Image of Wrest Park and gardens in Bedfordshire.
Wrest Park, along with all historic houses and heritage attractions, has been closed due to the lockdown © Historic England. N110192
Wrest Park, along with all historic houses and heritage attractions, has been closed due to the lockdown © Historic England. N110192

Working Together to Weather the Storm

By Nigel Huddleston, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Sport, Tourism and Heritage at the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport

The outbreak of the coronavirus has changed the way we go about our daily lives beyond recognition.

While these changes are difficult, they are of course necessary. We are all doing our bit to stay at home, protect the NHS and save lives.

But I know that the heritage sector has been hit hard by the necessary social distancing guidance and the closure of sites across the country.

I’m deeply impressed with how the sector is responding, by supporting one another, creating innovative digital offerings and providing assistance to those that need it most.

DigVentures, funded by the National Lottery Heritage Fund, has opened up their Virtual Field School so that their course on archaeology excavation is now free. Wherever you are in the world, you can peek inside the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery and discover over 40 galleries displaying art, social history and archaeology or experience a tour of the Pitt Rivers Museum in Oxford which houses objects, photographs and manuscripts from almost every period of human existence. You can see the iconic Painted Hall at Greenwich’s Old Royal Naval College, or tour historic National Trust sites, without ever leaving your living room. These are just some examples of the brilliant ways the sector is continuing to engage with audiences, and attract new ones.

Our heritage is part of what makes us who we are. The buildings, sites, landscapes and monuments across the nation are symbols of our shared history, and are a major part of what makes our country an outstanding global destination. It creates jobs, attracts investment and boosts local economies all across the UK.

And while sites have temporarily closed, I know that the sector will recover. In order to help speed this recovery process, the government has announced an unprecedented package of support.

Our £330 billion package for business, employees and self-employed people means that people can now receive up to £2,500 per month in grants for at least three months. We’ve also deferred the next quarter of VAT payments for firms until the end of June. Our job retention scheme will support heritage organisations to furlough employees and cover 80% of their usual monthly wage costs.

These schemes have been designed to help employers whose operations have been severely affected by the coronavirus outbreak and will help us to protect employees and the UK’s economy, so I would urge you all to apply for the relevant funds so you get the support you are eligible for.

In addition to the Government’s economic package, the National Lottery Heritage Fund has made £50 million available to support the sector’s immediate response to the coronavirus outbreak.

Historic England has also launched a package of emergency financial support to help organisations survive the initial impact of the pandemic and also to prepare for the recovery period ahead. This funding will focus directly on skilled craftspeople and small businesses and will provide much-needed support and advice over the coming months.

I am hosting weekly meetings with the sector so that I can better understand the impact of the pandemic on individual organisations. This has allowed me to make sure that your concerns are heard at the highest level of government. I want to assure you that you have my full support and I will do all I can to ensure there is a bright future for our sector.

We will never lose our world-famous history, ancient monuments, castles and breath-taking landscapes. As soon as it is safe to do so, we will be encouraging people to visit our much-loved heritage attractions once more.

I want to thank you all for your efforts to help our sector weather this storm. I know that by working together, we will get through this.

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