West Lancashire Heritage Park – now known as Becconsall – Lancashire’s Living Museum – is set in 20 acres of a former brick works (a brownfield site with Biological Heritage status) and seeks to recreate the life and industry of the area. The organisation was established in 2018 and is currently entirely volunteer run.
They were in the process of obtaining a NLHF start-up grant when COVID hit and the grant stream was removed. This has resulted in a very difficult 15 months as they have not been eligible for any funding support and yet were heavily impacted upon by the effects of COVID. They are fortunate to have a strong and supportive Board made up of cultural, business and educational members, with associates working pro-bono to support them, although they have identified gaps in their expertise, such as finance, retail and marketing.
They saw Prosper North as an opportunity to develop their business planning with business advice and funding support from outside the organisation, giving them a different perspective. They already had done a lot of benchmarking and had developed a sound understanding of the dynamics of living museums and also had workstreams for a Business Plan and Mission Statement They had done quite a lot of work on these but were getting bogged down in the detail and realised external advice would be beneficial.
They worked well with their advisor, who has stayed on in a pro-bono capacity at the end of the project, and transformed their planning – ‘he helped us hammer out our business plan’ – and they now have an agile and robust business plan along with audience development and engagement plans and a mission statement, produced by the Board with advisor support.
Through this time they have also worked hard to strengthen their Board to increase the range of skills and diversity and have had some success in recruiting two new board members; one a young, newly qualified heritage consultant and the other a senior manager in one of the North West’s major museums. There are plans to further strengthen it by targeting identified gaps in their expertise, such as finance, retail and marketing.
As a new heritage business they have a high reliance on grant funding. They have approached the Key Fund, among other funders, and in April were successful in securing a £90,000 package of blended investment in their first phase development, which they hope will act as a shop window for the project.
They are also in discussion with the local authority for funding towards their visitor centre. They were unsuccessful in obtaining Cultural Recovery Funding and are now looking to access grants similar to the NLHF’s ‘Start-up’ Grants, that would be used to support staffing costs in their establishment phase (including a part-time manager to pick up some of the heavy workload currently delivered by the volunteer Board members) and to commission more specialist consultancy support to deal with the natural environment of the site itself.
The Board were aware that to be successful needed good partnerships, and so they are building relationships across the area and sector, including National Museums Liverpool, Science Museum Group, Manchester. They feel that Prosper North has enabled them to engage more effectively with partners and with potential funders.
They particularly enjoyed the presentations at workshops by experts in the various fields such as legal, employment, intellectual property and website development.
As a result of a recommendation from Prosper North they have been working with Emily Sorrell, a designer working out of Cornwall, funded by National Lottery Heritage Fund to support the sector. They have worked on a full re-brand exercise and have taken delivery of a complete brand package that launches in June. They are very happy with the results – ‘it’s brilliant … The way she presented it was masterly’.
They gained a great deal from their contact with the wider Prosper North network, and received ‘an incredible amount of support from the presenters and other partners’. They were able to chat and have free-ranging debates in webinars and have widened their networks and made useful contacts. It gave them more confidence in their own Board and its ability to take forward the project, as they saw others facing similar challenges and ‘it put our moans into perspective’. The mix of heritage and cultural organisations in the cohort stimulated some ideas for a stronger cultural perspective in their concept; one way this is manifested being the introduction of a rustic amphitheatre within the site for small-scale amateur performances. They regret the ending of the project – ‘it’s a shame we can’t carry on with it … there was always something to look forward to every week’.