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The National Lottery Heritage Fund says its speedy funding response to Covid-19 saved jobs and facilitated social distancing. But funding priorities may change as demand outstrips supply.

Mournes Slieve Binnian, part of the Mourne Heritage Trust

Emergency funding saved more than 2,400 full time jobs and 1,470 volunteer roles in the heritage sector, a new report estimates.

Three-quarters of Heritage Emergency Fund grantees used some of their award to cover staff costs, with nearly half using it to bring staff back from furlough as visitor numbers at their sites increased.

The National Lottery Heritage Fund (NLHF) distributed more than £49.8m to 961 heritage organisations last year, an achievement Chief Executive Ros Kerslake said she was "proud" of.


The fund reacted quickly to the pandemic, she said, describing it as "the gravest threat" to heritage organisations since the Second World War.

“I am confident that our quick action not only helped heritage survive the year but has also helped to make organisations more resilient for the future."

According to the evaluation, about two-thirds of grantees spent some of their grant on social distancing measures to comply with re-opening guidelines.

Grants also helped deliver online workshops and concerts to attract wider digital audiences.

Continued impact

As of January, 90% of heritage sector grantees said Covid-19 placed the viability of their organisation at risk.

NLHF’s report acknowledges the Covid-19 crisis has "lasted for longer than was first anticipated" and its continued impact on organisations working in heritage is "significant".

The ongoing postponement of planned events and a loss of revenue remain the greatest threats, as reported by over 90% of grantees.

But the report insists opportunities to build back better remain, with the move towards digital events and new recognition of the importance of green spaces to health and wellbeing cited as key areas for growth.

Kerslake commented: "Heritage is playing a key part in the country's recovery, not only in kick-starting the economy, but in helping to improve wellbeing, bringing back that sense of optimism and excitement that has been so missing from our lives recently."

Organisations responding to the fund's surveys have expressed interest in continued financial and non-financial support such as access to consultancy support and knowledge sharing opportunities within the sector.  

Evolving role

The NLHF says it will deliver further financial support strategically, potentially prioritising organisations that meet diversity and wellbeing objectives.

It says it may also require assurance that organisations are financially resilient or have a "strong plan" to become sustainable.

Resilience is now a mandatory outcome for applicants to the newly-reopened National Lottery fund.

The NLHF says it recognises a need to be “agile and flexible” with stakeholders and engagement partnerships.

While it awarded nearly £50m, the total amount of money requested by 1256 Heritage Emergency Fund applicants exceeded £60m.