HLF invests in the future - Museums Association

HLF invests in the future

New strategic framework introduces several pioneering changes
Profile image for Geraldine Kendall Adams
Geraldine Kendall Adams
“It’s hard to get excited about a strategic framework – but I am,” said Carole Souter, chief executive of the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF), at the launch of the organisation’s five-year investment plan.

With the HLF perhaps the only public source of funding for heritage whose budget is rising – booming ticket sales and an end to the National Lottery’s Olympic commitments have boosted it from £255m to £375m this year – Souter wasn’t the only one eagerly awaiting the launch of the organisation’s strategic priorities for 2013-2018.

Although it doesn’t fund core activities or running costs, the HLF’s programmes have been a vital source of support for the heritage sector since it was set up in 1994.

The £4.7bn invested since then encompasses everything from major capital projects, such as the £25m given to the restoration of the Cutty Sark, to museum acquisitions and skills development.

The new framework has introduced several changes to the HLF’s investment policies. Perhaps the most eye-catching – and one that met approval during the HLF’s consultation with the sector last year – is a switch in the digital policy, which came into effect on 1 July.

Digital switchover

Museums and other heritage organisations can now, for the first time, put forward proposals for standalone digital projects. 

An HLF spokeswoman says the organisation is looking for digital initiatives that evolve, rather than remain static, and incorporate some form of interaction or engagement with the public, such as crowdsourcing. An application to merely build a new homepage for a museum would not fit the bill.

A list of 22 case studies published by the HLF alongside its new framework examines best practice from around the world, such as Old Weather, a National Maritime Museum project that enlists online volunteers to digitally record weather observations found in ship log books from the first world war.

The HLF has endeavoured to combat the problems that many earlier digitisation projects ran into, such as a short shelf-life or lack of public engagement, by codifying a set of criteria that all proposals have to meet. 

Creative Commons

Applicants must ensure their projects leave a lasting legacy. The digital media needs to be well maintained and fully functional for five years after a project is completed. The data must then remain “available” for up to 25 years, depending on the size of the grant.

Crucially, all digital media must be available free of charge under the Creative Commons “Attribution Non-commercial” licence, which allows the data to be reproduced by anyone for non-profitable purposes. The HLF hopes this will help further engage organisations such as schools and community groups in using the digital material.

The requirement initially provoked some concern among those who deal with copyright issues. But the HLF has said that all costs incurred in obtaining copyrights will be covered in a project’s grant.

The HLF’s strategic framework contains several other key developments. A second round of Skills for the Future, the popular programme that has helped establish training programmes and alternative entry routes into the sector, will run in 2013. In the meantime, existing skills projects will receive an extra £13.6m this year.

In late 2013, the HLF is reviving Collecting Cultures, which helps museums and archives develop their collections. Taking in feedback from the sector, the organisation has also simplified its approach to financing urgent acquisitions by removing a requirement for learning activities linked specifically to the acquisition.

The HLF will also put new criteria in place to ensure the environmental sustainability of projects, including asking applicants receiving grants of more than £100,000 to mitigate the impact of predicted environmental changes, as well as requiring all projects of more than £2m to measure their carbon footprint. 

Several measures will help organisations achieve greater resilience though more diverse income streams and partnerships.

Start-up grants of between £3,000 and £10,000 will enable community groups to take responsibility for heritage, while transition funding of £10,000 to £100,000 will be available to organisations that have previously received HLF funding to review business models and ensure they remain sustainable.   

Private enterprise

Along with its investment in the government’s Catalyst endowment programme to help organisations develop private giving, the HLF says it will explore more ways of boosting private donations.

The new priorities have been largely well received by museums, although the organisation is keen to emphasise that it is a flexible framework that can be adapted as necessary.

HLF grants may not make up for the estimated £700m-a-year fall in public funding facing the heritage community over the next few years, but as the strategic framework moves into its delivery phase, it brings with it a sense of optimism that the sector can weather the storm. 

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