Heritage organisations including Titanic Belfast, National Trust NI and Creggan Country Park have been awarded funding, along with self-employed tour guides, stonemasons, coppersmiths and conservators.
The awards made to 50 organisations and 41 individuals aim to safeguard jobs for the long-term and enable recipients to adapt and prepare for reopening or restarting work when restrictions permit.
“The risks to historic sites, attractions and essential heritage jobs and skills from a sudden and dramatic loss of income as a result of the pandemic, have put the heritage and visitor economy in crisis, and we hope this funding will play a vital role in their recovery,” states Paul Mullan, director, Northern Ireland, National Lottery Heritage Fund.
“Heritage has an essential role to play in making communities better places to live, creating economic prosperity and supporting personal wellbeing. All of these are going to be vitally important as we emerge from the current pandemic.”
The total of £5.28million, part of an overall £29 million allocated to support the arts, heritage and culture in Northern Ireland, is being distributed by The National Lottery Heritage Fund on behalf of the Department for Communities.
By the time the financial year comes to an end the funder will have awarded more than £500 million of National Lottery and UK Government funding to over 1,500 heritage organisations – approximately double its figures for an average year.
Judith Owens, CEO of Titanic Belfast, describes the support pledged to the organisation by National Lottery Heritage Fund as “a lifeline for our recovery to operate and maintain our heritage assets”.
With income having “dropped to zero overnight” last March, “the impact was further exacerbated given that we were coming out of the quietest part of the tourism calendar when cashflow and reserves were at their lowest and preparations had been made for a bumper high season,” she explains.
Department for Communities funding will, Owens hopes, enable the site to “rebuild the business to tell the story of RMS Titanic and Belfast’s industrial heritage through Titanic Belfast, SS Nomadic and the historic Titanic Slipways”.
Self-employed and freelance workers have been hit harder than most by the pandemic’s economic impact. The award of grants to 41 individuals in this latest Heritage Recovery Fund round will offer much-needed respite for industry professionals such as Fergus Purdy, a specialist conservator from Belfast.
Through the course of his three decades restoring and caring for historic pieces of furniture, Purdy has worked on highly significant items including the Chairs of State in the Throne Room of Hillsborough Castle.
“As a result of the closure of heritage sites during the current Covid-19 pandemic, much of my work has been suspended, and many conservation projects have been cancelled,” he explains.
“With work from the heritage sector accounting for 100% of my income, the pandemic has been particularly difficult, and will continue to be so, with many of my clients indicating they will not be in a position to commission work from me for some time. This grant will mean I can continue to keep my business viable during these uncertain times.”
More information on all National Lottery Heritage Fund programmes can be found here.