We're backing the heritage sector to adapt and thrive again

Ros Kerslake, CEO, The National Lottery Heritage Fund
As everyone around the UK faces the challenges of responding to COVID-19 amid varying guidance and restrictions, our Chief Executive shares The Fund's latest plans to support our heritage community.

Eight months into the coronavirus (COVID-19) crisis, the outlook for our health and our economy remains deeply uncertain. A steady rise in the rate of infections, resulting in national and local lockdowns, means that the path to recovery in the heritage sector – in common with so many aspects of our national life – is fraught with difficulty and challenge.

With ongoing national and global instability, on behalf of The National Lottery Heritage Fund team, I want to do what I can to give a degree of certainty and confidence to the partners and stakeholders we work with regarding our funding plans for heritage over the next 18 months or so.

"Our role in supporting heritage is truly UK wide. Across every part of the UK, our country and area teams have been working side by side with local heritage organisations to support them through this most difficult of times."

What we've done to date

Since March of this year, all our efforts at The Fund have been focused on supporting heritage across the UK to adapt and respond to the immediate impact of COVID-19.

Heritage organisations have risen admirably to this challenge: finding new, safe ways of opening with social distancing measures in place to welcome people back through the summer months and embracing new digital ways of working to find and engage new audiences.

In March, to support these changes, we pressed pause on the funding of new projects and moved all our efforts and resources to our emergency response.

It’s been no small feat. By the end of this financial year, The Fund will have distributed almost £600million into the sector. That’s roughly double our usual annual amount.

The Piece Hall, Halifax
The Piece Hall, Halifax, funded through the Culture Recovery Fund for Heritage.

From a standing start, we have – in addition to maintaining £1.1bn of support for projects to which we were already committed – successfully launched three large investment programmes:

Plus, in Wales, we are delivering environmental grants worth over £4m for the Welsh Government. This, alongside the Defra fund, reflects the importance of a ‘green’ recovery from the pandemic and our expertise as one of the UK’s largest funders of land and nature.

And last month the Department of Communities announced that the National Lottery Heritage Fund would be the delivery partner for a £5.5m Heritage Recovery Fund across Northern Ireland. This is another tranche of the extraordinarily generous support for the culture and heritage sectors provided by the Treasury back in the summer.

Without doubt, this funding has prevented some of the UK’s outstanding heritage being lost for ever.

The-Steam-Tug-Kerne-at-the-Birkenhead-River-Festival
Our Heritage Emergency Fund helped save the Kerne, the only remaining operational steam tug of her type in the UK.

Our role in supporting heritage is truly UK wide, secured by deep, long-standing local relationships. Across every part of the UK, our country and area teams have been working side by side with local heritage organisations to support them through this most difficult of times. I am really proud of my team here at The Fund and I want to thank them publicly for their dedicated work.

"I’m delighted to be able to say that later this month we will begin a phased reopening of project funding through our National Lottery Grants for Heritage."

What we are going to do next

Our mission now is to support the heritage sector to consolidate its recovery in the medium term.

We will continue to work with Government, Historic England and other partners on the best options for further investment from the Culture Recovery Fund, to support heritage organisations through the months ahead.

And I’m delighted to be able to say that later this month we will begin a phased reopening of project funding through our National Lottery Grants for Heritage.

In the first phase, beginning 25 November, we will resume accepting applications for grants from £3,000-£10,000 and £10,000-£100,000. This will provide some much-needed financial assistance, particularly to those heritage sector organisations who have, so far, been unable to access COVID-19 emergency funds.

We will be looking for projects with a particular emphasis on organisational resilience and inclusion.

In the second phase, beginning 8 February 2021, we will resume accepting applications for grants from £100,000-£250,000 and £250,000-£5m.

This will mark a return to our core business, but we won’t be returning to pre-COVID-19 “business as usual” in our approach.

Prioritising for positive change

As we build back, I want us to grasp the possibilities that this trying period offers for positive change across the heritage sector.

Our funding and expertise will support heritage organisations to adapt to fundamentally changed circumstances, to closely examine their existing business models and to develop new, creative and more resilient ways of operating.

Now, more than ever, I believe that heritage has to demonstrate its economic contribution and value to our national life and support for the recovery of our local economies and communities. 

That’s why, through our heritage funding and support ahead, we will prioritise projects that:

  • boost the local economy
  • provide job creation and encourage skills development
  • support local health and wellbeing
  • encourage rebuilding community cohesion

And critically, we will want all the project partners we work with to demonstrate that they are building long-term environmental sustainability and inclusion into their plans. 

A young woman building a path in a park
Our revised priorities include skills development and environmental sustainability. Photo: Keeping It Wild project.

Alongside this project funding support, we are committed to continuing to help heritage organisations invest in and develop their digital skills and capabilities, to enable wider and more inclusive audience engagement online.

We are also working to deliver innovative business and enterprise development programmes to support heritage organisations as they develop critical skills, such as business planning, that are needed to meet and surmount the deep uncertainties of the post-COVID-19 operating landscape.

We can thrive again

At The National Lottery Heritage Fund, we will do everything we can to help the UK’s outstanding heritage sector adapt through this most difficult of times and thrive again.

Together we can demonstrate the critical role that heritage can play to help people, communities and places through this crisis. And together we can maintain and build a heritage sector that plays a crucial role in supporting the UK’s social and economic recovery.

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