Caring for divine heritage

Sara Crofts, HLF Head of Historic Environment
Head of Historic Environment Sara Crofts gives highlights from the Cathedral Administration and Finance Association (CAFA) conference on how National Lottery money can help protect these important buildings.

CAFA members meet annually to share information and good practice on issues affecting the management of English cathedrals. 

Earlier this year, myself and Head of HLF North West Sara Hilton joined forces with CAFA to deliver a conference in Manchester Cathedral exploring how English cathedrals can make the most of their heritage.

With a number of exciting cathedral projects in process it was a good moment to take stock and see what lessons might be learned about what makes projects successful.

Investing in cathedrals

England’s 42 cathedrals are among the nation’s most iconic buildings, with their grand scale, fine architecture and landmark towers and spires. Many are the oldest buildings in continuous use in their cities. And as well as key tourist destinations, they can also be places of spiritual, civic and social focus for their communities.

So far, we’ve invested more than £100million in some of the UK’s most important cathedrals. Our investment not only helps conserve them but also opens them up to local communities and visitors.

  • York Minster Revealed - This year, York Minster unveiled the completion of a £20m conservation and restoration project. HLF contributed over half the funding, enabling work to take place on the 600-year-old East Front and Great East Window. The project also transformed the career prospects of 11 young people by creating apprenticeships in stonemasonry and stained glass conservation
  • Durham Cathedral: Open Treasure - The Open Treasure project is transforming the way in which Durham Cathedral's buildings are understood and used, both as working buildings and for visitors. New choir vestries are now in use and there’s a new cathedral shop, with a fully accessible foyer. The next phase sees creation of new exhibition spaces and essential fabric repairs

Top tips on how HLF can help your cathedral project

1. Develop the idea

Cathedrals are large and complex organisations and defining clearly what a project might achieve can sometimes be difficult. So you need to ask some questions:

  • What heritage-related activities at the cathedral need investment?
  • What difference could HLF support make?
  • Will an HLF project help to transform your organisation or transform how the cathedral relates to the wider city?
  • Will the project enable you to work with new and existing audiences to help share your cathedral’s heritage?

2. Express the vision

Successful projects have a clear vision and purpose. Successful applicants are those who can demonstrate that they have a good understanding of the heritage importance of their building and its collections and stories. Projects also need to be:

  • Engaging – enabling positive relationships with a wide range of people
  • Creative – making good use of the available resources in exciting and innovative way
  • Connected – based on the right conversations with the right people
  • Coordinated – aligning the project aspiration, budget and programme
  • Committed – embrace the idea of partnership and genuine community engagement; it’s not about ‘ticking boxes’

3. Remember to look outwards

Cathedrals are generally self-reliant and can tap into a huge wealth of skills within their community but it is easy to become wrapped up in internal discussions, internal processes and internal thinking. So before embarking on a project, look beyond your own team and organisation to see where you can learn from others:

  • Are there other cathedral teams who have completed a successful project that you can learn from?
  • Can you take your team to see completed projects for themselves? Remember that good examples can be found outside the cathedral sector
  • Have you made use of our community? This is a great source of advice and ideas

4. Understand the outcomes

When we talk about outcomes, we mean the difference that your project will make, rather than what your project will do. We look at outcomes in three areas – the impact that your project will have on heritage, people and your community. Successful projects are those that can demonstrate the best value for money in the outcomes they will deliver. 

Outcomes should be:

  • Appropriate in the context of the project. The number of outcomes you address will depend on the size of the grant you are seeking
  • Proportionate to the size of the grant requested. We are looking for quality and depth rather than simple quantity
  • And remember that outcomes are different from outputs! Outputs are the things your project creates such as new exhibition spaces or trained volunteers. Our focus will be on the impact of your project

5. Build the right team

To develop a successful project you need to bring together a team with the right mix of skills and experience. You also need to make sure that the right management structures are set up early in the process:

  • Your team will need to have strong leadership – we suggest that projects are not consultant-led
  • Set up a project structure with clear lines of reporting and communication
  • A key role is the project sponsor – someone to champion the project and be the ‘keeper of the vision’
  • An energetic and effective project manager is needed to manage the team, liaise with stakeholders and communicate with consultants
  • Be honest about the skills that you’ve got in-house and where you will need seek additional support or expertise
  • Make sure that you delegate tasks to the people most suited to tackling the different elements of the project

Our final piece of advice is that major capital projects often take a long time to develop and deliver – much longer than people originally predict. So if you have a major anniversary approaching start thinking about your project as soon as you can!

Find out more about the Conference on the Storify page.

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