Woman wearing hard hat working on a stone carving under scaffolding
Stonemason Samantha Peacock conserving one of the 18th century coade figurative panels at the Radcliffe observatory in Oxford © Samantha Peacock
Stonemason Samantha Peacock conserving one of the 18th century coade figurative panels at the Radcliffe observatory in Oxford © Samantha Peacock

Historic England Announces Covid-19 Emergency Grants to Help Recovery of Heritage Sector

Historic England has announced £1.8 million in grants for 70 projects to help tackle the impact of Coronavirus on the heritage sector. The grants range from social distancing guidance for archaeologists during digs, to supporting voluntary organisations and craft workers such as stonemasons, to emergency funding for King Henry VIII’s flagship the Mary Rose. The shipwreck is at risk of deteriorating if funds dry up for specialist climate-controlled conservation work on its hull.

The Covid-19 Emergency Response Fund was set up in April in response to Historic England’s survey of heritage organisations which revealed the adverse impact of Coronavirus on the sector. The grants will help organisations, voluntary groups and self-employed contractors survive the immediate challenges posed by the pandemic, and to prepare for recovery.

Applicants were invited to apply for grants of up to £25,000 to address financial difficulties arising from Coronavirus and for grants of up to £50,000 for projects and activities that reduce risks to heritage by providing information, resources and skills. The fund was over-subscribed, attracting around 300 applications. Applications included innovative ways of engaging visitors and volunteers while historic places are closed and online training for conservation skills.

These grants from Historic England will provide valuable help to heritage organisations across the country during this challenging time. This is on top of an unprecedented package of government support. Our heritage is of huge importance, creating jobs, boosting local economies and attracting visitors and it is of utmost importance that we do all we can to support the organisations that take care of it.

Nigel Huddleston, Heritage Minister

Our emergency grants are providing a much-needed safety net to organisations and businesses that are helping to save our most precious heritage such as King Henry VIII’s flagship the Mary Rose in Portsmouth. If they go out of business at this difficult time, some of our heritage will be lost forever. As we move towards recovery, we are pleased to offer grants to innovative projects and craft workers to help get the heritage economy moving. Our historic places bring us together, boost the economy and revitalise local communities. It is vital that they survive intact.

Duncan Wilson, Chief Executive Historic England

The next strand of Historic England’s Covid-19 grants response is Heritage at Risk emergency funding, in mid-June. This will make use of the important, highly skilled businesses that form a key part of the heritage sector to address the most urgent needs of our historic environment (when current restrictions have been sufficiently relaxed).

Case studies

Grant for specialist conservation work on the Mary Rose – Portsmouth – (£25,000 grant)

The specialist conservation of King Henry VIII’s flagship the Mary Rose, which sank in battle, in 1545 is under threat due to the Covid-19 outbreak. The Tudor warship displayed in the Mary Rose Museum in Portsmouth, with its collection of 19,000 Tudor artefacts, must be kept at the right temperature and humidity to avoid rapid deterioration.

With the museum closed since 18 March, there is no income from visitors. The £25,000 grant to the Mary Rose Trust will help cover the salaries of three essential conservation and collections care staff who will continue to monitor, maintain and repair the complex environmental systems that look after the ship.

For almost three decades since being raised from the Solent in 1982, the hull of the ship has been continuously sprayed with water to remove salt, followed by a water soluble wax which prevents shrinkage of the timbers. Drying took place from 2013, with the ship now viewable through full length glazing.

The grant from Historic England is very timely and much appreciated. It helps us to cover some of the essential costs of our specialist conservation and collections care team. But the Mary Rose remains in mortal peril. Without on-going significant help with caring for this internationally significant and iconic collection we will struggle to survive this financial year.

Helen Bonser-Wilton, CEO Mary Rose Trust

Archaeology social distancing kit – (£14,364 grant)

Archaeological contractor and digital engagement specialist L - P : Archaeology has been awarded a £14,364 grant to produce a free and open toolkit to help archaeologists enact social distancing during archaeological fieldwork.

In a relatively short timespan, the impact of COVID-19 on the archaeological sector has been immense. The freeze in economic activity has placed many building works on hold, resulting in large numbers of commercial archaeologists being furloughed and at risk of losing their jobs. It is vital for both the archaeological sector and the construction industry that sites reopen safely and archaeological fieldwork resumes as soon as practically possible. If not, many archaeological companies will face closure and the subsequent redundancies may precipitate a catastrophic loss of skills for the sector.

One of the overriding concerns about reopening construction sites is the difficulty of implementing safe working conditions that incorporate social distancing guidance. This project will produce a free and openly licensed toolkit that demonstrates social distancing in action in the context of archaeological fieldwork. The toolkit will comprise a series of short videos, a brochure and supporting materials, including sample archaeological Risk Assessments and Written Schemes of Investigation that can be adapted to different forms of site work. These resources will be aimed at archaeological contractors, and historic building/monument staff and curators to enable the industry to safely get back to work in the time of COVID-19.

Vital grant to stonemason in Somerset – (£6,000 grant)

Prior to the Covid-19 pandemic, stonemason Samantha Peacock was working as a self-employed stonemason on historic buildings for conservation companies based in Somerset. She uses lime mortars and repairs and stabilises damaged stonework. Her projects include the conservation and repair of churches in Kilmersdon and Yarlington in Somerset and she recently completed a William Morris Craft Fellowship and an MA in the archaeology of buildings.

Without this lifeline from Historic England, her specialist skills are at risk of being lost as she would need to seek alternative employment outside of heritage building conservation. She also risks losing her workshop which would make it difficult to reopen her business. The £6,000 grant will help to cover her workshop, insurance and utility bills and help set up a website.

Heritage sector training with Covid-19 restrictions (£28,530 grant)

The Federation of Archaeological Managers and Employers (FAME) has been awarded £28,530 to address the impact of Covid-19 restrictions on the training of archaeologists and volunteers which would normally be done on site, during an excavation.

This pilot project aims to convert traditional in-person training to digital training, using modular skill demonstration videos and webinars. It is hoped that this project will transform how the sector handles training, making it cheaper and easier for archaeology organisations to provide high quality training to their employees and volunteers.

St Ann’s Allotments digital project (Hunger Hill Gardens) – (approx £30,000 grant)

Grade II* listed St Ann’s Allotments in Nottingham is the oldest and largest area of surviving Victorian detached town gardens in England - and possibly the largest in the world. The site covers 75 acres in the city centre.

Due to the Covid-19 crisis, St Ann’s 2020 successful Talks and Tours programme has been suspended and plans to attract and train more volunteers have been put on hold. A Historic England grant of approximately £30,000 will help with a digital project to keep volunteers engaged, attract new and diverse audiences, encourage new volunteers and increase future demand for the Talks and Tours which should boost revenue while championing the heritage interest in the site.

Lifeline to the Old Low Light Heritage and Community Centre - North Shields Fish Quay, Tyne and Wear – (£9,399 grant)

The Net North Shields charity supports more than 150 volunteers to help manage and care for the Grade II listed Old Low Light building on North Shield’s Fish Quay as a heritage and community Centre. The charity is supported by more than 150 volunteers and runs a café, a gallery and community space for use by local groups and usually offers a full programme of walks, talks, events, exhibitions, music sessions and concerts.

The £9,399 grant from Historic England will enable the heritage centre to pay its rent and cover other running costs over the next three months. The aim is to keep the Old Low Light in public use, so that when social restrictions lift further, the centre can continue to provide people in the area - which suffers from high deprivation - with facilities, activities, volunteering opportunities and an exhibition space.

The grant is great news for the Old Low Light Heritage Centre and we are grateful to Historic England for giving us this lifeline. Although we are closed due to the Covid-19 lockdown we still have bills to pay. This grant, along with some other fund raising, means that we are in a much better position to begin early preparations to re-open at least part of the centre as soon as it is safe to do so. Our many volunteers and supporters will be delighted to hear this news.

Guy Moody, Director Old Low Light Heritage Centre

Grant to help explore Aldeburgh’s heritage collections in Suffolk – (£5,000)

This educational project funded by a £5,000 grant from Historic England is a partnership between two important heritage organisations in Aldeburgh: The Red House – a Grade II listed house which was the former home of the Suffolk composer Benjamin Britten and Aldeburgh Museum which is located within Grade I listed Moot Hall.

Along the Suffolk Coast, rural isolation, poor public transport links and economic hardship can create barriers to accessing cultural activities. This joint project aims to share the stories and collections from both cultural institutions to a wider and more diverse audience, and help local people to better understand their history and heritage while developing new skills and qualifications.

The project is aimed at families who will be able to download weekly activity sheets from their websites, each exploring an item or story from The Red House and Aldeburgh Museum’s collections, such as an original chicken headdress from Britten's Noye's Fludde, or the lantern belonging to the smuggler James Cable from Aldebugh Museum. It also provides an opportunity for families to work together to achieve an Arts Award qualification, by completing arts and crafts activities and outside games.

I am delighted that The Red House, Aldeburgh and Aldeburgh Museum have been awarded this funding from Historic England. This project will help to share our stories and collections with families and communities who are feeling isolated at this time, helping them to engage and learn together. It is also exciting how this project will spark a strong partnership between our two important heritage organisations, The Red House and Aldeburgh Museum.

Joe Carr, Collections and Learning Curator The Red House
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