IN RESPONSE to its survey on the effects of the coronavirus on those working in the heritage sector, Historic England set up an emergency fund of £2 million last Friday, to support small heritage organisations, voluntary groups, and self-employed contractors during and after the pandemic.
Organisations can apply until midnight on 3 May for two grants. Funds of up to £25,000 are available for those that need to rectify cash-flow problems; and projects set up to provide information and resources to preserve heritage sites — including churches — during the crisis can apply for a grant of up to £50,000. Funding will be awarded from mid-May.
More than 700 organisations responded to the survey. Of these, 76 per cent reported that they had lost business in the short term, and 59 per cent had cancelled or postponed income-generating events, as a result of the virus.
The chief executive of Historic England, Duncan Wilson, said: “We know that coronavirus has hit everyone hard, including the heritage sector. Many of the skills that are needed to protect our heritage are already in desperately short supply, and, if these skilled specialists go out of business during this difficult time, the hard truth is that some of our heritage will be lost for ever.”
The heritage sector generates £1.7 billion for the economy, and employs 100,000 construction workers (including specialised craftspeople), 6000 archaeologists, and 24,000 architects, engineers, and quantity surveyors. Small businesses are a large component of this, and four out of ten that responded to the survey said that extra funding was needed on top of the Government’s promise of support.
Historic England’s analytics director, Andy Brown, said: “We hope to end up supporting about 100 organisations. Architects and surveyors who specialise in heritage, as well as stonemasons and thatchers, seem to be feeling the pinch due to work having dried up and overheads and bills still needing to be paid. For most of them, being able to furlough their staff doesn’t make much of a difference, as sometimes they are so small they don’t reach the threshold for the Government’s support. If they have been operating on a shoestring, then they don’t have the reserves to fall back on that larger businesses do. They are, therefore, the target of our funds.”
But he also said: “The picture around the country is not uniform. Mobile technology has supported the sector and helped it to work in a more efficient way. People can make more use of their time and have meetings on site rather than having to move between sites. People are still able to find silver linings.”