Carole Souter

Q&A with Carole Souter

Simon Stephens, 29.06.2015
HLF chief executive talks major grants and future plans
Carole Souter, the chief executive of the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF), announced details of research into the impact of its major grants (£5m-plus) at the recent Association of Independent Museums (AIM) annual conference at ss Great Britain in Bristol. Since it started work in 1994 the HLF has awarded 173 major grants and 100 of these are now finished and have been assessed.

The total value of these 100 grants was £1bn, which attracted a further £2bn in partnership funding. Many museums and galleries are among the projects assessed, including Glasgow’s Riverside Museum; the Natural History Museum’s Darwin Centre, London; Big Pit: National Mining Museum of Wales; the Whitworth in Manchester; and ss Great Britain, Bristol.

How does the HLF measure the success of the major capital projects it has funded?

Nowadays we measure the success of all our projects, including major grants (not all of which are capital projects, some are acquisitions) against our outcomes framework.

We expect the £5m-plus awards to meet a wide range of outcomes across our three categories: heritage, people and communities. As I said in my AIM speech, the early awards were mostly about repair and refurbishment, but many grantees realised that the grant changed the way they worked, altered the culture of the organisation and overall had a transformative effect.

Now we expect major grants to be about transformation, which is why we want to see our funding having an impact for the heritage and for people but also the wider community/locality of the museum, for example the economic impact on tourism or contributing to the distinctive identity and character of the area.

Could more HLF money go into supporting museums and heritage sites that need revenue funding?

The HLF is a project funder so any revenue support has to be within the context of a project, and support the delivery of that project – for instance, the cost of a project manager, community outreach staff or staff delivering learning programmes/community engagement activities can be supported.

Of course, this could apply to any larger heritage grant award and not just major grants and many projects do include such costs. We recognise the problems that museums and heritage sites have around revenue. Grant programmes, such as Catalyst and Transition Funding, were established to help the sector look at ways of increasing revenue or exploring new sources of revenue. This is something we will explore further when we consult on our next strategic plan consultation next year.

Will the need to create environmentally sustainable buildings be more important in the future?

The simple answer is yes. Under our current strategic framework we challenged the heritage sector to reduce negative environmental impacts, for instance in new builds suggesting the design and construction of the building allows for minimal heating systems and natural ventilation.

In refurbishments we want applicants to look at things such as appropriate renewable energy technologies, energy-efficient equipment and fittings and use of natural insulation materials.

The message is getting through. We’ve seen some museums move away from a high-tech/high-cost approach for their stores to more intelligent zoning of environmental conditions and only having stores to BS5454 standard for those collections where it is essential.

There is more the sector can do so we’ll be looking at how we encourage both new build and refurbishments that are looking at being more environmentally sustainable.

Are you happy with the geographic spread of the major capital projects you have funded and might this change in the future?

One of the positive messages from the research was the fact that all the regions and countries in the UK had received major grants and all of them had at least one museum project.

It is always difficult to predict what will be coming to us in future but we do always try to make sure our funding has a reasonable geographical spread.

This year’s major grants included £8m for London’s Science Museum Medicine Galleries; £9.3m to restore and open Derby Silk Mill; £10.3m to redevelop Dorset County Museum; and £15m to refurbish Glasgow’s Burrell Collection.

Peter Luff, the chairman of the Heritage Lottery Fund, will give a keynote speech at this year’s Museums Association annual conference in Birmingham (5-6 November).

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