Culture and heritage are at the heart of resilient communities

As the National Lottery approaches a milestone birthday, Richard Bellamy introduces the National Lottery Heritage Fund’s future framework for Wales

Over the past quarter of a century we have been the largest dedicated grant funder of the UK’s heritage, making a lasting difference for heritage and people. From the multi-million pound investment in Wales’s flagship attraction, St Fagans National Museum of History, and the land and nature heritage offer of the Dyfi Osprey observatory to the emerging exciting new life of Holyhead Market Hall which in turn will help reinvigorate the town centre, we have constantly driven a progressive and inclusive approach, enabling organisations to transform their heritage provision and allowing a much wider range of people to take part in their activities.


We cannot lose sight that our achievements would not have been possible without the continued support of National Lottery players. Since our formation a quarter of a century ago, we have distributed close to £400 million of ticket sales money in Wales to over 2,600 projects. So as we look forward to a new chapter in our history, we must be aware of the need to spend National Lottery players’ money wisely, with the projects we fund bringing direct benefits to them and their communities. This demands of us an absolute commitment to diversity and inclusion.


Here in Wales our heritage is diverse, complex and immensely rich.


Our country has a profound sense of place – whether that is in the valleys of South Wales, the wild landscapes of Snowdonia or our awe-inspiring coastline. Our rural and urban landscapes and townscapes and their different communities, different cultures and languages all contribute to our distinctive Welsh identity.


At the National Lottery Heritage Fund we celebrate that diversity and recognise the immense changes that have marked our country. We support projects across Wales that put heritage at the heart of the ambitions our communities have for a richer and more resonant future. We do this by investing National Lottery funds in powerful partnerships between heritage organisations and other local agencies to help create better places to live, work and visit. In short, we help to put culture and heritage where it should be – at the heart of sustainable regeneration and resilient communities.


When we started developing our new funding framework, we asked players of the National Lottery what the ‘good causes’ money should achieve for heritage and people. Their response was both inspiring and challenging. Our established principles of supporting the full breadth of heritage and ensuring that it is enjoyed by the widest range of people were resoundingly endorsed by the players. This position also remains strongly supported by the general public, not to mention the customers and stakeholders who responded in detail to our consultation.


There was also strong support for greater devolution of decision-making on funding awards. While it has always been the case that Wales, as with Scotland and Northern Ireland, has autonomy on funding decisions, this will now be further increased as decisions on awards of up to £5 million will be taken in Wales. We will also still be able to bid for additional funds through the strategic UK route.   


Our work recognises what we all know instinctively: that what makes people and communities thrive is a sense of involvement, identity and belonging. Those connections often grow most powerfully when people both value and relate confidently to their own culture, history and heritage – whether that is found in language and customs or by cherishing and caring for historic buildings, landmarks, parks or natural habitats.


When communities become involved in conserving or enhancing their own heritage it can bring manifold benefits – everything from better health, skills and jobs, all of course contributing immensely to greater wellbeing. For young people, or for poorer communities, our investment can make a unique difference. We have identified two areas in Wales that have been under-funded and have areas of deprivation – Neath Port Talbot and Rhondda Cynon Taf – which will now receive greater support to develop their grant applications, and additional funding will be made available to help projects in those areas become reality.  


In Wales we also have opportunities to create unique partnerships, including with Welsh Government; for example we supported from the outset the innovative Fusion programme, through ground-breaking projects such as Unloved Heritage? and ‘Kick the Dust’, working with young people to help redefine what we see as ‘heritage’. Engaging with these projects can mean greater success in school or college, and in later life, empowering young people to find their voice, and pursue new interests and skills – all contributing to the goals of the Well-being of Future Generations Act.


Our intention is to promote not only a greater understanding of the value and potential of heritage in all its myriad forms, but also – in partnership with health, housing or child development agencies – to build and extend confidence, knowledge and skills throughout our communities.


Many things have changed since the first National Lottery draw was broadcast live, back in November 1994. But our fundamental vision has not: we believe that heritage belongs to us all, and can be whatever we make of it – but only by acting together, can we do it the justice it deserves.


All articles published on Click on Wales are subject to IWA’s disclaimer.

Richard Bellamy is Head of the National Lottery Heritage Fund in Wales.

Also within Culture