Last edited 18 Jul 2021

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Institute of Historic Building Conservation Institute / association Website

London Historic Buildings Trust resilient heritage project

Resilient heritage projects aim to strengthen organisations, build capacity, and better manage heritage. The London Historic Buildings Trust recently undertook one.

Cambridge Hall Kilburn.jpg
Cambridge Hall, Kilburn, started life in 1863 as an episcopal chapel (Photo: Anna Barclay).

In Kilburn’s Tin Tabernacle at the end of January (2019), the Heritage of London Trust Operations announced its strategic objectives for the next five years, along with its new name and new website. This marked its rebirth as the London Historic Buildings Trust. Interim director Celia Mead explained to an audience of old and new friends, funders and project partners that ‘after 27 years we have reflected, reformed and rebooted’.

Mead’s words emphasise that, for the first time since it was founded in 1993, the Londonwide building preservation trust had recently reconsidered its priorities and future. This reform started during a resilient heritage project funded by the National Heritage Lottery Fund, and was energetically continued by Mead as interim director, a role that was supported by the Pilgrim Trust. The trust’s new strategy continues to be delivered by its capable project managers, with a great deal of input and time from all trustees.

The decision to undertake a resilient heritage project was prompted by several factors. The trustees were aware that they needed to undertake more projects and needed more staff to help deliver them. They needed to consider how to sustain the trust following the sale of Thorpecombe House, which had released capital, but meant a loss of rental income. Historic England was encouraging the trust to apply for a grant to cover project manager salaries. It stressed the need for the trust to review its strategic direction and governance procedures before submitting the application.

At its inception the trust had been set up on the revolving fund, building preservation fund model to work with Historic England and local authorities, to reduce the amount of heritage at risk in London. It had done so successfully, particularly under Malcolm Crowder’s long tenure as its sole, part-time, project organiser. But the context in which the trust was operating had changed, and it needed to know how to position itself strategically, in light of current trends and new funding opportunities.

The trust commissioned an independent review from the consultant Daniel Rose. It formed a central part of the resilient heritage project, along with the strategic plan. The review’s findings were initially a hard read for the trustees, but most of its recommendations were adopted. Linking each piece of work together was the key: the independent review needed to inform the governance workshop, and the findings of the review informed discussions at the trustee away-day, which in turn informed the drafting of the strategic plan.

The original aim was to complete the resilient heritage project within six months. At the beginning of month four it became clear that this would not be feasible, primarily because I felt that the trustees needed more time to digest Rose’s report. After discussing with Rosie Fraser, the trustee overseeing the project, the trustees permitted me to extend the programme.

Liz Bates provided objective and wise advice. Having recently delivered her own resilient heritage project as the then CEO of Heritage Lincolnshire, she was asked to attend the governance workshop and trustee away-day as a critical friend.

My approach to the trustee fundraising workshop was not quite right. My aim was to use the session as an opportunity to encourage trustees to engage with the development of the fundraising plan. Rather than just handing over a completed piece of work, they would be given a chance to think carefully about all aspects of fundraising and income generation. I gave the brief to Perdita Hunt, former director of the Watts Gallery. We developed the workshop format together and Hunt facilitated it.

The project budget was stretched as far as possible. We used the contingency to develop a new logo and brand strategy with the support of our project volunteer, Philip Smith. And we delivered an extra workshop for the trustees on social impact, a recommendation in Rose’s report. During the project we secured funding from the Pilgrim Trust to enable the appointment of an interim director.

There were other aspects to the resilient heritage project: an options appraisal and community workshops run by the trust on aspects of early-stage project development, and a day seminar where we profiled three different resilient heritage projects. This work was undertaken to share the trust’s experience of rescuing heritage at risk with volunteers.

My previous professional experience had been focused on project development fundraising and project coordination, largely for building preservation trusts. To be so closely involved with the trust as it reassessed its future was a challenging, fascinating and enjoyable experience.

The reform resulting from the project has been considerable. The trust now has a solid committee structure and clearer reporting procedures. It has refreshed its board of trustees, filling skills gaps. It has secured the Historic England grant, and now employs two project managers. Celia Mead’s contract has sadly finished, although the aspiration is to secure funding to appoint a permanent director. The trust is now reviewing its strategic plan and business plan in the light of the impact of Covid-19, following a Heritage Emergency Fund grant.

This article originally appeared as ‘Reflections on a resilient heritage project’ in Context 167, published by the Institute of Historic Building Conservation (IHBC) in March 2021. It was written by Alice Yates, who developed and co-ordinated the London Historic Buildings Trust’s resilient heritage project.

--Institute of Historic Building Conservation

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