We spoke to David Renwick, Director for the North, at the National Lottery Heritage Fund, about their support for Prosper North and how it might make an impact on the cultural heritage sector.

Why did the National Lottery Heritage Fund want to invest in a business support programme for the north?

As an organisation, we’ve just gone through a change to our structure that means we are working strategically across the north of England. Therefore working on this programme with a remit across the north appealed, as did the opportunity to add value to the Northern Cultural Regeneration Fund’s (NCRF) repayable finance initiative. The collaboration with Key Fund and Creative United, to help people to potentially access the NCRF, was also appealing given their experience and what we and the sector could learn from them.

As part of our new Strategic Funding Framework (which began in April 2019), we committed to ensuring that the organisations we fund will be more resilient as a result of our investment. Our stakeholders identified supporting the capacity and resilience of the heritage sector as a priority for us other than grant-giving. We’re also keen to develop our experience in offering loans and social investment as well as more traditional grants. Prosper North’s aims and visions align with our own, and we both want to see organisations in the heritage sector go from strength to strength and ensure that we can increase resilience and skills in fundraising, business and financial planning, commercial enterprise and engaging with social investment.

What do you want Prosper North to achieve? What difference do you think it can make?

Working alongside Prosper North, we’d like to see heritage organisations adapt and change in what is still seen by many of them as a challenging operating environment. In supporting heritage organisations to strengthen their business acumen, we think the sector as a whole will be strengthened and the wonderful stories that they share with people across the UK can continue to live on for many years to come. It’s important that heritage, as part of the wider cultural offer, can play its part in the north’s resurgence and working with others to allow it do this, Prosper North is one way we can provide practical support to do this.

What do you think are the main challenges and opportunities facing heritage organisations at the moment, and how might a business support programme be able to help with these?

In these uncertain times heritage organisations have been working hard to adapt to the changing environment. With closures and loss of skills to the sector, heritage organisations have been working to maintain provision for everyone and develop ways to supplement income in times of increasing competition for funds. We hope that the business support and mentoring programme can help organisations with this journey, building a healthy cultural heritage sector with the confidence and skills to attract partners, support self-sufficiency and resilience.

The Northern Cultural Regeneration Fund is an amazing opportunity for us to develop and showcase our Northern cultural offer and it is important that we can support the whole sector to capitalise on this. We believe that with support from the Prosper North programme we can help the heritage sector become ‘match-fit’, ready to take on this investment and strengthen a world class cultural offer.
A heritage organisation with business resilience and strong business planning is likely to be better equipped to deal with other uncertainties and change, for example Brexit and Climate Change impacts being two big ones!

What types of organisations would you like to see benefit from Prosper North and what’s your reaction to?

We’d like to see heritage organisations of all kinds benefit from Prosper North. It is important that we support the breadth of the cultural sector, large and small, arts, heritage and cultural organisations, to make the most of the support available. We’re also keen to explore similar approaches for other areas of the sector e.g. landscape and nature.

It is encouraging that there was such a positive response to applications for the first cohort of Prosper North, showing a real appetite for business support within the sector. It is clear that organisations want to make the most of the help available to be able to help themselves in the future.

We’re pleased that 10 of the 11 Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) areas are represented in the first cohort with a diversity of size and types of organisations as well as a spread across the north. We hope this first cohort will help to champion the rich cultural identities, histories and practices across the north, providing opportunities to learn and share their experiences more widely.

What would you say to a heritage organisation thinking about applying to the next cohort of the programme?

Don’t be afraid of change, take the opportunity of support from Prosper North and be a leader in the heritage sector! Even if you’re not sure if alternative finance is right the process of considering it will help you face the future with confidence.

Find out more about what Heritage Fund is working on in the North of England

Find out more about Prosper North and check eligibility criteria here.