The story of us: heritage and communities

Esme Ward
Esme Ward, 2016-17 Clore Fellow, reflects on how HLF can support communities to engage with and share their heritage.

As part of the Clore Fellowship, you undertake a placement in a cultural organisation that is different from your usual place of work. I was based with the strategic team at HLF. I have blogged before about what I learnt from the experience and my interest in and commitment to an organisation that has made so much positive change to the cultural heritage sector. 

So, what did I get up to at HLF? 

For five months I undertook an inquiry to find out how HLF might change their funding approach to support communities to catalyse new heritage activity.

I spent my time listening to and meeting people leading change; unearthing new insights, ideas and perspectives from the heritage sector but also from other sectors and funders.

The Story of us: Heritage and Communities report, published today, brings together my thinking, interviews, observations and case studies on how to support heritage and communities. 

The Story of Us: Key findings

The Story of Us: Heritage and Communities highlights the importance of HLF building relationships to be more inclusive.

Like many other cultural organisations and funders, HLF wants to engage with communities as widely as possible. My report seeks to identify strategic opportunities and new approaches.

Three themes emerged from the inquiry and I have put forward three propositions for change, or what HLF might do differently.

1. Be more relational

The Story of Us: Heritage and Communities highlights the importance of HLF building relationships to be more inclusive, move beyond the usual suspects and reach new people.

It proposes a grant giving approach which supports good ideas in communities, even when not fully formed or articulated. My conversations showed that micro-grants could be a way forward and that small amounts of money can make a big difference.

2. Focus on the local

There is increasingly a commitment to and interest amongst funders and policy-makers in place-based investment and local decision-making. My report explores some of the implications of this for heritage and argues that that now is the time for new and ambitious thinking at HLF about ‘localism’ and place-based funding.

3. Find and support powerhouse people

Mavericks, visionaries, activists and “powerhouse people” are those leading change within communities. My report looks at their impact and how HLF might better seek out and support these people. How, I ask, can we identify a heritage power list of people who are shaping the future of heritage and who bring a diversity of thinking and experience?

Next steps from HLF

Mavericks, visionaries, activists and “powerhouse people” are those leading change within communities.

I’m delighted that HLF has taken up one of my proposals straight away and is piloting micro-grants in Barrow-in-Furness. Grants of £200 to £3,000 are being offered to support community projects investigating Barrow’s heritage. Already 13 awards have been made.

There is still money available until March. If you are based in Barrow in Furness you can sign up for the next funding event on Wednesday 30 January at AGE UK. 

Karen Brookfield, Deputy Director (Strategy) at HLF supported my placement and encouraged new perspectives and insights. This is what she had to say about The Story of Us: “People shared wonderful insights with Esme which they might have been reluctant to share directly with HLF.

“We have listened: some will feed into our longer-term thinking, and I hope people will be pleased to see that our work in Barrow is an immediate response to the need for smaller grants.”

The saying goes that ‘if you do what you’ve always done, you get what you’ve always got’.  I’m excited to see that my work has led to the Barrow-in-Furness pilot and I want to thank HLF for this new venture in supporting community heritage activity.

Read the report

The Story of Us: Heritage and Communities seeks to support and influence HLF’s next strategic framework and contribute to the wider institutional and sector-facing conversation about the role, value and future of heritage within communities.

Let me know what you think, by email or on twitter @ward_esme.

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