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Architectural Heritage Fund Annual Review 2020-21
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Objective 01
Generate and distribute increased levels of investment and funding to support the sustainable reuse of historic buildings.

The past year saw us award 290 grants totalling £7,650,790 to 254 organisations; the largest amount in the AHF’s history. This was partly a consequence of unbudgeted emergency funding (see the case study on the various emergency and additional funds we awarded during the year) being distributed through the organisation, coupled with the fact that the year was already budgeted to be the largest for spending for our most sizable programme, the Transforming Places through Heritage programme focused on high street and town-centre regeneration.  

In Wales, we were incredibly pleased to agree a new funding agreement with Cadw that will invest up to £350,000 each year in the Welsh programme, leading to a nearly ten-fold increase in early-stage project support. There will also be a limited number of capital awards. This new award is an endorsement of the relationship we have been building with Cadw in recent years and will enable us to support a much higher number of projects, and at greater depth. We were also able to award £345,000 in grants to projects in Wales during the year, significantly enabled by in-year funding from Cadw associated with COVID-19 recovery; the Heritage Impact Fund also received £150,000 of new funding to support social investments. One of the new grant awards in Wales was to Slate Heritage International, to explore possible uses for the Grade II* listed Maenofferen slate dressing mill; an area that has recently been granted World Heritage site status, in recognition of its slate mining and industrial heritage.  

In the Transforming Places through Heritage programme, we awarded three new Heritage Development Trust pilot grants. These grants help support the creation and expansion of new social enterprise property developers, which focus on the regeneration and management of heritage assets. The three new awards went to Heritage Lab (in Ramsgate), Heart of Hastings and Heritage Lincolnshire. Each will use the funding to make a step-change in their plans to grow and deliver more heritage-regeneration projects and community benefits in the areas they operate. Five new Transformational Project Grants were also awarded, including to Refugee Action to help them create a new office and project space from a disused bank in the centre of Harlesden. We also distributed £80,000 of grants, thanks to funding from Historic England, through the Heritage Assets into Community Ownership (HACO) programme.

Oban Communities Trust
Oban Communities Trust
Nudge Community Builders
Nudge Community Builders

In Scotland, our strong relationships with Historic Environment Scotland and the William Grant Foundation continued. We were able to make many additional awards thanks to a generous in-year uplift of £200,000 from Historic Environment Scotland. Funding awards helped us to support a number of community asset and town-centre regeneration projects, including a new loan to Jedburgh Community Trust’s Port House project that will help fund the regeneration of the Port House into a multi-use office and co-working space for the town’s social enterprise and not-for-profit organisations.

Additional funding of £270,000 from the Department of Communities’ Historic Environment Division through its COVID-19 Culture, Arts, Languages and Heritage Fund allowed the AHF to support a wide range of valuable community and heritage-led regeneration projects across Northern Ireland, aiding the recovery and renewal phase. Led by a diverse group of charities and social enterprises, the funded projects were all focused on the short- and long-term revival of Northern Ireland’s villages, towns and cities through the reuse of heritage assets. One of the awards went to North Belfast Working Men’s Club, helping it fund urgent roof repairs to allow it to continue serving the community of one of the UK’s most deprived wards. 

The AHF itself was also generously supported by a £2m investment from the Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, through Historic England. One million of this funding was for the distribution of business planning grants to organisations impacted by the crisis, while another million has supported our endowment for lending, specifically focused on addressing bad debt that arises due to the COVID-19 crisis. We are very grateful for this support.

Significant KPIs and actions

Programme spend profiles met
COVID-19 emergency funding allocated in full
AHF endowment - no lending target due to COVID-19
£2.2m offered
Heritage Impact Fund – no lending target due to COVID-19
£1.988 offered
Objective 02
Support community-led heritage regeneration by assisting charities and social enterprises to take ownership of, develop and sustain new uses for historic buildings.

There has been a great deal of focus in the past year on assisting organisations to stay afloat. Some of this assistance has been delivered through our own team or aided by business support funding; there has also been a significant increase in demand for our business re-appraisal service, Re-Plan, which we deliver in partnership with the Social Investment Business.  

Despite the focus on assisting organisations to keep existing projects going, the year still saw strong demand for both loans and grants from those wanting to start or develop new schemes. We continued to keep existing programmes open to meet this demand, although, working alongside projects, there was clearly a need to think through the potential impact of COVID-19 on any assumptions that they had made.

In Northern Ireland we completed a pilot programme, the Village Catalyst, in partnership with the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA) and the Department for Communities. Four projects were selected in the pilot over the past two years, all involving historic buildings at risk, and all seeking to deliver on DAERA's Targeting Rural Poverty and Social Isolation Framework. The projects include Caledon Regeneration Partnership, which is seeking to turn the Woolstore Building into a childcare facility; Rathfriland Development Trust’s redevelopment of Chandler’s House as affordable housing; and Gracehill Old School Trust which is working with the NOW Group to create tourist accommodation within the village’s former Post Office, to be run by young adults with learning difficulties and autism.

In England, the Transforming Places through Heritage programme continued in a vital year for the programme. The need for the programme, which focuses on high street and town-centre projects, has been brought into even sharper focus as the impact of COVID-19 accelerated and compounded many pre-existing problems. Although in many respects it was another year of struggle for town centres, there were hopeful signs, such as the increase in home working, that potentially offer a more positive way forward for the future of some locations that have lost employment in recent years. 

Rathfriland & District Regeneration Co. Ltd
Rathfriland & District Regeneration Co. Ltd
Grizedale Arts
Grizedale Arts

We funded a range of exciting high street projects, including Nudge Community Builders in their development of the Millennium Building in Union Street Plymouth. Nudge is seeking to bring it back into use as a cultural and creative space that supports the local economy and which will help ‘make Union Street a street the whole world loves’. A number of ‘Transformational Capital Project Grants’ were also awarded, including to the Heritage Development Trust, Valley Heritage, for the L&Y project in Bacup town centre. The project will see the creation of new co-working spaces and supported housing for local young people at risk of homelessness in a magnificent former bank building. Through our partnership with Coops UK, Power to Change and the Community Shares Booster, we also supported investments into a number of community share offers, including the Exchange in Erith for the transformation of the former town centre library into a space for community led programmes and the community buy out of the Railway Inn in Saffron Walden.

Although the intended launch of the Open High Streets programme had to be cancelled due to COVID-19, the programme partnership of Heritage Trust Network, Locality and Stir to Action managed to deliver seven online events during the year and later this autumn will see the re-launch of in-person events.

Despite a slowdown in the first quarter as people were adjusting to the first lockdown, new loan applications began to come forward later in the year and the Heritage Impact Fund reached the significant milestone of having made £5m in offers since its launch in 2019.

Among the loans made during the year was one to Grizedale Arts to help them purchase the Farmer’s Arms pub in the Lake District. An important Grade II-listed former coaching inn, Grizedale Art’s vision will see it become a new arts space, workshop and visitor accommodation, whilst at the same time incorporating its role as a community pub. The project offers an exciting new type of pub format for this rural community, one that could potentially be replicated and adapted within other locations.  

In Jedburgh, in the Scottish Borders, we were pleased to support Jedburgh Community Trust’s Port House project. Formed in 2002, Jedburgh Community Trust is a charity working to support the economic development of the town and save local heritage buildings for use by the community. A £100,000 loan is helping them in transforming a Category A-listed three-story architectural gem into a community resource centre.

In Wales there was further focus on heritage-led regeneration of key town-centre buildings, including the Grade II* Cardigan Markethall. The AHF is assisting by providing cashflow finance during the delivery phase of modernisation and restoration, through a loan of £200,000 from our Heritage Impact Fund (HIF). Amongst other elements, these improvements will support the development of the Upper Market area into a food court celebrating Welsh produce and culinary offerings and will improve trading facilities by introducing incubator units and pop up spaces.  

Significant KPIs and actions

95% of clients finding our advice and support helpful
100% of clients completing grants are highly satisfied with our advice
Delivery of online Open High Streets capacity building programme and co-funding of HTN conference
OHS: Seven events with 277 attendees
Development of pilot housing project in Wales
Delayed due to COVID-19. To be taken forward next financial year.
Objective 03
Increase the effectiveness and impact of the AHF, ensuring we continue to deliver value for funders and the organisations and projects we invest in.

During the year we developed a new Environmental Policy, setting out new goals and intentions for how we intend to address the climate crisis. The policy includes developing an action plan for how we ourselves will reach net-zero and how we will support the projects we work with to incorporate sustainability goals into their projects. Part of our efforts have included becoming part of the Fit for the Future partnership, a network of organisations working together to decarbonise, adapt to climate change and drive positive environmental impacts. We intend to report on progress at least annually, including through our Annual Review.

“The climate crisis is the gravest threat facing human society today. All of us have a part to play in addressing this challenge, including organisations, big and small. We believe our work on the regeneration and adaptation of historic buildings is more vital than ever: not only safeguarding important heritage, but using these assets to create new spaces, avoiding the costly environmental damage arising from unnecessary demolition.”                               -Matthew Mckeague CEO

We also began work on a new Equality, Diversity and Inclusion vision and Equality Policy. We know that the heritage and social investment sectors need to do more to become more representative of the population at large and to ensure our funding and advice is equitably distributed. It is therefore a vital part of delivering our charitable aims that we deliver our funding and support into all communities, actively working to remove any barriers.  

CEDE Foundation
CEDE Foundation
MAKE Southwest | Riverside Mill
MAKE Southwest | Riverside Mill

We actively worked alongside our partners during the year, including the statutory agencies within the four parts of the UK. We were able to help distribute emergency and additional funds (on top of existing budgets) that had become available as a result of COVID-19. Despite the challenges, the experience has helped to strengthen our relationships with key funders across the UK. In the case of Cadw in Wales, we believe our partnership during this critical time helped make the case for further investment into   social enterprise and heritage-led regeneration projects.

Despite the demands of delivering emergency funding, we continued to look at strengthening our internal systems and processes. This included ongoing work to improve our grants and loans database and updating our health and safety policy and risk assessments in light of the pandemic.  We also signed the Institute of Voluntary Action Research’s eight ‘flexible funder’ commitments, which set out how we will work to simplify our funding requirements and ease the administrative burden faced by charities and social enterprises applying to us for funding.

Three new trustees were appointed to the Board during the year, they are:

  • Neal Shasore – Head of School and CEO of London School of Architecture
  • Carole-Anne Davies – CEO of Design Commission for Wales
  • Greg Pickup – CEO of Heritage Lincolnshire

Each brings significant experience across the fields of architecture, design and community-led heritage regeneration.


Significant KPIs and actions

Publish environmental policy
Objective 04
Promote the impact and benefits of community-led regeneration and ownership of historic buildings, to Government, communities and funders.

We updated our overall approach to evaluation during 2020-21, with the development of our new Evaluation Strategy. This is clearly linked back to our Strategy for 2020-23 and includes:

  • A logic model of Key Performance Indicators;
  • A synopsis of our approach to evaluating our different programmes, including grant and loan schemes, running across the UK; and
  • The use of case studies to dive deeper into the impact of individual projects.

Supporting the Evaluation Strategy is an annual Impact Report that analyses our progress, including against the logic model indicators, and reports on the difference our funding has made to projects and to communities. We are also publishing interim reports on major programmes, including the Transforming Places through Heritage Programme; see the Year One Report on the work and impact delivered to date. The Transforming Places Year 2 Report is forthcoming and also explores any barriers or challenges, such as the impact of COVID-19 on the high street, to facilitate broader learning about the revitalisation of town centres.

Glasgow Preservation Trust | British Linen Bank
Glasgow Preservation Trust | British Linen Bank

The AHF website now hosts twenty-seven individual case studies of projects we have supported or are currently supporting, with fifteen new ones produced during the year. These include early-stage projects such as Provision House in Dudley and the completed British Linen Bank building in Glasgow, each providing a snapshot into different projects and buildings and the organisations behind them. Studies such as these play a vital role in providing valuable insights into how organisations have gone about the process of regenerating historic buildings, and we will continue to publish new studies over the next year.

We continue to make the case for innovative aspects of our work, particularly to government and partner funders, including the Heritage Development Trust programme. This initiative supports the development of sustainable social enterprise property developers with a focus on heritage assets. The Heritage Development Trust pilot is currently funded through the Transforming Places through Heritage programme but has scope to be delivered across the UK. 2020-21 included developing a film on HDTs and planning an event to highlight the potential of the model in supporting the levelling up agenda and a range of place based regeneration initiatives across the UK.    

Significant KPIs and actions

Develop 2020/21 Impact Report
Achieved: Report was published in April 21
Publish Transforming Places… Year 1 Report
Create 10 new project case studies