Safeguarding Transplanted and Indigenous Intangible Cultural Heritage in the UK

Author: Ataa Alsalloum & Monika Koeck
Format: Lecture essay film
Duration: 46:35
Published: March 2024

Research Statement

In the context of discussions and policy formulations on UK immigration and integration, there often exists a tendency to approach these issues from a limited perspective. Recognising the profound influence of intangible cultural heritage (ICH) could offer subtle solutions for migrant integration, strengthen national identities, and promote a more diverse and inclusive UK society.

Against the backdrop of ongoing debates around the UK’s top-down migration and integration policies, our practice-based, observational research seeks to provide novel insights into enhancing cultural integration. This study is underpinned by the following research questions:

1. What drives specific individuals and heritage groups to actively engage in the preservation and continuity of Intangible Cultural Heritage practices and activities?

2. How do integration strategies differ among diverse heritage bearers in the UK?

3. Can a developed study method, informed by heritage bearers’ perspectives and grounded in heritage policy and safeguarding guidelines, be devised to shape a national safeguarding approach and direct the future inventory of the UK’s Intangible Cultural Heritage?

Through this investigative approach, our ambition is to shape policy and deepen the understanding of various heritage stakeholders and the broader public regarding the multifaceted aspects of cultural heritage and integration in the UK.


The UK’s sociocultural identity is a rich mosaic of Intangible Cultural Heritage (ICH). However, defining this identity is complicated by historical and ongoing migration to the British Isles. This complexity is intensified when migrant groups live in isolation, which hampers their broader societal integration (Adam 2005). The situation is further complicated by the UK Government’s recent initiative to ratify UNESCO’s 2003 Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage (DCMS, 2024). While this step is commendable, the specifics regarding inclusivity and the technical language concerning both native/indigenous ICH, originating from England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland, and migrant ICH remain ambiguous. For many communities in the UK, ICH is their foremost celebrated cultural heritage at a local level, highlighting its crucial role in government policies promoting inclusive cultural access (Historic England 2020). However, the diminishing awareness and lack of formal recognition of ICH threaten its sustainability.

Previous research on heritage and migration has often viewed immigrant and resettled communities through the lens of the host society, frequently depicting these individuals as guests or outsiders. This prevailing narrative, widespread in academic circles, prevents authentic engagement with these communities and acknowledgment of their significant contributions to their new countries. As a result, the stories of resettled individuals are usually associated with migration discourses, as noted by Colomer & Catalani (2020), Arizpe & Amesuca (2013), and Fiddian-Qasmiyeh (2020). These scholars discuss the promotion of equitable relationships between migrants and host societies. Additionally, studies by Beeckmans et al. (2022), Dellios, and Henrich (2020) examine the role of heritage in identity and cultural preservation amid global crises, with a primary focus on migration. These works generally describe the “heritage of migration” as the effort to represent and preserve migratory experiences, covering political, cultural, and social dimensions. However, a Eurocentric perspective often portrays migrants merely as aid recipients, neglecting their significant cultural contributions. Another concern is the tendency to ‘migranticize’ communities within the discourse of migration research (Dahinden, 2016).

In the UK, migrant policy often highlights the imbalanced relationship between hosts and refugees, underscoring the outsourced nature of hospitality and the prevalent suspicion and hostility, as exemplified by McFadyen (2020). ICH is vital in fostering resilience among both native/indigenous cultural groups from England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland, and migrant communities who gather to celebrate shared traditions (Ryan 2021; Council of Europe 2005). Beyond enhancing well-being, ICH supports human rights and sustainable development (UNESCO 2023). Yet, grasping the cultural nuances of displaced populations within the UK remains a significant challenge (Giglitto et al. 2022).

With these challenges in mind, this research initiative aims to:

1. Champion ICH as a linchpin for societal cohesion and mutual understanding.

2. Amplify the endeavours of ICOMOS-UK and Historic England in chronicling ICH practices within the UK.

3. Explore methodologies geared towards shaping national safeguarding strategies and sculpting an inclusive ICH policy rooted in public engagement.

By arranging focus-group discussions across a spectrum of community segments, we aim to discern both dominant and imperilled ICH facets. These dialogues are anticipated to yield a structured inventory of ICH elements, demystifying the interplay between transplanted and native heritages (Harrowell 2022). Collaborating with entrepreneurs rooted in ICH practices not only bolsters the documentation but also sheds light on the evolution, preservation, and transmission of ICH, underlining its role in mending societal fissures (Arizpe 2013).

While the project might not capture the full spectrum of community groups, it stands as a foundational pilot to test methodological approaches in cataloguing and conserving ICH in the UK. It’s noteworthy that, despite diverse manifestations of practices across communities (e.g., the celebration of Eid by Syrians and Chinese New Year by diverse communities), common core values resonate. This dichotomy—the influence of ICH on its primary communities and its broader ramifications within the UK—merits exploration.


In our research, we employed a comprehensive approach to investigate the rich mix of cultural practices and settings. The methodology combines observational and interactive techniques, entailing the examination of cultural practices, interviews with individuals and groups engaged in cultural practices, and the synthesis of insights from two public focus groups.

Selection Criteria for Practice Groups

Given the vast and varied range of heritage practices in the UK, our selection of practice groups was shaped by both native/indigenous and those practices brought by migrated and resettled communities. Further guiding our selection was the UNESCO framework, which delineates five key domains of Intangible Cultural Heritage (ICH) practices:

– Oral traditions and expressions

– Performing arts

– Social practices, rituals, and festive events

– Knowledge and practices concerning nature and the universe

– Traditional craftsmanship

Case Study: The Liverpool City Region (LCCR)

Our study focused on the Liverpool City Region, a unique setting for examining ICH due to its rich cultural diversity and historical depth. Liverpool’s distinctiveness lies in its synthesis of various national traditions, which have merged and evolved alongside local customs. This blend has led to the concept of ‘Transcultural Heritage.’ Although the idea of Transcultural Heritage is not new, having been discussed in works like those by Santos et al. (2017) and Erika et al. (2023), our research underscores its significance. We argue that Transcultural Heritage, arising from diverse cultural interactions and especially prevalent in places like Liverpool, is crucial for fostering social cohesion across the UK. This perspective advocates for the inclusion of Transcultural Heritage considerations in heritage policy, recognising it as a vital element of societal unity and cultural continuity.

Authentic Capture

To address the complexities of capturing authentic voices across diverse migrant and heritage backgrounds, our project employs a geo-locative approach, distinct from conventional documentary methods. This strategy, especially developed for the Liverpool City Region (LCR), enables a deep, contextual engagement with the community. By situating our filming within the daily realities and significant cultural moments of our subjects—ranging from Eid celebrations in a local Syrian restaurant to traditional craft practices in a wheelwright’s workshop—our method fosters a genuine portrayal of intangible cultural heritage (ICH). Each location was carefully selected to reflect the cultural significance and lived experiences of the communities involved.

Moreover, our commitment to authenticity extends to conducting interviews in the participants’ native languages, notably Arabic, ensuring that the richness of their narratives is preserved. While the majority of our interviews were held in environments intrinsic to each tradition, such as a musician’s home or a head teacher’s school, it is important to note that logistical constraints limited this approach in some instances. Nevertheless, our methodology’s cornerstone remains its capacity to dynamically integrate the geographic and cultural specificity of the LCR, thereby innovating beyond traditional documentary techniques.

Ethical considerations

In addressing ethical considerations for this project, paramount importance was placed on cultural sensitivity, obtaining clear and informed consent from all participants, and ensuring the security and privacy of collected data. Ethical clearance was secured from the University of Liverpool’s Research Ethics Committee (Ref no: 12397), underscoring our commitment to ethical standards. Special attention was given to participants potentially classified as vulnerable, incorporating tailored consent processes and debriefing protocols to uphold their dignity and rights. Furthermore, we meticulously avoided cultural appropriation, striving for authentic and respectful representation of all cultures involved. This comprehensive ethical approach not only facilitated project success but also bolstered trust within the community, aligning with the highest standards of academic integrity and respect for participant welfare.


The Key Outcomes of the Study are:

1. Preservation of Resilience: ICH plays a pivotal role in strengthening resilience by preserving and celebrating traditions.

2. Reinforcement of Identity in Liverpool: Residents in Liverpool are prominently involved in practicing their ICH, reinforcing their cultural identity, and enhancing their life in the diaspora.

3. Interconnected Traditions: Traditions are not standalone entities; they form a network, fostering a sense of belonging and community among individuals.

4. Awareness Gap: Notwithstanding the cultural diversity, there remains a limited awareness of both the adopted cultures and Britain’s overarching ICH.

5. Varied Motivations for Engagement: People have diverse reasons for engaging in ICH. For some, it’s the allure of traditions, often passed down from older generations. For others, their socio-cultural networks, especially within migrant or indigenous communities in the UK, are influential.

6. Adaptation and Opportunities: Some migrants pivot to new ventures or hobbies in the UK, compelled by limited prospects in their previous professions.

7. ICH as Social Hubs: Certain individuals harness ICH to create distinctive spaces that bring together varied cultural communities in an inclusive manner.

8. Diverse Range of Practices: Cultural activities span a spectrum. They range from intimate, lesser-known family rituals, which some choose to keep private, to more public and communal expressions such as lion dances and Syrian culinary traditions.

9. Unearthing Commonalities: Despite the pronounced differences among cultural groups, there’s a striking resemblance in some practices.

10. Documentation Efforts: There’s an emerging trend among community groups and local authorities to document and archive specific ICH elements they actively practice.


Our research holds the promise of yielding the following significant outcomes:

1. Understanding UK’s Evolving Identity: The dynamic changes in the UK’s societal make-up, influenced by migration history and the aftermath of Brexit, have led to complex socio-cultural identity challenges. Addressing the evident lack of social cohesion becomes imperative in this context.

2. Highlighting the Urgency for a New Model: An effective, genuine, and inclusive grassroots perspective is of paramount importance, as it can act as the bedrock for fostering unity and understanding in the UK’s diverse societal fabric.

3. Addressing the Risk to Traditional Practices: Many traditional practices stand on the brink of fading into obscurity. This is due to the under-recognition of their Intangible Cultural Heritage (ICH) significance and the discontinuity in passing down knowledge. This trend threatens cultural identities and could exacerbate societal rifts.

4. Reinforcing the Importance of Safeguarding: The vulnerable state of various UK cultural practices, exacerbated by factors like diminished awareness and insufficient safeguarding, highlights the urgency and relevance of this research. Inventorying and effectively disseminating these practices and the research findings can act as a remedy.

5. Liverpool’s Proactive Stance: Irrespective of the UK’s alignment with the UNESCO 2003 Convention, Liverpool’s communities are taking decisive steps to preserve their Transcultural Heritage. This proactive stance testifies to the feasibility of initiatives led by the UK to recognize and celebrate such heritage.

6. Strategic Solution for a More Inclusive Society: Our unique perspective on intangible heritage, now termed “transcultural heritage,” offers a strategic solution to the looming crisis. This perspective harbours the potential to pave the way for a more inclusive and harmonious society throughout the UK.


Adam, D. (2005) ‘UK Asians isolated in city enclaves’. The Guardian [online]. Available from: [Accessed 18 September 2023].

Arizpe, L.; Amescua, C. (2013) Anthropological perspectives on intangible cultural heritage. Heidelberg: Springer.

Astuti, E. Y., Martokusumo, W., Allam, A. Z., Ayushitarum, L., Paramitasari, A. U., & Kurniawan, H. (2023). ‘Urban Infrastructure Changes and Their Influences on Inhabitants’ Well-Being: A Case Study of Transcultural Heritage Conservation in Lasem, Indonesia.’ Heritage & Society.

Beeckmans, L., Gola, A., Singh, A., & Heynen, H. (2022). Making Home(s) in Displacement: Critical Reflections on a Spatial Practice. Leuven: Leuven University Press.

Catalani, A (2020). ‘Narratives of resilient heritage and the “capacity to aspire” during displacement.’ In A. Catalani & L. Colomer (Eds.), Heritage Discourses in Europe: Responding to Migration, Mobility, and Cultural Identities in the Twenty-First Century (pp. 11–24). Arc Humanities Press.

Council of Europe, Faro Convention. (2005) ‘Convention on the Value of Cultural Heritage for Society [online]. Available from: [Accessed 01 September 2023].

Dellios, A., & Henrich, E. (2020). Migrant, Multicultural and Diasporic Heritage: Beyond and Between Borders (1st ed.). London: Routledge.

Department for Culture, Media & Sport (DCMS). (2024). ‘2003 UNESCO Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage.’ GOV.UK. Available from: [Accessed 03 February 2024].

Fiddian-Qasmiyeh, E. (2020). Refuge in a Moving World: Tracing Refugee and Migrant Journeys across Disciplines. London: UCL Press.

Giglitto, D., Ciolfi, L., Bosswick, W. (2022) ‘Building a bridge: opportunities and challenges for intangible cultural heritage at the intersection of institutions, civic society, and migrant communities’. International Journal of Heritage Studies, 28, pp.74-91.

Harrowell, E., Tandon, A. (2022) Community-Based Heritage Indicators for Peace: A Tool for Measuring Peace. Italy: ICCROM.

Historic England. (2020) An Inclusion, Diversity and Equality Strategy for Historic England 2020-2023. [online]. Available from: [Accessed 01 September 2023].

McFadyen, G. (2020). Refugees in Britain: Practices of Hospitality and Labelling. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.

Santos, J. R. dos (Ed.). (2017). Preserving Transcultural Heritage: Your Way or My Way? Casal de Cambra: Caleidoscópio. ISBN 978-989-658-467-2.

Ryan, J.M. (2021) COVID-19: Social Consequences and Cultural Adaptations, Vol 2. Oxford: Routledge.

UNESCO’s Interactive Visual (2023) ‘Living Heritage and Sustainable Development’ [online]. Available from: [Accessed 18 September 2023].


I extend my deepest gratitude to numerous individuals and institutions, without whose unwavering support this research would not have come to fruition. Foremost, I’m indebted to Research England (UK) and the Participatory Research Funding Scheme for their generous financial backing. The Liverpool School of Architecture and the School of Arts deserve special mention for their exceptional assistance throughout.

I’m immensely appreciative of the countless contributors to this research — from those who shared their invaluable insights and stories during interviews and workshops to those who aided us in myriad other ways. Their involvement enriched the depth and scope of our project.

I am thankful for my colleagues at ICOMOS-UK who have supported and advised on different matters related to heritage policy and guidance.

I’m particularly grateful to Amelia Hayden, whose expertise as a solicitor and heritage researcher was instrumental to our endeavours. My profound thanks are also reserved for Prof. Fiona Beveridge and Prof. Iain Jackson, whose guidance, faith, and encouragement have been a bedrock of support.

A heartfelt acknowledgment to Monika Koeck, not only for her exceptional filmmaking prowess but also for the wonderful camaraderie we shared throughout the process. And lastly, to my daughter Nour, a constant beacon of support and assistance, my profound thanks.


Peer Reviews

All reviews refer to original research statements which have been edited in response to what follows:

Review 1: Accept submission subject to minor revisions of written statement .

The film/video entitled ‘Safeguarding Transplanted and Indigenous Intangible Cultural Heritage in the UK’ set against the vibrant backdrop of Liverpool, adeptly illuminates the rich tapestry of intangible cultural heritage. It primarily focuses on various ethnic, diasporic and/or migrant communities alongside Irish communities, among others. In both the research statement and the film/video, the authors call these cultural practices ‘transplanted’ and ‘indigenous’ – referring several times to ‘UK indigenous culture’, ‘Indigenous Intangible Cultural Heritage in the UK’, and ‘indigenous UK residents’. This distinction, while insightful, prompts reflections on the definitions and scope of ‘indigenous’ within the UK context – a term that perhaps warrants further clarification regarding its encompassment of the native cultural groups from England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland.

The endeavour to document instances of the UK’s intangible cultural heritage in the form of a film  while investigating the research questions, using Liverpool as the case study in this research project is interesting and valuable. The film is structured by the first author’s narration, stating the research findings, who also appears on screen several times in a seated interview position. Visually engaging, the film’s camera work across varied sequences, from observational to structured, significantly elevates the film’s aesthetic. These technical aspects skillfully capture and convey the essence of diverse cultural practices, and contribute significantly to the film’s overall impact and aesthetic appeal. The film presents a mosaic of ethno-cultural practices, familiar to many who have lived in multi-ethnic contexts, such as the Chinese lion dance, henna tattoos, and ethnic music, alongside various culinary traditions and other cultural practices. Partly captured in an observational  documentary style within ethnic community-based spaces, these scenes reflect the comfort and  camaraderie of people in their own cultural spaces.

Many individuals of diverse ages and cultural-ethnic backgrounds, some engaged in activities, others  in focus groups or individual interviews, appear on the screen. For instance, a Syrian chef shares his poignant story of life and war back home while preparing and serving traditional dishes, with the camera moving into the restaurant’s space among diners having their meals. In another vibrant scene, an Irish musician expresses his passion for teaching Irish music to an ethnically diverse group, captured practising in the middle of a shopping mall with some medium shots of his students.

Given the film’s scope, covering several locations and featuring a wide array of participants, the ethical  considerations adopted in this academic research project garner interest. Matters related to ethics,  especially given the academic nature of this project, are a crucial aspect that the audiences of this journal might find interesting, especially the university’s ethical approval process and mechanisms and the consent acquisition from the varied participants, both as research subjects and in observational roles. I recommend that the research statement provide some insights into this area.

The research objectives, questions and methods of this project are clearly articulated in the research  statement. The research, adhering to UNESCO’s five key domains of Intangible Cultural Heritage (ICH), is conducted as an academic research project that incorporates filming (‘video recording’) as part of its methodology. The authors say: ‘Central to our methodology is the aim to authentically represent the voices from diverse migrant and heritage backgrounds spanning various generations. We innovated by designing a geo-locative approach.’ While this statement underscores a commitment to capturing the nuanced perspectives of a diverse demographic, the film uses conventional documentary techniques, such as interviews, observational footage, and the use of  actuality. However, the project leaves some ambiguity around the specific nature of the methodological innovation it claims.

The project’s exploration of ‘transcultural heritage’ is valuable, yet the claim of it being a ‘new term’,  ‘This term, which we [authors] introduce and define…’, and the project yielding ‘a new study  method’, appears to have not fully considered the breadth of existing scholarly literature on the  subject. A more thorough engagement with existing academic works on transcultural heritage as well  as practice-oriented methodologies (practice as research, practice-led research, and the like) could enhance the credibility and depth of the research contributions, by grounding them more solidly within the broader related scholarship.

Overall, the film is a commendable endeavour in capturing and showcasing the dynamic and  multifaceted nature of the UK’s intangible cultural heritage based in Liverpool.

Review 2: Invite resubmission with major revisions of practical work and/or written statement.

This film features various events and activities oriented toward the recreation of cultural heritage by the inhabitants of Liverpool. The heritage performances depicted cover what is called intangible heritage and go beyond institutionalized heritage narrations. The protagonists featured in the film convey a message of the inclusiveness of the heritage they engage with. The cultural heritage they promote and protect is presented as the city’s heritage, going beyond ethnic, racial, religious, and other heritage branding, and making it indeed more inclusive. The film features the concepts of transcultural heritage, substantiating it with the mentioned examples of intangible heritage practice. This is convincing, and the impression is that what is shown, and how the protagonists – heritage practitioners – talk about heritage, indeed conveys what the authors define as transcultural heritage.

Having said that, however, the events in the film are structured in the narration in a way that is counterproductive to the core contribution of this work: conveying the notion of transcultural heritage and promoting inclusiveness through participation in heritage. Firstly, the narration, especially during the first 15 minutes of the film, has a tendency to reify the groups and heritage practices featured, framing them within the institutionalized UNESCO heritage discourse. This appears contradictory to the way the practitioners make sense of the heritage practices they present, and one wonders why these were not framed rather through the use of performative heritage approaches, as they by no means constitute the Authorized Heritage Discourse (Smith 2006). Moreover, while this work tackles the issues of migrant minorities, diaspora members, people on the move, and historical processes of mobility, it is surprising that the theoretical toolbox from migration studies is not utilized here. The concepts regarding people with migration experience or coming from migrant minorities seem to be used without reflection. As a result, people featured in the film, especially those with migration experience, seem to be migranticised (Dahinden 2016). What is more, those without migration experience are called migrants (“second and third-generation migrants”). This wording seems to be counterproductive in relation to the aim of the film to seek inclusion and social cohesion between the indigenous and newly arrived persons.

Overall, for this film to make a contribution to the heritage-migration nexus, it would have to involve the developments of migration studies and critical heritage scholarship to (1) adjust the way featured heritage is interpreted in the narration to the way the protagonists interpret it; (2) avoid a trap of migranticizing the actors involved in heritage performances depicted. The empirical material collected is extremely valuable and holds great potential in fostering new approaches to “transcultural heritage,” but this is obscured by the theoretical choices involved in the analyses and further into the narrative.


Dahinden, Janine. (2016) “A plea for the ‘de-migranticization’of research on migration and integration.” Ethnic and Racial Studies 39.13: 2207-2225.

Smith, L. (2006). Uses of heritage. Routledge.

All reviews refer to original research statements which have been edited in response.

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