By Heather Norris Nicholson
In response to the present health crisis, sweeping changes have been introduced to the funding of heritage projects across the UK with immediate effect.
These measures impact directly on many communities and lives across Yorkshire. Projects already guaranteed funding will continue to be supported. All projects still awaiting news on the success of their funding have received devastating news. The opinion is not hard to find, but people wish to remain anonymous.
‘Can’t find the words. Devastated after months of planning,’ said one disappointed applicant.
‘Our project offered skills and capacity-building that could have been really transformative and we so need that hope and opportunity at a grassroots level. ‘
‘Gutted. Putting on hold would have been better. To hear it’s just canceled is worse than being turned down because it wasn’t good enough. We know it’s really competitive but this just seems like being dismissed.’
Redirecting National Lottery players’ money into an emergency fund that offers short-term support to heritage at risk is, of course, a valid response in this present lockdown. In times of crisis, our natural and cultural heritage offers pleasure, solace and hope. Shaped over time, it is complex, contested, and it needs care too, even if much of it is off-limits at present.
Seen against the merciless onslaught of COVID-19, and the toll taken on frontline workers and families as they cope with grieving, are concerns about funding heritage projects even valid?
Yes they are! The grassroots contributions of all people are important, particularly in times of crisis- even the heritage activists whose amazing creative vision, commitment and capacity to bring about change have just been made irrelevant. Heritage projects give back huge amounts to the people who live, work and visit different places. They make places better, inspire others, provide new meanings and understanding. They share perspectives and develop connections. That’s all been swept away at the grassroots level in Yorkshire and elsewhere, with the vague promise of other future opportunities to re-apply.
‘Will the same opportunities really come back or will the goalposts, the strategies for giving funds be different when this is over?’ one person asked wearily.
When heritage funders do decide it’s business as usual, let’s just hope that the goalposts haven’t changed. Reacting to the present crisis is necessary, but short-term thinking must not determine long term planning. We need an inclusive and forward-thinking heritage sector that helps community history-making thrive everywhere. What do you think?