We're championing innovation and collaboration in the year ahead

Eilish McGuinness
Our new Chief Executive, Eilish McGuinness, reflects on the ongoing challenges facing the UK heritage community and shares our plans to support the sector in the year ahead.

It is an enormous privilege to take over the leadership of The National Lottery Heritage Fund and National Heritage Memorial Fund (NHMF).

Heritage has been my passion and profession throughout my life. I step into this role with great joy and hope, but with absolute realism about the challenges ahead.

Protecting and making accessible our wonderful and varied UK heritage is my highest priority.

Overcoming challenges

The pandemic has impacted all our lives. Everyone who manages, works for or volunteers with the UK’s heritage has been operating in totally uncharted territory for many months now. But the sector has worked tirelessly, adapted and innovated to keep the heritage we all love safe, while remaining engaged and connected to audiences.

Significant change and uncertainty remain, and it is no surprise that there is fatigue and stress. But the commitment and resilience heritage organisations have shown over the past two years has been truly inspiring. You have ensured that heritage’s role in supporting jobs, skills, tourism and wellbeing can continue. 

This crisis has also highlighted some of the very best that heritage can offer – from vital access to parks and green spaces during the most difficult days of lockdowns, to remaining connected to community groups and stories in the face of social isolation and creating a deep appreciation of our local places. 

From the start of the pandemic, until the end of this financial year, we will have invested around £675million.

I’m also proud of the way the Heritage Fund has been able to adapt to support the heritage community throughout this turbulent time – from delivering our Heritage Emergency Fund, to partnering with governments in England, Northern Ireland and Wales to distribute funding on their behalf. This has been a vital investment to sustain the sector. From the start of the pandemic, until the end of this financial year, we will have invested around £675million. That’s about £100m more than we would have invested in the same period normally.

We’ve learned a lot delivering these funds – often at great pace. It is this learning, coupled with views and experience from the sector, which will ensure we have the right focus for the changed landscape ahead.

Renewed focus

We must all harness the opportunities and knowledge that the pandemic has revealed. From expanding the use of digital technologies, celebrating the importance of place, nature and community, to building and strengthening partnerships and embracing innovation.

All this was already core to our mission, but in 2022, we’ll create new opportunities for the sector to innovate and learn from each other. We’ll also continue to support the sector to develop digital skills and capabilities, provide further help for organisations to adapt and strengthen their resilience, and improve leadership and business skills across the sector.

The pandemic has accelerated change in so many ways, and as the UK’s largest funder of heritage, we are committed to helping the sector adapt and thrive through 2022 and beyond.

However, we know public and other funding for heritage will come under increasing pressure. And we know that there is heritage still at risk.

We must be mindful of ensuring that our investment delivers real impact for heritage, helping connect people and communities, and boosting local economic prosperity.

At the NHMF, we have made significant investment to support heritage which is of outstanding national importance and/or immediate risk of loss due to the pandemic. NHMF, now in its 41st year, was set up to preserve the most important heritage as a memorial for those who lost their lives for this nation. That vision is more important than ever at this time when we have seen so much sacrifice and public service.

At the Heritage Fund, we expect to have a National Lottery investment budget of over £300m for the next financial year. We must be mindful of ensuring that our investment delivers real impact for heritage, helping connect people and communities, and boosting local economic prosperity. We must also remain vigilant to the climate crisis – we want all the projects we support to make a positive difference for the environment.

We will continue to support organisations who are developing and delivering projects of all sizes across the UK. And we will communicate openly with you as applicants or grantees – giving you clear advice, sharing good practice and knowledge – to help you make informed choices and us make informed investment decisions.

Purpose and joy ahead

I want to conclude on a note about the joy of heritage and the pleasure and beauty it contributes to our lives (which we have marked this week through #HeritageTreasures day).

Over the past two years, like many, I have often turned to heritage – from my local lido in Parliament Hill to the soaring impact of Lincoln Cathedral, from the sweeping views of London from Alexandra Palace to the truly inspirational Dove Cottage, where heritage, nature, and literature combine. I am sure every one of you will have examples in your local area that sustained you, too.

Despite the challenges we still face, there is much to look forward to in 2022.

Despite the challenges we still face, there is much to look forward to in the year ahead. One of our first major investments of 2022 will mark the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee, with £7m going towards creating a legacy for nature and communities. This couldn’t be more fitting, given how nature has sustained and healed so many of us during the pandemic. The words of William Wordsworth – “let Nature be your teacher” – still hold true.

I have seen the power of heritage to support communities, strengthen economies and to change lives. I look forward to continuing to work with this inspiring and dedicated heritage community, with that conviction underpinning all that we do.

Happy New Year - may it be full of purpose and joy.

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