Funding of the arts and heritage

Written evidence submitted by the Heritage Tourism Executive for the North West (arts 37)

Submission by the Heritage Tourism Executive for the North West to Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee Inquiry.

As the only Heritage Tourism Executive in the country whose job is to improve the way heritage attractions work to attract visitors across a region (the North West), this is my submission based on my experience in this role. I am currently funded by the North West Development Agency and English Heritage and based with Lancashire and Blackpool Tourist Board, and prior to this managed a large National Trust Property

Summary:

Impact of present and future spending cuts

· Grants from agencies such as the North West Development Agency have up to now brought in major other external investment to improve the heritage offer and attractiveness in the North West.

· Heritage attractions and others are more effective when they work in clusters to maximise visits/improve the quality of the visitor experience and need support to do so. Employing regionally based people who can work with many heritage attractions has made attractions better for visitors by providing a wider perspective and cuts could remove this opportunity.

· Large area-wide strategic bodies have research, marketing and product development knowledge that have major benefits, and currently meet the Treasury tests that are expected.

· Broader agencies than Local Enterprise Partnerships would be more useful to have the bigger picture, with the breadth of research knowledge and strategic view to make decisions that really make a difference to heritage (and arts) attractions.

Effect of working collaboratively

· Research has shown that strategic bodies like the Regional Development Agency, National Trust, English Heritage, Museums Libraries and Archives, Heritage Lottery Fund and Historic Houses Association work most effectively to boost visitor attractions if they meet on a semi regular basis to compare good practice and utilise research e.g. on usage of volunteers or on joint marketing initiatives, and this will be true for all arts organisations too..

In detail:

1. NWDA investment of £350,000 from 2005-2009 in relatively small heritage attractions (historic houses, mills, and buildings) resulted in more than £1.38m from other sources being invested (primarily private money), creating more than 8 full time jobs and attracting more than 100,000 extra visitors in that period to attractions including increasing the spending of existing visitors. Obviously, subsequently there have been further visitor increases as a result of those investments. This money has been targeted on places that want to embrace quality assurance like the VAQAS and Welcome schemes, which does not necessarily occur in HLF criteria.

2. Evaluation of my role has demonstrated the importance of having someone who works across the region’s heritage attractions It is important to advise on good practice from elsewhere, getting attractions to work together, and steering regional initiatives that market or develop heritage. Being seen as a ‘Fount of all knowledge’ – a signpost for heritage tourism attractions, and acting as an advocate to councils and others has been very useful to attractions. See 2.1.

2.1 Helping Heritage perform better (from research by Rayska Heritage and Katie Foster 2008 Evaluation of NW Heritage Tourism Programme)

The post and the outputs from it have been seen as:

· Driving quality, effective networking, maximisation of funds and strategies, partnership development with Tourist Boards

· Attracting higher spending visitors to heritage through quality and extending the diversity of offer

· Helping heritage businesses learn how to attract and retain more of them

· Opportunities for heritage to "get things right" for visitor growth

3. Research just undertaken by the NWDA, the National Trust and English Heritage shows that many sites in the NW are not effective at drawing in more people. Marketing a single heritage asset alone is unlikely to be generally very effective, as people prefer a range of things to do on a day visit, joint ticketing arrangements and offers. Destinations benefit that include heritage attractions, stories and nice places as part of the visitor experience, particularly for families. This needs close working at a strategic level to promote and utilise. See 3.1 and 3.2.

3.1 Heritage Tourism in the North West Research 2010 (from research by Blue Sail).

If heritage attractions are to be successful tourist attractions they must ensure they meet the expectations of the most promising target groups. We found that ...those most interested are the empty nesters – especially those who are well educated and relatively well-off1 – and families with children. Family groups are driven by the interests of the children – if the kids are happy the trip will be a success. Post-family visitors are interested in a variety of cultural and heritage things but like to take things at a relaxed pace; good food and surroundings are important. So first-rate catering and retail is not only a way to generate extra income, it is an essential part of the experience. But all visitors want their visits to be fun, entertaining and interactive.

3.2 There is evidence that many heritage attractions fail to make the grade – they come over as dull, stuffy, perhaps too conservation-minded and academic. It is imperative that heritage attractions are presented in close alliance with places. It can help to create a ‘full day out’ in that destination, together with ideas for shopping, eating and socialising. The use of vouchers and discounts (especially popular with family groups) working with other attractions and accommodation will help to drive visits and extend the experience on offer.

4. My own observation is that individual funders do a good job in assessing the risks and attractiveness of funding from their own perspective. However, unless they are able to talk with other bodies who have different strategic aims and understanding, they do not see the bigger picture and gain the most benefit for the public investment – or for the heritage attraction itself. For example, until relatively recent changes in the Heritage Lottery Fund methodology, some projects have been funded that have not taken on board visitor needs or benefits.

5. Presently, research is being undertaken across the NW on behalf of all the bodies with a heritage interest – the Regional Development Agency, Heritage Lottery Fund, National Trust, English Heritage, Historic Houses Association, MLA, that will identify numbers, benefits and needs of volunteers working in heritage attractions – and this, for example, is indicating the needs to offer volunteer management training for those who run attractions. This overview would not be achieved without working collaboratively.

6. I would therefore encourage the committee to think that, to gain the greatest benefits for tourism, attractions need to have people with a wider-region perspective who will bring them together, to learn from each other and from wider research. It also needs some bodies that can take into account a bigger picture and undertake research to support the heritage tourism sector. A body that can give grants to lever in further funding and only invest in those areas which will benefit the visitor and income is also very valuable – and beyond the present scope of the HLF. It needs to include marketing as well as product development. This would suggest a small staff at a regional level at the least, with a grant giving capacity and with the potential of levering other funding.

September 2010