Holgate Windmill, York

Eilish McGuinness talks 10-year NLHF strategy ‘Heritage 2033’

“We want heritage to be valued, cared for and sustained for everyone’s future”, says the National Lottery Heritage Fund Chief Executive of its approach to the next decade.

The Heritage Fund is the leading funder to the heritage sector across the UK. Since we were established in 1994, we have invested £8.7 billion of National Lottery players’ money in more than 51,000 heritage projects across the country.

We have seen a huge amount of change across the sector in that time. Museums and heritage organisations have upgraded buildings, grown their collections, changed the way they engage with audiences, and developed brilliant work with young people and community partners. I’m privileged to have seen so many museum and heritage projects make a difference to people’s lives.

The Burrell Collection

But recent years have been challenging, with the Covid pandemic and the cost-of-living crisis putting much of our heritage under strain. Many museums and heritage organisations have struggled to get visitors and volunteers back after the pandemic; business models have changed; and culture and heritage leaders are facing unprecedented financial, operational and staffing challenges.

The Heritage Fund has already contributed a huge amount to support the heritage sector during this period. From the start of the pandemic, until the end of the 2022–2023 financial year, we will have invested around £675m, helping more than 3,500 heritage projects survive unprecedented challenges. That’s about £100m more than we would have invested in the same period normally. We continue to offer Resilience and Recovery Funding to support organisations in addressing ongoing challenges and adapting to a changed environment.

But we wanted to fundamentally review our funding approach to do even more to support heritage now and in the future. Over the past year we surveyed the public and heritage organisations to understand their priorities for heritage funding, We held a full consultation last summer with over 4000 responses to our detailed sector survey, including what the public thinks by working with Britain Thinks. Our consultation found that people wanted us to do even more to address the challenges heritage faces and to increase the positive contribution it makes to life in the UK.

We are now launching our new strategy, Heritage 2033, a ten-year strategy, which simplifies and clarifies our ambitions and will help us to support a huge range of heritage projects that connect people and communities to the UK’s heritage.

"[Heritage 2033] simplifies and clarifies our ambitions and will help us to support a huge range of heritage projects that connect people and communities to the UK’s heritage.

Eilish McGuinness

This longer-term view allows us to consider our investment in heritage for the future as well as for the present, and with a new focus on place and investment at scale, we will ensure that we are not funding just individual projects, but aiming to bring wider benefits for people, places and our natural environment. And to do this we will work in partnership with our stakeholders and form new collaborations with those who share our vision.

We have also simplified our investment framework keeping our focus on what is important for heritage and the sector with the introduction of four investment principles: Saving Heritage; Protecting the Environment; Inclusion, Access and Participation; and Organisational Sustainability. These principles, endorsed by our consultation, will be the foundation of all we do – more detail will follow in our three-year delivery plan – but we are absolutely committed to retaining the simplicity and flexibility in our processes and keeping our focus on what we want to achieve by 2033.

There are great opportunities for museums and heritage within our new strategy and I am confident our vision and principles chime with the aims of the sector. We are committed to retaining our open programmes with devolved decision-making using the local knowledge and expertise of our six area and nation committees, but alongside that we will take a more proactive approach to strengthen strategic investment, proactively tackling long-standing heritage issues at scale.

Cutty Sark (Ioannis Liasidis)

We also want to support projects that boost pride in place and connection to heritage, something that museums have been doing for some time, but where we can work together to do even more, across sectors and geographies. We also want to respond to emerging opportunities and emergencies at speed, at a national level, and accelerate new ideas and interventions. To support this we will increase our current threshold from £5m to £10m, and if there was an exceptional heritage need we can consider grants in excess of that.

One of the largest of our strategic initiatives will be our investment in place across the UK, designed to support long-term partnerships to deliver heritage and community benefits while contributing to that pride in place, so vital for us all. We will work over a multi-year period and in wide-ranging partnerships which look at heritage holistically, to consider investment in anchor heritage institutions such as museums, libraries and archives, while creating more linkages with other projects to see our investment transform whole places over a longer period.

Our investment principles all have stated aims about skills, volunteers, young people and digital, and critically, innovation will remain a focus. We will continue to seek opportunities for shared research and piloting innovation with a range of partners. We are aware that innovation and ambition is already in many of our current funded projects.

The reimagined Manchester Museum, which opened last month with a £4.6m Heritage Fund grant support, is a museum with innovation at its core, highlighting the environment and putting diverse communities in the lead, to tell their stories in a new way. It is no surprise that the project was called ‘Hello Future’, and that long term vision is key to our strategy too.

We believe that our new strategy responds to heritage needs right now, but is flexible to pivot to new opportunities and challenges, and importantly, looks to the future. Our vision is for heritage to be valued, cared for and sustained for everyone, now and in the future. We look forward to working with our partners in M+H to deliver this vision, with the continued support of National Lottery players’ money, who make this all possible.

Hear more about Heritage Fund’s new strategy from Alistair Brown, Heritage Fund’s Head of Museums, Libraries and Archives Policy at the M+H Show on 10 May.

Image: Holgate Windmill, York