Nine in ten heritage sites are concerned about their future due to the cost of living crisis and four in five say they need to drastically cut costs to stay afloat, according to a recent study by the heritage insurer Ecclesiastical.
Results of the survey, taken from 500 key players within UK heritage organisations, also showed that seven in ten (72%) believe many heritage organisations will be at risk of closure as a result of the crisis if cost increases do not slow. A similar number (73%) said that heritage sites must reduce their prices to retain necessary visitor numbers.
Some heritage sites, including Strutt’s North Mill Museum in September 2022, have had to close their doors in part due to unforeseen hikes in running costs.
Kelcey Wilson, director of programmes at the Architectural Heritage Fund, expressed her concern about the future of the heritage sector.
“Hot on the heels of Covid, the cost of living crisis presents yet another challenge to keeping heritage assets in use and accessible to local people,” she said.
“Many historic buildings are currently inefficient to heat, and soaring energy prices coupled with a decline in visitor and community income pose an existential threat to thousands of small heritage sites across the country.”
Wilson called for investment to improve environmental sustainability and energy efficiency in the sector.
“Now is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to forge more resilient futures for Britain’s heritage while also improving the environmental sustainability of our historic fabric through sensitive adaptation and the installation of appropriate renewable heating sources,” she said.
“As well as vital short-term measures, we see an urgent need for a parallel investment plan that improves energy efficiency and independence, as well as reducing operating costs.”
In response to rising costs, the survey found that 45% of heritage organisations are renegotiating contacts with existing suppliers, 44% are making redundancies and 42% are reducing the number of rooms that are heated and open to the public.
Just over a third (39%) of organisations are also reducing their opening hours, opening on fewer days and reducing staff hours.
Faith Kitchen, customer segment director at Ecclesiastical Insurance, told Museums Journal that heritage sites are taking extra risks in using cheaper modes of running such as candles, open fires and portable heaters.
“These sites are having to make some really, really tough decisions and at this point in time they really are fighting for their survival,” she said. “We are just completely shocked and saddened that this is the situation at the moment.”
Kitchen added that the closures were also a huge concern due to the “loss of cultural value to the country”.
The UK Government announced this week that energy bill relief would be extended for museums and heritage sites. Eligible businesses will receive an enhanced discount until March 2024.