Our People: Sam Westbrooke – Executive Manager, Conservation and Advocacy

In August 2023, Sam Westbrooke commenced in the newly created position of Executive Manager, Conservation and Advocacy, bringing together two important departments of the NTAV. In this post, Sam reflects on her vision for this new role.

I am excited to have recently been appointed the position of Executive Manager, Conservation and Advocacy at the Trust. I feel the weight of expectations that this role brings, but I am ready to take up the challenge being mindful that I will need to be flexible with my approach as I settle into this new role to ensure the Trust remains relevant and makes impact.

I have been working at the Trust since 2016, in the Assets team as the Conservation Architect, and have gained a much deeper understanding of what it means to be the owner and manager of a heritage place. This understanding, along with over 20 years of experience working in the heritage industry, state and local government, and in private practice, has provided me with a broad range of perspectives on how cultural heritage impacts our lives. With this background, I believe I can listen, understand, and find ways to support and empower others to care for and manage heritage places and advocate for good heritage outcomes in a diverse range of areas.

Heritage advocacy is often perceived as solely encompassing the protection of places through listings and preventing unsympathetic development. While this is a critical component of our heritage advocacy work at the Trust, there is so much more to what we do. As well as continuing the important protection work, in this role I will focus on other important aspects of heritage advocacy, such as the vital role heritage plays in well-being, communities and the arts; heritage as climate action; and providing critical support to owners and managers of heritage places so they can apply best conservation practice to places in their care. I will also work to ensure that this type of advocacy and support is more holistically provided to rural and regional communities.

Another important focus is the encouragement and facilitation of engagement strategies aligned to the collective values associated with the places where we live, work and play. These include the natural, cultural, Indigenous, social, and intangible values of sites, regardless of whether they are included on any heritage lists.

An ambitious goal that I would dearly like to achieve is to break down the negative perceptions around heritage, so rather than it being perceived as a barrier to change and a difficult path to navigate, it is seen as an enabler for innovation, an opportunity to enrich a project, and something to be embraced and enjoyed rather than feared. I can see the Trust achieving this goal by doing, demonstrating, sharing, supporting, and showcasing.

The doing, demonstrating and sharing components will utilise the Trust’s property portfolio. These places are an important advocacy tool where we aim to demonstrate best conservation practice and create learning opportunities for staff, volunteers, and visitors. By sharing and communicating our challenges, learnings, and successes in heritage place (buildings, landscapes, and collections) care, conservation, management, and activation, we can assist other heritage place owners and managers to feel more comfortable and supported as they also navigate these processes. This includes continuing the Como Approach initiative which involves building the capacity of the heritage conservation industry and ensuring that conservation skills are valued and sustained into the future.

The supporting will involve building on the heritage services and resources the Trust provides, including the Heritage Services Directory, External Appeals, the Advocacy Toolkit, and the Victorian Heritage Restoration Fund (VHRF).

The showcasing will be about shining a spotlight on and communicating the positive stories around heritage projects demonstrating good adaptive re-use, collaborative place making incorporating shared values, thriving heritage places, creative projects and partnerships that embrace heritage, exemplar conservation projects and innovative contemporary design within and around heritage places.

On a personal note, I am a keen wanderer. There is nothing I like more than taking a long walk around my local neighbourhood or a town or suburb that I am visiting and looking at the architecture and landscapes, taking in the details, identifying the distinctive features of a place, and wondering why they have come about in a particular place. This wandering, as well as my work as a heritage advisor for local government over many years, has instilled in me a deep appreciation for the local and how much it contributes to the identity of a place and its people and how every place has something different to offer and to wonder at. I therefore think as heritage advocates, it is imperative to give the deserved recognition to locally significant places and provide the much-needed support to local government in their role of identifying, protecting, and conserving the heritage that matters to local communities.

What I love about my job is that I get to share my passion for heritage and demonstrate the joy it brings to my life and work, hopefully sparking curiosity in others so that they too want to engage with heritage.

This article was originally published in the Spring 2023 Edition of the National Trust Members Magazine. 

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