An LEP tie-up should be right up your street

Andrew Lovett, Issue 118/04, p15, 01.04.2018
The key is to think beyond the boundary of your museum
If you are in the market for match funding – and who isn’t these days – to turn your wistful development thoughts into a doable proposition, via number- crunching, a nice new Moleskine notebook with matching pen and feasibility studies, getting to know your LEP is time well spent. And if you have never heard of LEPs and are wondering why I’m prattling on about the Lancashire Evening Post, get on that search engine immediately, and discover which one of the 38 English Local Enterprise Partnership regions you’re in.

Your research will soon unearth the nearest thing I can think of to a slimmed-down, more focused version of the long-extinguished regional development agencies. Dig deep, though, and look through those LEP strategic plans for words such as “place, tourist economy and regeneration”.

The key here is to think beyond the boundary of your museum and your development plan – think regional impacts.

I recently said to a meeting of European Open Air Museums that having a good capital scheme is unlikely to cut it these days. Your entire plan is going to have to be exceptional. I was particularly thinking about money, and the critical need to strengthen external confidence in your plans by stacking-up a plausible package for your capital expenditure. With the pending demise of the European Regional Development Fund, the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) drawing in its horns for the time being, and most local authorities struggling to offer reliable support, LEPs might offer an answer, alongside other more go-to options.

However, expel from your museum lexicon, the words “funding” and “subsidy”. Get in the habit instead, of thinking “investment” and “returns”; albeit not dividends or higher share prices. And while I am certainly not suggesting that you suddenly have to pretend you’re not a museum, you’re going to have to get used to a whole load of different outputs. Phases such as “land remediated, learners assisted, new employment floorspace created, apprenticeships started and completed, private sector leverage and jobs created” will soon trip off the tongue and sit comfortably alongside familiar favourites such as “heritage, volunteers and communities”.

Our Black Country LEP has been superb. It gets the impact that we are having, not least on changing the perceptions of a place such as Dudley, and I’m sure we would not have gained the confidence of the HLF, with its planned investment of £9.8m, had it not been for our LEP stepping up to the plate first with planned investment of £9m.

Lastly, I’m sure I don’t need to tell you that investors need to know you personally. This shouldn’t be a blind date. They are investing in you, as much as your project. So get to know your Local Enterprise Partnership – the clue is in the name.

Andrew Lovett is the director and chief executive of the Black Country Living Museum, Dudley