As we look forward to a Christmas period with a bit more excitement than last year, I want to take a moment to look back at this very strange year and perhaps, if we dare, look forward to the next. It’s safe to say that this year has once again been one of uncertainty, with the pandemic forcing us to continue under these difficult working conditions.

But continue we have – and in fact, we have thrived as a business. Wessex Archaeology has seen another period of sustained growth, with clients entrusting a diverse range of projects to our expert hands. We’re proud to be a household name in the delivery of large-scale infrastructure projects, and this year we have brought meaningful impact to communities of the HS2 project, continued to support and champion the protection of our Stonehenge World Heritage Site on the A303 Stonehenge Tunnel project, and brought heritage to the forefront of design in the historic Southsea Coastal Change project (to name but a few). 

We continue to expand our expertise and capabilities, with innovative new digital services for our clients that support a more targeted approach, and new team members across the globe to help us bring what we do to clients and communities internationally. 

Crucially, we have also reviewed our own impacts as a business, and I was very pleased to launch our first Sustainability Strategy which sets out our ambition and commitment to both dramatically reduce our environmental impact and to deliver the positive benefits which cultural heritage can bring as part of Sustainable Development. Sustainability is of course about more than just carbon. As we see first-hand, archaeology and heritage bring real, meaningful benefits to the world and to society – such as community cohesion, wellbeing and sense of place – and we aim to incorporate this language and measurement more seamlessly into our projects in the near future, increasing the range and depth of public benefit we can effect through our work.  

And what has all this been for? At the heart of what we do are the communities we serve, and the past year has been one of adaptation and digitisation in bringing the benefits of heritage to a wide range of public audiences. Having had a year of experimentation on our platforms in 2020, this year we have developed and increased our digital content, including some truly breath-taking 3D reconstructions and VR experiences, which has allowed us to grow our online audiences exponentially.

In response to the increasing numbers of people whose mental health has suffered and as feelings of isolation have increased, we have delivered bespoke and in-person programmes such as our Lost & Found Project and Well-City Salisbury. which have offered wellbeing, comfort, and connection during this very difficult period, 

To top it off, we have received well-deserved recognition for our Formal Learning Programme for schools, picking up a Sandford Award and a nomination at the CBA Archaeological Achievement Awards.  I am very proud of our whole team for their part in this – it takes a huge amount of dedication and support from across the company to be able to offer such a meaningful programme of activities to community groups across the UK. 

I also want to recognise the fact that it is our people who have made all of this possible. With continued vigilance and tenacity, our team has delivered exceptional work on behalf of our clients and kept each other and those we encounter safe. The expertise our team means that we have been able to offer a suite of services to an extraordinary range of projects – from offshore windfarms to historic houses. 

To colleagues in the heritage sector, I would like to offer words of hope and encouragement. We are at a turning point in professionalising what we do and demonstrating the tangible impacts that heritage can bring. We have seen some disappointing decisions in higher education which have the potential to cause difficulties in staffing the vast array of essential services we provide, but I am confident that we can take charge and unite to close these gaps and deliver a more sustainable, long-term solution. For Wessex archaeology, our staff are our top priority and the driver of our success. We are fortunate to be able to offer learning and development programmes to support our teams and in particular those entering the profession, embarking on our pilot Leadership and Management apprenticeships this year and delivering an industry first in offering permanent contracts to every member of our fieldwork team.

To our clients, I would like to say thank you for your continued support and your belief in what we do. We value the opportunities that you offer for us to collaborate with other experts and professionals to design innovative solutions for managing the historic environment. Thank you also for the enthusiasm we are met with in providing more than just digging in the earth. In partnership with your teams, we have delivered some excellent results for our shared heritage, for the communities of today and of tomorrow. Of that we can be very proud. 

I look forward to continuing our mission in the New Year and live in hope that working conditions will soon become less difficult for us all. I wish everyone a relaxing and enjoyable festive break with friends and loved ones, and a very happy New Year. 

Chris Brayne, CEO Wessex Archaeology