Baroness Kay Andrews OBE looks back at and celebrates at her time as Chair of the Wales Committee of The National Heritage Lottery Fund.
For the past six-and-a-half years I have been the Chair of the Wales Committee of The National Heritage Lottery Fund and represented Wales as one of the Trustees and Deputy Chair of the Fund itself.
During this time we have awarded over £103,217,390 in grants to Wales and I have seen at first-hand the transformational power this investment can bring to our diverse communities.
As the author of the ‘Culture and Poverty: Harnessing the power of the arts, culture and heritage to promote social justice in Wales’ report; Trustee of Amgueddfa Cymru; former Chair of English Heritage and my time with The National Heritage Lottery Fund, I am aware that our heritage is special.
It is difficult to find an answer which reflects the complexity of ‘Treftadaeth’ and that sense of ownership and inheritance which we take with us not least in the hiraeth we feel when for whatever reason, we leave Wales.
It means our language which sets us apart but connects us to different cultures too; the stories we treasure in our archives and the untold stories of peace and war; of the changing lives of women; of farming and factory lives; the new as well as the old communities of Wales.
It means our connection and love of place – no matter how small; our heritage itself – that which is beyond price because it has particular meaning.
There is such wealth and such opportunity here for Wales and all our communities if we can value and realise it for the future
For me it would be found in the fragile remains of the cholera graves on the mountain above Tredegar, the Old College in Aberystwyth; that part of our past which we need coming generations to seize as their heritage – and safe because we have invested in them understanding and new purpose.
We have tried to honour all that in our work in Wales – whether that has been in celebrating and restoring Yr Ysgwrn, the home of Hedd Wyn; or investing in a new future for Copperopolis and Swansea’s role on the world stage.
Wales is a small country, overflowing with history, contested and consensual; a land where there are more castles in one small area than anywhere in Europe; and landscapes which reveal the pre-historic as well as the industrial revolution at its birth and death.
We are in short, a miraculous presentation in one small country of the survival, complexity and continuity of ‘heritage’; from the scale of the new World Heritage Slate industry, to the survival of rare peat and seagrass – sources for the future of our climate.
Our stories are everywhere – in plain sight from Caerau Hill Fort in the middle of Ely in Cardiff, to the isolation of Strata Florida.
There is such wealth and such opportunity here for Wales and all our communities if we can value and realise it for the future.
Not just in tourism, or new jobs and enterprises, although we see much of this now in revived townscapes in Anglesey and Merthyr for example; but because they lift that sense of community which has a particular resonance in Wales.
Our work has never been about buildings or even landscape conservation. It has been about people, places and their future; it has been about resilience built on creating a library and community centre inside a beloved chapel; enabling new skills, jobs, engagement and opportunity.
Giving Pontypridd Lido a new future is more than re-opening a swimming baths; it is a vote of confidence in the place itself.
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At a time when Wales needs all the assets and skills that it can reach, our investment in heritage should and can serve every economic and social ambition.
Our heritage galvanises and inspires people and there was no better illustration than what we saw during the pandemic
During lockdown, The National Lottery Heritage Fund put in place a community engagement project, partnered with CADW, to enable people to tell us what was important to them locally and what we could invest in.
The results were amazing; from the story of the elephant’s grave in Tregaron; to the ‘Heritage Trail Amlwch’ project on Anglesey and the World War 2 pillbox in Pontypridd.
Across Wales, people came forward to reveal what gave their place meaning and value.
Right in the middle of Covid, in 2020, we were overjoyed to work with Mencap Cymru on a project to record the contribution of people living with learning disabilities to the community of Llanfyllin.
We gave Mencap Cymru £6,300 to run the project and support 10 people aged 20 to 75 to record their memories and personal histories of locations that they had a close or historical connection to, such as the local market, primary school or café.
Small grants have big impacts and last year we awarded £8,000 to the Pembroke Dock Falcon project – an exhibition about the building of the first-ever life-size model of the Star Wars starship the Millennium Falcon in Pembroke Dock in 1979.
It appeared in the Oscar winning film The Empire Strikes Back and visitors to the Pembroke Dock Heritage Centre – when it reopens next year after its winter closure, can learn about the role a West Wales town played in one of the biggest Hollywood franchises of all time.
Newport City Council in south east Wales has received almost £11 million for a project to repair the Newport Transporter Bridge and make it a major tourist attraction.
This project has seen the world’s most complete surviving transporter bridge (there are only eight in the whole world) undergoing repairs to its structure, viaduct, gondola, cross-beams and anchorage.
In November 2016, we funded the African Community Centre in Swansea to lead a project involving young people from the city’s Pentrehafod secondary school
The investment – one of the largest made by The National Lottery Heritage Fund in Wales, will sustain jobs, support economic growth, drive tourism and add to that sense of pride in Newport’s unique heritage.
In November 2016, we funded the African Community Centre in Swansea to lead a project involving young people from the city’s Pentrehafod secondary school.
Exploring the experiences of the ‘Windrush’ generations, the £43,000 intergenerational initiative bought school pupils and older people of West Indian heritage living in Wales together.
The young people learned about the lives of people who arrived from the West Indies to work in Wales during the 1960s and 1970s.
I am so grateful for the opportunity I have had to understand the Wales I love in all its spirit and challenge. Investing in heritage is an opportunity to ‘Take possession’ as the great historian of Wales, Gwyn Alf Williams put it, of ‘Historical truths’. That should be enough in itself.
The National Lottery Heritage Fund is a unique opportunity to build and partner with the people of Wales to frame a future which is richer, more confident and more resilient – and where our past, far from being an expensive and tiresome burden, is a source of joy, resilience and opportunity. It is something for all ages, all places, all conditions. Heritage will help face down poverty of spirit as much as material poverty and we cannot miss any chance to do that.
And this has all been made possible thanks to the generosity of National Lottery players and our other funding partners, including the Welsh Government.
You can find details of The National Lottery Heritage Fund grants on our website – www.heritagefund.org.uk
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