An interview with Esmee Stam, young heritage worker from The Netherlands

An interview with Esmee Stam, young heritage worker from The Netherlands

Esmee Stam is a 22-year-old student and heritage worker from the Netherlands. She is pursuing a Master’s degree at the University of Groningen which she combines with her work as a guide at the Dom Tower in Utrecht. She has recently become a board member of the heritage organisation Kerken Kijken. FRH interviewed her about her aspirations and her views on the protection of religious heritage and career and development opportunities for young people.

Tell us a little about yourself and your work.

I am a student in Groningen, The Netherlands, where I study for a master’s in Religion and Cultural Heritage. I am also a guide at the Dom Tower in Utrecht. This is a part-time job and then I am also a volunteer guide at St Peter’s Church, also in Utrecht, which is operated by a foundation called Dutch Kerken Kijken Utrecht, Churches Watch Utrecht in English. Two months ago I became a board member of this foundation.

Why did you decide to start this master’s degree in Religion and Cultural Heritage?

My Bachelor’s was in Art, History and the Middle Ages. Then I found this beautiful work that I am doing at the Dom Tower, which is linked to it and also to heritage. I wasn’t very interested in the religious part, I must confess, but when you study the Middle Ages there is always a religious part. So that’s how I chose my master’s and now that I am studying it there is a whole new world for me, which is religious heritage. So I am very new to it, but I really like it.

Sometimes we hear that the field of heritage doesn’t offer young people many opportunities. Do you agree with this affirmation or do you think that sometimes we just don’t perceive this interest?

I am not sure actually. I think as a young person I am welcome everywhere. For example, I was welcomes as a Board Member of Churches Watch. And then in the Dom Tower, most of the guides are students. So for a student job, you are also very welcome. But then when you have to enter the labour market it is more difficult because there are not that many jobs. Sometimes I see job offers that are especially for young people, but there are not many of these.

What part of your job and your volunteer work do you enjoy the most?

I would say the connections that you make with people. The conversations that you have. When I am at work they are about the Dom Tower, of course, but if we find an interesting fact or topic then we can start talking about this and then about something else.

How long are the tours of the Dom Tower?

The Dom Tower is a 1-hour tour with a group of around 40 people. Here we have mostly tourists, so it is more old-fashioned: I explain the history of the building, you listen and then we go to the top. In St Peter’s church you can just come in, and then if you want to know something you can ask and we can start a conversation about something entirely different from the building.

How did you actually start volunteering with this organization at St Peter’s Church?

I first got the job at the Dom Tower, three years ago. Then there was the coronavirus pandemic so I couldn’t work there and I started looking for something else to do. It was then that I came across the guide offer for this church and I thought that it would be great to have some contact with people, especially after those months of coronavirus. I really liked it.

Now that you are close to finishing your Master’s degree, do you see yourself working in the heritage field in the long term?

Yeah, definitely. I am not sure if it will be in religious heritage or in anything to do with religion. But yes, I see myself working in this field. Maybe in a museum, maybe in a foundation. I am not really sure. I am also interested in education. Maybe I will take another master’s to get my education license. But I am not sure, I think if I want to give lessons I can do that later on.

If we talk about the conservation of heritage, what is your opinion? Do you think that heritage is well protected or do you think that more should be made?

I believe we still have to work on this, but I am a bit conflicted about this. I believe heritage should be protected but also that we should use it, because otherwise, why do we have the heritage? You should see it, you should use it. I am focused on Utrecht right now, and I see that there is a lot of heritage and lots of churches and most of the time you have nobody to preserve them. For example, in St Peter’s church, there is a fresco from the 12th century, which is really nice but in the last ten years, it has been deteriorating and I’ve heard that in ten years more it will have even less quality. We should be able to pass it on to the next generation as well, we should be able to see it.

What do you think is missing or what could be done differently to better protect religious heritage?

I think sometimes is a lack of interest from the public. So maybe the problem is that people don’t know about this. The challenge is to get people enthusiastic. Because if there is a lot of interest in something there will be also money to protect it.

And young people? Do you think they have an interest in heritage?

There are a lot of young people who are interested in heritage. Maybe in Religious heritage, young people are less interested than in other heritage areas. My colleagues at the Dom Tower, who are also students, are very interested in heritage, they really want to make people enthusiastic. So maybe there are not that many people young people interested in heritage but those that are, they are really passionate.

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