A review of how the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) Cultural and Heritage Recovery funding reached museums across the South West of England.

This post is written by Vic Harding, our Programme Manager, following a review of emergency funding awarded to museums in Autumn 2020.

This article considers the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) Recovery funding to museums in the South West of England.  It also looks at the earlier Emergency Funding provided by Arts Council England and the National Lottery Heritage Fund alongside SW Museum Development’s own Recovery funding and the combined reach of investment to museums in the region.  It also highlights some of the difficulties faced by museums in attempting to access the funding.

How has emergency and recovery funding reached museums in the South West of England?

In early April 2020, the first rounds of Emergency Funding were announced by Arts Council England (Arts Council) and National Lottery Heritage Fund (NLHF).  Since that point, access to funding has been a priority for almost all museums and cultural organisations as they seek to plug the income gap previously filled by donations, admissions and other sources of earned income.

The economic impact of the Pandemic has hit hardest those organisations with strong income streams generated through contributed or earned income.   For all museums, but especially those in the South West, the arrival of Spring normally brings a welcome injection of income from tourists and local visitors.  However, this year seasonal opening was delayed and COVID safety measures limited opening hours as well as the volume of visitors permitted onsite and curtailed almost all retail and hospitality activity.

A financial package was essential to buy time for museums and heritage organisations to allow them to plan, repackage, reconnect and restart some semblance of their service once permitted to re-open.  However, it also quickly became clear that the economic impact was by no means the only damage that the Pandemic was inflicting on the sector.   Significant challenges were quickly unfolding including:

  • an ageing volunteer workforce unable to contribute the same level of hours due to shielding or the need to safeguard their health,
  • under investment in IT systems and equipment which hampered effective remote working and decision making,
  • general confusion around the practicality of implementing national guidelines and rules for track and trace, PPE and the 2 metre rule,
  • limited insights into how museums’ local visitors and tourists might respond once the sector was permitted to reopen

All of these combined made for exceptionally challenging times.

Department of Culture, Media & Sport (DCMS) cultural recovery funding for organisations operating museums

In the South West of England £9,382,864 was awarded to 54 organisations operating museums and heritage collections, Accredited and non-Accredited, from both the NLHF Recovery Fund for Heritage and the Arts Council Culture Recovery Fund.

29 organisations operating 38 Accredited museums benefited from the government’s cultural recovery funds;

  • Arts Council made awards to 23 organisations operating 29 Accredited museums
  • NHLF made awards to
    6 organisations operating 9 Accredited museums

Chart showing total awards

To view the data from the above chart in another format – download the data table in an Excel document here.

Importantly this funding reached organisations previously ineligible for or unsuccessful with accessing the previous Emergency Funding on offer from Arts Council or Lottery.

In fact, only five of the 38 Accredited museum organisations had previously benefited from Emergency Funding.

There was a significant variation in the value of awards across the recipients and between each round. Awards in Round 1 averaged £255,000 but reduced to £131,000 in Round 2.  National Lottery and Arts Council distributed £7,100,166 of recovery funding to 29 organisations operating 38 museums in the Accreditation scheme in the South West;

  • 28% of the total was awarded to nineteen organisations in grants under £250,000
  • 30% of the total was awarded to six organisations in grants of £250,000 – £499,999
  • 42% of the total awarded to four organisations in grants of over £500,000

Of the 224 Accredited museums in the region, 17% have benefited from the government’s Cultural and Heritage Recovery funding. Considering these awards by governance type, over 87% of funding was distributed to 24 Independent organisations and 5 local authority organisations.

Chart showing total awards

To view the data from the above chart in another format – download the data table in an Excel document here.

This funding has provided a lifeline to the successful organisations.  However, it is clear that further financial support is needed.  Of the 27 Local Authority and Independent organisations  which successfully secured Emergency Funding (15 from Arts Council and 12 from National Lottery Heritage Fund),  only 11 went on to secure Culture Recovery Funding.

It is important to consider other funding measures that have benefited the sector such as the Retail, Hospitality and Leisure (RHL) grant distributed by Local Authorities.  The relative speed and ease with which this funding was administered has provided welcome relief to many of the micro- or smaller museums across the region.  The RHL grant made a vital contribution to the cost of reopening in a Covid-safe way, to investing in digital activity or to beginning much desired projects previously prevented by lack of funds.

Working with Art Fund to increase grants

We saw this same ambition and positivity reflected in applications to our own small grant programme.   During the early weeks of the lockdown we understood that, for a variety of reasons, many of the museums and heritage organisations we work with had limited capacity to access the funding on offer.  However we also understood that access to funding would be essential to cover the additional cost of Covid-safe reopening.

South West Museum Development worked closely with our fellow Museum Development teams across the United Kingdom to highlight the challenges we knew museums and heritage organisations were experiencing with national funders.  We took this opportunity also to highlight the effectiveness of working with Museum Developments’ existing light touch small grant schemes.

We were delighted when Art Fund awarded the UK Museum Development Network £280,000 to contribute to our existing small grant programmes.  In the South West we pooled all available resources and savings from our programme and contributed an additional £50,000 to the £31,000 Art Fund SW allocation to boost immediate financial support for museums.  Whilst we were only able to meet half of the £190,000 demand for applications, we awarded £78,735 of South West Museum Development Recovery Grants to 24 museums and heritage organisations for recovery and reopening projects.

It is important to highlight that more than one-third of museums awarded South West Museum Development funding had been ineligible for or unable to access the national Emergency Funding.  As part of the application process to our grants, the museums and heritage organisations explained that they had not met criteria such as having previously received National Lottery funding over £10,000. Many stated that, due to the lockdown circumstances, they were unable to develop plans within the short deadlines, despite considering they had a need.

This really highlights the challenge for many of the important community museums operated predominately by a volunteer workforce.  High thresholds, where grants start at £35,000, and short windows for applications disadvantage some museum organisations from applying.  However, there are also many inspiring examples across the region of community museums led by volunteers that have pulled together with a herculean effort to secure significant grants.  That success has resulted in the museums reopening and providing much needed respite for their local communities, engagement with new audiences and tourists and, even when reopening was not possible, keeping connected with volunteer teams and even celebrating the opportunity to buckle down on those outstanding collections tasks!

Overview of the DCMS Culture Recovery Fund strands as they were released:

Strands eligible for museums were distributed through: