Survey of COVID-19 Effects on the Heritage Sector

Historic England undertook a survey of the impact of Coronavirus (COVID-19) on the heritage sector.

We wanted to complement that of the National Lottery Heritage Fund (NLHF), whose survey had targeted the charities and third sector organisations which they had previously supported.

We were especially interested, therefore, to hear from the other parts of the heritage sector.

About the data set

We were pleased to have heard from 557 microbusinesses (those with up to 10 employees) because we were concerned that the many small businesses on which the sector depends might not otherwise be represented. But we also heard, amongst others, from 79 larger businesses (those with over 100 employees) and 97 entirely volunteer-run organisations

Contributors operate in a wide range of heritage fields such as archaeology, gardens and landscapes and historic buildings. Maritime/transport heritage was least well represented amongst respondents (4%). There was a good geographical spread of respondents across England – no one region dominates the data set.

Describing the impacts

The impact of Coronavirus on respondents is widespread and severe.

Nearly four out of five (76%) of respondents report lost business in the short term, and three out of five (58%) had postponed or cancelled income-generating events.

Four out of five respondents report lost business in the short term.

At the time of the survey, 39% had decided to furlough staff, but only 5% of respondents had decided to terminate employment contracts, suggesting that furloughing is helping to buffer the impacts.

Smaller charities and faith-based organisations have been badly affected by the unavailability of volunteers. One business in four (25%) have experienced delays in being paid for goods and services while one in three (31%) have incurred additional costs to the business to cope with social distancing measures. Both will be exacerbating the cash flow challenges that people are facing.

Softening the blow

Although the Job Retention Scheme and deferral of tax payments is considered promising by over a third of respondents, more than half were awaiting further clarification of Government support measures. This particularly applies to charitable organisations – the Government support for charities was not announced until towards the end of the survey period and is unlikely to have offered support to heritage organisations.

The survey indicates, however, that Government support for businesses will soften the blow for some; if respondents are supported by the Government measures in the way they anticipate, 90% of businesses felt able to keep going in the short term.

Enforced familiarity with video conferencing and increased use of social media could result in better ways of working in the future.

We asked people to say whether they felt that the crisis might result in better ways of working in the future. Opinion was fairly evenly split with a slight majority looking optimistically. Many of those who agreed pointed to the enforced familiarity with video conferencing and increased use of social media to keep in touch and to manage work remotely, with resulting savings in time and carbon emissions from reduced travelling. The main concern of those who were less optimistic is the economic impact of the epidemic and its consequences for public and private funding of heritage projects.

Main conclusions

The survey indicates that the most vulnerable of the respondents are either:

  • craftspeople / smaller crafts-based businesses
  • 'professional services': architects / surveyors / engineers

Over 40% of these businesses forecast their businesses failing within 3 months even if the current Government support scheme delivers.

These two groups are very pessimistic over their survival beyond 6 months. These groups have in common the relatively high fixed costs of their office/workshop/studio accommodation compared with many sole traders.

Small consultancies are slightly less vulnerable, while both faith-based organisations and Trusts with heritage purposes face the future with somewhat greater confidence.

Historic England has made the data – stripped of any personal information – available for others to interrogate.

We recognise that our survey is not completely representative of the sector because we targeted heritage businesses. By working with partners, however, we intend to build a more complete picture of the consequences of Coronavirus on the sector so that we can both respond ourselves to support the sector and advise the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport on public policy development.

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