • Fragmented approach to information and data gathering across owners and partners
  • No budget to deliver market research plan
  • Lack of clarity over key audiences for the site
  • Information and data gathering may not cover all potential audiences
  • No surveys or questionnaires in the Cathedral Church

Figure 5.9: Audience Research Projects

5.4.4 Promotion

  • National and international recognition for Durham Cathedral and Durham University
  • National and international recognition relating to WHS cityscape
  • Durham City established as a major events destination with the WHS at the heart of its offer
  • Accolades for Durham Cathedral ‘Britain’s favourite building’ and Durham University e.g. national ranking, world ranking, Russell Group
  • University Alumni
  • Strong narrative and clear heritage proposition with potential to be compelling and attractive
  • Website as a marketing tool
  • Multiplicity of partners to support promotion
  • Skills and experience of staff in University and Cathedral
  • Relationships with other World Heritage Sites
  • Strong interest in the media in filming and recording in the WHS
  • Good collaboration between partners
  • Three identities relating to the WHS resulting in complex messaging
  • Complex partnership to coordinate to deliver clear messages
  • Multi-faceted nature of the site
  • Multiple audiences need different approaches
  • No dedicated budget for marketing the WHS
  • No dedicated staff for marketing the WHS
  • Limited capacity of staff – dedicated to their institution not the whole site

Figure 5.10: Durham Castle and Cathedral, No. 1 on This is Durham’s Must See Top 10

5.4.5 Education and Outreach

  • Dedicated education and outreach staff at Durham University and Durham Cathedral
  • Good facilities in University estate and on Palace Green, with planned improved facilities in Cathedral as part of Open Treasure project
  • Link between WHS and school curriculum
  • Exhibition space at Palace Green Library
  • Relationships with other World Heritage Sites
  • Involvement of student groups in education and outreach
  • Links with the Cathedral and the diocese and other churches
  • Significant expansion in outreach activities through the Cathedral’s HLF grant
  • Education and outreach staff work for separate institutions rather than the WHS as a whole
  • No education and outreach plan for the World Heritage Site
  • Financial restrictions on schools’ budgets for visits
  • Continual national curriculum changes
  • Lack of bus parking for school coaches and a long uphill walk for very small children.
  • Capacity issues at the Cathedral and Castle

Figure 5.11: Durham Cathedral offers a variety of school’s sessions

5.4.6 Generic strengths/opportunities relating to Durham City that impact on the World Heritage Site

Some information in the analysis will necessarily relate to Durham City as a tourist destination because the two main components of the World Heritage Site (Cathedral and Castle) are so central to the city’s visitor offer and because separate data sets for the site and the city do not always exist. The strengths, challenges and priorities for County Durham and Durham City are outlined in the Durham Tourism Management Plan: http://www.visitcountydurham.org/dbimgs/The%20Durham%20Tourism%20Management%20Plan%202012-2016May6th2014.pdf and the Durham City Destination Development Plan cited above.


  • Durham’s increasing profile nationally – including accolades in national press
  • Durham city’s membership (via Visit County Durham) of the national heritage cities group that contains other cities with World Heritage Sites
  • 4m visitors a year to Durham City
  • Advocates for Durham with a significant audience e.g Bill Bryson, Archbishop of Canterbury
  • Strong tourism evidence base for Durham City
  • The destination development plan for Durham City that puts the WHS at the heart of the visitor offer
  • Durham’s heritage is inseparable from the image of the city, even for people coming to do other things.


  • The 2013 Lindisfarne Gospels exhibition provided an excellent opportunity to gather information from a wide range of audiences visiting the World Heritage Site
  • The emergence of Auckland Castle as a partner in audience development work
  • First World War commemorations draw local people – DLI etc.

Figure 5.12: Bill Bryson, a strong advocate for Durham

5.4.7 Considerations

The long list of strengths provides a good foundation that can be used to grow audiences to Durham’s World Heritage Site.

There is a strong and large existing audience for Durham City, the Cathedral and the University to work with.

Developing existing audiences and attracting new audiences can happen in parallel but will happen at different paces.

An audience development plan for Durham’s World Heritage Site must embrace development and promotion of its identity to be successful.

The University and Cathedral already have strong identities in their own right and this means that the image and reputation of the World Heritage Site will grow more slowly over a longer time period than a World Heritage Site with a single clear identity base entirely on its World Heritage status.

 The development of a clear identity for the WHS will require some financial resource to deliver.

A clear link between audience development and other areas of the World Heritage Site management plan must be articulated. It cannot exist in isolation and must demonstrate delivery against other priorities to attract resources.

The WHS has limited human and financial resources in its own right and is mainly dependent on the resources of other bodies (including the University and Cathedral) to deliver its plan of action.

Between the University, Cathedral and partner organisations there is considerable capacity and expertise in audience development that could be used to the benefit of the World Heritage Site.

Many of the actions require little financial resource to deliver but will require partners to commit to leading and resourcing with staff time, the capacity for which is very limited.

The existence of a central coordinating resource dedicated to the World Heritage Site is essential to make the most of opportunities presented by partners.

5.5 Actions

The audience development plan has a number of short term actions, which are summarised in section five of the Action Plan included in this Management Plan, that will better utilise existing assets and make them work harder. These principal assets are the WHS visitor centre and the WHS website and making use of the 2013 Lindisfarne Gospels exhibition market research.

Timeframe: 6-12 months

Harnessing partners’ resources in the medium term will increase the reach of the audience development work ‘in destination’: in particular the on-line and marketing resources and the venues where WHS interpretation can be located including the Palace Green Library, Cathedral Information Desk, Cathedral Shop and Restaurant, Heritage Centre, the Café on the Green, Palace Green Library, the Assembly Rooms and the Chorister School.

Timeframe: 12- 18 months

The production of a comprehensive interpretation strategy will revise the communications approach and impact on all areas of audience development. Physical development, particularly the Cathedral’s Open Treasure project, the riverbanks project, any changes to access and usage at Durham Castle as well as the programming at Palace Green Library should then take note of the interpretation strategy at the planning and delivery stages.

Longer term infrastructure development across the site will provide new resources and facilities for all audiences. It will encompass implementation of the physical aspects of the interpretation strategy such as signage and also any physical access improvements.