Ambitious projects can still be financed through the unlikely source of the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF). Alastair Fairley explains.

Picture of colourful clocks made on the Times Ticking Away workshop
Clocks made on the Times Ticking Away workshop inspired by the collection of historic clocks housed in The Spring
Photo: 

Ami Lowman, MakingSpace

In austerity Britain, with news of funding cuts appearing almost weekly, the ability of arts organisations to survive, let alone thrive, is coming under increasing pressure. But through some innovative thinking – and good planning – a small, but growing number of arts organisations are finding new hope through the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF).

If you are going for HLF funding you don’t have to replicate what a museum would do

Since its creation in 1994, the HLF has been responsible for distributing its share of National Lottery funding to good causes within the heritage sector. Throughout those years it has (rightly) become associated with everything from supporting museums to restoring historic castles and sites, helping maintain and restore the nation’s parks and gardens, cathedrals and churches and providing funds for the acquisition of historic works of art for public display. Without doubt, its impact has been huge: in its near twenty-year existence it has distributed some £4.9bn in funding to over 33,000 projects.

Many of its larger grants are headline-grabbing, in both the arts press and national news: without the support of the Heritage Lottery Fund, the restoration of Bexhill’s outstanding De la Warr Pavilion, Chichester’s Pallant House or Glasgow’s Kelvingrove Art Gallery would have proved virtually impossible. But further down the scale, the impact of the HLF on arts organisations can be equally profound. One such example is Making Space, a small community arts and outreach organisation based in Leigh Park in Havant, Hampshire. With two workshops and seven studios, the organisation is home to a team of dedicated designer-makers and visual artists. And in 2009 it set out on its biggest project to date – the Leigh Park History Project – funded entirely by a £50,000 grant from HLF.

Lynne Dick, Making Space’s Director, takes up the story: “If you are going for HLF funding you don’t have to replicate what a museum would do. Arts organisations can think out of the box. From our perspective the History project was about making sure we weren’t seen as a temporary organisation in our area. At a time of funding cuts, if you are valued by your community, that will help sustain you through challenging times.”

The project itself involved nearly every artist based in the organisation, each using their own craft or arts skill to work with a different sector of the community on a discrete project centred around the history of the estate in which they lived. For example, artist Elizabeth Hodgson led a two-day workshop to create a new permanent sculpture for the remaining Gothic Library in Staunton Country Park, once a large estate in the area. Large numbers of visitors joined in to create the hundreds of single-textured aluminium leaves which celebrated Sir George Staunton’s love of botany.

Jeweller Sarah Macrae worked with elderly residents of local day centres to create dozens of etched steel plates based on old photographs participants had brought in of their own memories of the estate, while ceramicist Tessa Wolfe-Murray led drop-in workshops for young people to create new timepieces inspired by the region’s long association with clock-making, examples of which can still be found in the local museum. In all, eleven different artist-led workshops and residences were created involving participants in skills ranging from screen-printing to sculpture, leather-making to ceramics, clay, tapestry, painting and drawing. And with a celebration evening for the local community and permanent legacies in the local museum, Leigh Park Library and local heritage gardens, the results are there for many more to enjoy in future years.

Lynne Dick explains: “We wanted to connect the community with the old historical artisans of the area but ignite the interest of the present residents by using the skills of the present. The creative process is an excellent way of exploring that history.”

With project funding designated for professional artists drawn from Making Space’s own team, equipment to help them deliver the project, and additional funding for some of the extra youth workers, marketing experts and filmmakers they needed, the HLF has enabled Making Space not only to deliver an excellent project within its local community, but sustain and grow throughout that time. Importantly, it has led on to further successful funding applications to both Arts Council England and HLF, for new, equally ambitious projects involving their roster of designer-makers and local community in which they are now embedded.

While only one small example, Making Space have clearly demonstrated how, with a little care and dedication, the arts can play an important role in bringing the UK’s heritage to life. By the same token, the funding available from HLF can, in turn, play an important part in sustaining an arts organisation through difficult times, enabling it to acquire new skills and to adapt to a changing environment. The HLF’s focus on heritage is key, but all its projects must, essentially, include a learning element, and that need not be solely focused on schools or young people – everyone can be involved. Good community participation should be a key element of any HLF project.

As Making Space have shown, heritage can, and does, now represent an important strand of arts practice. And with a straightforward, one stage application process for grants of up to £100,000 now in place, HLF’s Your Heritage scheme offers distinct opportunities for any ambitious arts organisation to follow in their footsteps.

Alastair Fairley is an independent writer, arts and heritage consultant and South East committee member for the Heritage Lottery Fund.

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