More than 400 heritage sites in England, from the Blyth Tall Ship in Northumberland to Bodmin Jail Museum in Cornwall, are to receive money from a £103m rescue fund to help them through the coronavirus crisis.
On Friday the culture secretary, Oliver Dowden, announced long-awaited details of the first major tranche of funding from the government’s £1.57bn culture recovery fund.
It includes £67m to 433 organisations who applied for grants of less than £1m each to help them survive the pandemic. Another £34m will go towards restarting stalled construction and maintenance works at major heritage sites. A further £2m has been awarded to the Architectural Heritage Fund.
The money is from the Treasury, but decisions on who gets what were made by Historic England and the National Lottery Heritage Fund.
The fund’s chief executive, Ros Kerslake, said the government support was crucial, but added: “Our heritage is still facing a perilous future – we are not out of the woods yet.”
It was right that investing in heritage was a priority, she said. “Heritage creates jobs and economic prosperity, is a major driver for tourism and makes our towns, cities and rural areas better places to live. All of this is so important for our wellbeing and will be particularly vital when we start to emerge from this incredibly difficult time.”
Details of the fund were announced on the same day that 1,300 job cuts at the National Trust were announced. The charity said it had more than halved the number of compulsory redundancies it had expected to make as a result of the coronavirus crisis, but 782 people had taken voluntary redundancy and 514 people would be made compulsorily redundant after the biggest redundancy consultation process in its 125-year history.
Duncan Wilson, the chief executive of Historic England, said it was heartening to see money going to sites and organisations that had been hit hard by coronavirus. “These grants range from giving skilled craft workers the chance to keep their trades alive to helping heritage organisations pay the bills,” he said. They would also kickstart repairs “at our best-loved historic sites”.
He said: “The funding is an essential lifeline for our heritage and the people who work tirelessly to conserve it for us all, so that we can hand it on to future generations.”
The grants include money to sites that often draw tourists because of their links to film and television. Highclere Castle, famous for being the setting of Downton Abbey, gets £72,000; Gloucester Cathedral, whose cloisters were used as Hogwarts, gets £200,000; and Wentworth Woodhouse, a vast Georgian mansion in Rotherham that doubled as Buckingham Palace in the film Darkest Hour, gets £468,300.
The recipients include smaller, quirkier places that would be a big loss to the cultural fabric. For example, the Shell Grotto in Margate, a strange place that is either a Victorian folly or an ancient temple, depending on who you talk to. It put in a bid with Margate Caves and receives £48,200.
The grotto’s owner, Sarah Vickery, told the Guardian that being closed from March to July had been incredibly tough. “We lost an awful lot of income. To be honest, so much I’ve not wanted to add it up … you’ve got to preserve your sanity.”
Despite that, Vickery said she had never given up. “The grotto has been open to the public since 1838, it will take more than this to close it. We were always going to find a way through, although I wasn’t sure what that would be for a long time.”
The government money may not sound a lot but she said for them, a “micro-attraction”, it was an important lifeline. “It’s really great. It basically means we can stay open all the way through winter.”
Nearly 20 cathedrals will receive chunks of money, including Canterbury (£999,200), Winchester (£948,200), Wells, (£201,300) and Salisbury (£245,000).
Other recipients include the International Bomber Command Centre in Lincolnshire (£426,700), Blyth Tall Ship (£51,400), the Piece Hall in Halifax (£995,000), Blackpool’s Winter Gardens (£846,600) and the Severn Valley Railway in Worcestershire (£906,000).
The £34m heritage stimulus fund will be divided out to 12 heritage organisations including the National Trust (£6m), the Canal & River Trust (£1.6m) and Historic Royal Palaces (HRP), which looks after buildings including the Tower of London and Hampton Court Palace.
HRP receives just over £3m. Lucy Worsley, its chief curator, said the organisation would now be able to resume critical conservation work. “There’s no truer way to experience the past than to walk in the footsteps who have lived it,” she said. “That’s why preserving our heritage is so important.”
Dowden said: “As a nation it is essential that we preserve our heritage and celebrate and learn from our past. This massive support package will protect our shared heritage for future generations, save jobs and help us prepare for a cultural bounce back post-Covid.”
Heritage leaders have welcomed the news that money from the cultural recovery package will finally start flowing. Arts organisations including theatres, museums, galleries and music venues are still waiting to hear if they have been successful in getting critical rescue money. Those announcements are expected early next week.