What would we do without the Heritage Lottery Fund?

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Conservation work at Winchester Cathedral

Earlier this month, CD-Traveller reported that new research from the Heritage Lottery Fund showed the attraction of heritage sites was worth much more to the UK economy that had been previously thought –some £26.4 billion. We and overseas visitors are visiting these sites more often than ever before.

More visits means more upkeep and encourages those involved to make upgrades and improvements. As the Heritage Lottery Fund announces another £47 million of investment in six sites, I did wonder what we might do to preserve our heritage without them. Would government be so generous if the Fund wasn’t around?

The investment this time around goes to some very well-known places. Religious sites are generally the oldest of buildings we have and require large sums just to keep them open. Winchester Cathedral has been an important site both religiously and politically for twelve centuries. Forever linked with Alfred the Great, the cathedral also houses the burial places of Canute, William II and – much later – Jane Austen. At least ten mediaeval kings from the times we used to call the Dark Ages are thought to be buried there or had strong connections with the site. Such a history requires a constant commitment to maintaining the building and the cathedral authorities are currently trying to raise £19 million for that purpose. The Fund is investing £10.5 million to aid conservation work there.

The biggest recipient this time around is Flax Mill Maltings in Shropshire which is about as different a group of buildings from a cathedral as they could be. This group of industrial buildings is about eight centuries younger but is known world-wide because it was the first iron-framed building and the forerunner to the skyscraper. They get £12.8 million so that it can be restored not just for visitors but for commercial reasons as well. Fancy an office here?

Osprey from the Windermere Steamboat Museum collection

Who, on visiting the Lake District, has not ventured on one of the lakes in an old steamboat? £9.4 million is provided to the Windermere Steamboat Museum to help a new museum and provide training and apprenticeship places. In the last year or so, we have seen the Fund contribute to apprenticeships so that not only does tourism benefit but the community does as well.

Knole in Kent, the form hunting lodge of Henry VIII, receives £7.75 million for refurbishment which will include space to conserve the world’s largest collection of Stuart furniture. How long before an Antiques Road Show comes from there again?

It isn’t just buildings that need help. Chester Farm in Northamptonshire is where humans have lived for over 10,000 years. £ 4 million will help fund archaeological excavations (they could have used Time Team if the programme hadn’t ended) and create a resource centre amongst the listed buildings there from later periods. At present, the area is unsafe so you cannot visit it.

Finally, Brecknock Museum and Art Gallery in Brecon gets 32.5 million to alter the gallery so that it becomes a resource area for the community. This gallery, like so many local museums and galleries that people rarely hear about other than if they live nearby, has a wonderful collection of modern art that deserves to be widely known. But don’t go there now as you’ll be disappointed It is closed and will remain so until 2015 whilst the restoration takes place.

So the Fund has distributed another £47 million and I return to my earlier question. What would heritage sites and we visitors do without this support?

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