Heritage Lottery Fund


Veronica Simpson looks at projects backed by the HLF and the criteria that led to them being selected to receive funding.


The Heritage Lottery Fund was established in 1994 as part of the greater UK Lottery initiative to improve sports and heritage. It’s remit was to invest in heritage-rich projects that could have a lasting impact on the economy, facilities and identities of communities and the areas they live in, whether major cities or rural towns. Since then, it has allocated well over £6bn to some 40,000 projects.

The HLF’s contribution to the UK’s architecture and design communities cannot be underestimated, especially through the years of recession after 2008, when HLF-funded public projects were the only thing keeping many creative businesses – and public-sector cultural initiatives – afloat. They bumped up its contribution to funding way above the former 50 per cent benchmark to help cash-strapped local authorities transform museums, galleries, parks, libraries and theatres. Just as importantly, the rigorous process of applying for HLF funding has ensured that clients, architects, content developers and designers work hard to develop a convincing vision for each project so that what results is a scheme with integrity, impact and – hopefully – longevity.

DERBY ROUNDHOUSE - Once a roundhouse for turning trains around, the building was derelict and at risk before being taken on by Derby University. It is now the student hubDERBY ROUNDHOUSE - Once a roundhouse for turning trains around, the building was derelict and at risk before being taken on by Derby University. It is now the student hub

Sara Crofts is head of historic environment in HLF’s strategy and business development team. Trained as an architect, Crofts was previously an HLF committee member for six years in the East Midlands, so she has had close contact with a wide assortment of local projects from first pitch to completion even before moving to the HLF head office, just round the corner from Sloane Square.

Crofts agrees that the funding application process has done much to encourage architects and their clients to think more strategically about each others’ points of view – and unite them around the difficult issues of how the proposed building and its programming will achieve its objectives. Says Crofts: ‘A lot of the time, where clients think they want to go and where they need to be are not quite the same. Architects need to be good at helping to get that conversation to happen.’

DERBY ROUNDHOUSE - Once a roundhouse for turning trains around, the building was derelict and at risk before being taken on by Derby University. It is now the student hubDERBY ROUNDHOUSE - Once a roundhouse for turning trains around, the building was derelict and at risk before being taken on by Derby University. It is now the student hub

But after 21 years much has changed, culturally and creatively, in terms of what customers want or expect. Says Crofts: ‘It’s strange to think we’ve been here for 21 years. We do look back and think: what are we funding and how do we need to change? We try and respond to the current needs of museum curators and building owners. However, looking back on all the things we’ve done, there are a huge amount of really good, sound projects that are still delivering what they intended to deliver, 10, 15 or 20 years later.’

Her view of her favourite projects from the past 20 years, she admits, is skewed towards those she knows well, especially those that she helped to deliver as a committee member.

‘Derby Roundhouse is interesting because it’s a repurposing. It was a roundhouse, where the trains were turned around. It was derelict for a long time, a building at risk – a lot of our projects do address these – and eventually it was taken on by the university, which was looking to expand its campus. It is now as the student hub. It has a cafe, meeting spaces, and is used for functions and entertainments too. It is a grand space. It has that rugged, industrial aesthetic.’

Holburne Museum - This building in Bath was the centre for years of argument about what a proposed extension (finally by Eric Parry Architects, 2011) should look like. The city’s first public art gallery, it is home to fine and decorative artsHolburne Museum - This building in Bath was the centre for years of argument about what a proposed extension (finally by Eric Parry Architects, 2011) should look like. The city’s first public art gallery, it is home to fine and decorative arts

Other train buildings have been repurposed on the site, such as former maintenance depots for teaching and seminar spaces, interspersed with ‘little bits of modern architecture to make the whole complex work. And because it’s right next to the railway it’s very visible as well. So there’s a beacon for Derby University as you enter the city. It’s just a nice project. It’s not grand.’

Interestingly, it’s not the grand projects that Crofts initially picks out – which chimes with some research the HLF did to mark its 20th year.

That found that often the smaller, community buildings have far greater impact in transforming local culture and opportunities.

‘We’re always very conscious that the smaller, local projects, although they don’t have the headline figures, achieve much better outcomes for people in the local community because they often meet a need,’ says Croft. ‘There’s a really nice one I was involved in while on the committee: Cotesbach, in Northamptonshire. It has a fantastic archive dating back some 400 years of the Cotesbach Estate, and there’s a real interest from local people about their history and their place. They got into a conversation with the landowner, who was enthused as well.

National Theatre - Haworth Tomkins’ elegant refurbishment of the national Theatre is noteworthy for the Hl as while the practice is cutting-edge and contemporary at the nT it’s done ‘the most sensitive, philosophically perfect conservation work’National Theatre - Haworth Tomkins’ elegant refurbishment of the national Theatre is noteworthy for the Hl as while the practice is cutting-edge and contemporary at the NT it’s done ‘the most sensitive, philosophically perfect conservation work’. Photo Credit: Greenleaf

And that became a project where they took some derelict stables that were part of the Estate – tiny, 19th-century, brick buildings – and turned them into an archive…and it now has a ight, bright, modern cafe that’s doing really well. The whole place is really well used. And you would never stumble across that unless you happened to be local. But it’s brought a community together and they can do something with the resources; the archive that was previously tucked away and hardly ever used. It’s that kind of broader outcome we tend to be interested in.’

Archives have become a major strand within the HLF’s activities. Crofts relishes that the HLF’s involvement can start at the point where, ‘it’s just a group of people who know they have some interesting material, boxes of stuff, in the attic’, to the point where an entire building has been funded, commissioned and constructed to house the material. The Black Cultural Archives in Brixton is one such project.

But nothing gets HLF funding without a solid business case. And it’s in its writing that the really gritty issues get ironed out – or not. Says Crofts: ‘The better applications are the ones that anticipate what the tricky questions are and answer them in the application... They might say, we know this is difficult, but this is how we’re going to do it. It’s all focused on outcomes: heritage, people and communities. And so we ask people to tell us how they’re going to meet the outcomes. And we assess on that basis.

National Theatre - Haworth Tomkins’ elegant refurbishment of the national Theatre is noteworthy for the Hl as while the practice is cutting-edge and contemporary at the nT it’s done ‘the most sensitive, philosophically perfect conservation work’National Theatre - Haworth Tomkins’ elegant refurbishment of the national Theatre is noteworthy for the Hl as while the practice is cutting-edge and contemporary at the NT it’s done ‘the most sensitive, philosophically perfect conservation work’. Photo Credit: Greenleaf

‘I think people are surprised sometimes that the outcomes are very broad, and they’re not about things like design or what it looks like; it’s about what difference it is going to make for people, communities, heritage. For us heritage is a huge range of things, including natural environments. People tend to forget that we look after natural environments and parks.’

But what role does innovation in design or presentation, or programming of space play? Crofts says: ‘Basically, people can do whatever it is that’s going to meet their outcomes and… innovation has to be part of that. Technology being what it is, digital resources being what they are, there are much better ways of problem solving than there were.’

Astley castle - Here the ruin has been reivented, turning part of it into a unique, rentable holiday homeAstley castle - Here the ruin has been reivented, turning part of it into a unique, rentable holiday home

She cites the kind of refurbishments where ‘most people will have no idea that the building’s even changed… Wilton’s Music Hall is a good example. We gave a substantial grant and some people might look and ask, where did it go? But the skill is in the that they upgraded the facility, got a whole chunk of extra usable space, and yet retained that wonderful patina and feel. That’s skill.’

The National Theatre, too, comes in for praise, after Haworth Tomkins elegant refurbishment. Says Crofts: ‘I find that quite interesting because Haworth Tomkins is a cutting-edge, contemporary practice, but at the NT it’s done the most sensitive, philosophically perfect conservation work and you think: that goes to show that architecture these days isn’t about the conservation people over here and the new design people over there. It’s much more fluid now.’

We agree that the whole profession has benefited from being given these opportunities to bring modern sensibilities and materials and forms to ancient spaces, to bring them back to life. Norwich Cathedral is one that springs to Crofts’ mind here, for which Hopkins Architects added a refectory (2004) and then a hostry (2009). Crofts adds: ‘And you wouldn’t say Hopkins Architects are conservation architects, they’re just very, very good architects, and actually that scheme is remarkably sensitive.’

All Souls - In Bolton the surrounding Anglican community of this huge Victorian chruch has largely changed into a largely Muslim one. Now the church is being repurposed as a multifaith community space with facilities housed in pods on three floorsAll Souls - In Bolton the surrounding Anglican community of this huge Victorian chruch has largely changed into a largely Muslim one. Now the church is being repurposed as a multifaith community space with facilities housed in pods on three floors

Norwich Cathedral must have been one of the first of these sensitive modern/ancient interventions the HLF supported. Around the turn of the millennium, she notes: ‘There were quite a lot of high-profile projects. They have always been quite bold ideas. If you’re talking major projects, between £10m and £20m, I think you’ve almost more licence to be bold – more of an expectation that you’re going to do something substantive. People do want to see where the money goes. Although there’s controversy too. Holburne Museum in Bath (Eric Parry Architects, 2011), ran for years as an argument locally about what the extension should look like. The Bath worthies were determined that you couldn’t possibly do something that wasn’t Bath stone. And quite a lot of other people thought, actually, you could. We funded it.

And it’s fantastic; a gorgeous building. There’s something particularly nice about the craft element, the ceramic fins. I do remember reading technical journals at the time about the amount of effort that went into the manufacturing, getting the glaze just right.’

I propose that it has become a key part of the HLF’s role to support the most refined expressions of craft and design – because if it doesn’t, in the current climate, who will? Crofts says: ‘It’s true. I think we always feel that we have a duty to encourage people to go for quality and do things as best they can. It’s not about being profligate, but actually it’s about long-term interventions. So if we’re funding an extension or conversion it’s got to be robust and...last for years to come. And often that’s about that quality and craftsmanship. But it’s an interesting challenge because the skills to do that kind of work are in short supply.

All Souls - In Bolton the surrounding Anglican community of this huge Victorian chruch has largely changed into a largely Muslim one. Now the church is being repurposed as a multifaith community space with facilities housed in pods on three floorsAll Souls - In Bolton the surrounding Anglican community of this huge Victorian chruch has largely changed into a largely Muslim one. Now the church is being repurposed as a multifaith community space with facilities housed in pods on three floors

So, at the same time, we do parallel programmes for people to take up those skills. We’re doing the third round of bursaries for Skills for the Future. People come to us with a proposal to set up a training programme that will require x number of bursaries over a number of years, because it’s something that’s always needed. A lot of these things are relatively niche, not offered in FE colleges. Stonemasonry is probably one of the easier skills to learn, but the likes of millwrighting and boilersmithing are disappearing; we funded some boilersmiths in the last round of Skills for the Future.’

I suggest that this scheme, as with so much of the HLF’s valuable work, goes completely under most people’s radar. Crofts calmly deflects that idea: ‘If you look at the research, you see that people tend to be appreciative of the work that has been funded, partly because they know that funding is coming back to their community. So the income that’s generated through Lottery tickets comes right back and supports their local community, their park. It’s quite tangible, I think.

‘We’re very proud that a lot of our funding decisions are made locally. For a scheme of anything up to £2m, the decision is made regionally; only those projects asking more than £2m go to the board. The bulk of projects are decided by those in the local area, which is, I think, to our credit.

Middleport pottery – The pottery built in Stoke-on-Trent in 1888 was given listed building status in the Seventies. By then six of the seven bottle ovens had been demolished and the surviving one was given its own listingMiddleport pottery – The pottery built in Stoke-on-Trent in 1888 was given listed building status in the Seventies. By then six of the seven bottle ovens had been demolished and the surviving one was given its own listing

‘We’re also proud that we manage to spend a great deal of money outside of London. We see other funders being criticised for being Londoncentric. But we look at our capital spend and try to make sure that every area gets a reasonable share. So where is the focus going in the next decade? Have we reached a point where all the ancient churches and theatres and libraries in need of refurbishing are taken care of?

No, she laughs. ‘The need is so huge in terms of building stock and the potential…we are never going to get to the point where we’ve done everything,’ she says. ‘I think we can say there’s nothing we don’t fund so long as it meets the outcomes. From time to time are targeted programmes or campaigns where we say: there’s a real need to do something about x. For example, we did that with parks.’

In 1996 the HLF teamed up with the Big Lottery to launch Parks for People. Having transformed thousands of civic green spaces, the current targeted campaigns include First World War: Then And Now, and Great Place, which is, she says, ‘part of the Cultural White Paper. That’s about strategic planning for heritage and culture, working at local-authority level. We’ll see how that goes. We’ll see what other ideas it generates. We try to be quite responsive. A lot of the work of the department I’m in is about trying to understand what the sector is doing, where it’s struggling.

‘During this current strategic framework, from the past three or four years, we’ve realised that capacity is a really big issue in the sustainability of large organisations that run a lot of heritage projects – most of the HLF’s funding goes to voluntary bodies of some description. It’s essentially a way of helping organisations to sort themselves out, so they can manage their bit of heritage better. We’re talking about companies that have been around for a few decades whose governance isn’t quite what it could be, and they need to think about financial planning…they can potentially apply for some money to look at themselves as an organisation, to say “we need to do this, we need to look at mentoring”.’

Astley castle - Here the ruin has been reivented, turning part of it into a unique, rentable holiday homeAstley castle - Here the ruin has been reivented, turning part of it into a unique, rentable holiday home

This initiative ‘came about because when austerity kicked in, organisations that…had been more or less OK because their visitor numbers had been reasonable, and maybe had support from local authorities to keep them ticking over, sudden found that local authority money had disappeared. Then visitor numbers dropped and the business plan looked shaky. So we’re saying: “If you need to reinvent your business plan, we’ll help you to do that”. And part of that was about protecting our investment, because having got a museum or a site up to a good standard, it would be crazy then to let it deteriorate. So it was a dual thing to make sure the good projects carry on and are...sensibly organised for the 21st century.’

Supporting cultural infrastructure, for the HLF, is clearly every bit as important as the design and architecture – if not more so. Says Crofts: ‘If you look at how we phrase our strategic framework, it’s embedded in all our thinking: this idea that we are investing in making a lasting difference for heritage and people. I guess it’s quite easy for people to think we are just talking about heritage, but actually we’re talking about people. It’s about making communities better, about giving people opportunities. Heritage is a vehicle, it’s a mechanism, by which you achieve that. It’s very good that we fix buildings or put the roof back on or whatever it may be, as part of a project, but it’s the difference that makes to a community that’s much more valuable. It’s one of the challenges that heritage as a concept faces.

Many people, when they think of heritage, they think of stuff. Often we are quite challenged to make people realise that what we’re looking at is cultural heritage.’

Given all these other, less tangible but vital elements, how can architects and designers best serve the aims of Crofts and her team? ‘It’s actually the ability for architects to do the problem solving, to work out how to turn a problem into an opportunity, that is a key thing; being able to see past the piles of pigeon poo and the rotten floorboards and be able to share that vision with others.’

Immediately she thinks of examples – Bolton All Souls, a ‘stupidly big’ Victorian church, managed by the Churches Conservation Trust (CCT), whose surrounding Anglican community has now transformed into a largely Muslim one.

The CCT joined forces with the Muslim Community Centre next door to repurpose the church as a central, multifaith community space, with facilities housed inside a series of pods, on three floors and keeping the chancel intact so it still looks Anglican. ‘It’s quite a good example of a project that, if you talk to non-architects, they are going to find it quite difficult to imagine the interior of a church containing these,’ she says.

‘The skill of the architect is the sketch, the explanation, the sharing of that vision, so you can convince people not only that it’s doable but also that it’s a good idea. It’s won several awards.

It’s a bit unusual and was good fun as a project. ‘Astley Castle, too, is an exciting reinvention of a ruin – turning part of it into a tasteful, unique, rentable holiday home. There’s also storytelling; architects are good at storytelling, and that adds to the whole presentation of the site, such as Middleport Pottery, by FCB studios.

The way the architects now talk about what they did there is almost as poetic as the history of the building itself. As part of getting the contractors to understand what they were trying to do, they gave them a story book. That was a really nice idea: to try and share the sympathy and sensitivity that the architects felt about the place with the people who would be there, bashing it about, and trying to get over that idea that the patina and the ceramic dust and these things should stay, and shouldn’t be neatened up.’

Inclusivity and widening access are major areas the heritage sector is not so good at, according to the 20th anniversary report. Crofts admits this, but says: ‘We spend quite a lot of time and effort gently encouraging the sector to tackle these issues. With Skills For The Future, we said this year we are particularly looking for how to diversify the workforce, how to get young people interested in this opportunity? And parts of the sector really responded.’

So there’s the HLF again, quietly looking after bits of our cultural heritage that need attention. Low profile, yes, but as we now know, the long-term consequences of this behind-the-scenes HLF work can be very powerful.





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