On The Brink: Heritage in the Cost of Living Crisis

Policy News

New Heritage Alliance Insight Report Highlights Severe Financial Threats Facing the Sector

The Heritage Alliance has today published a new insight report exploring the impacts of the cost of living crisis on the sector. Following 18 months of data gathering, the research published today highlights how new challenges have deepened cracks in the foundations of the sector and sets out a range of potential solutions.

Dr Ingrid Samuel OBE, Chair of the Heritage Alliance, said:

“We are facing challenging times. In the wake of global conflict, rising costs in everything from energy to materials have met falling funding, a slow recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic and a depressed consumer market to impact businesses and individuals across the UK. Heritage organisations have been stretched, and are now facing these and additional demands such as the need to adapt to a changing climate or an increasingly digitised world.  Some of these pressures have developed over time, but recent trends have left the sector feeling particularly vulnerable.

Our Heritage on the Brink report demonstrates the scale of the risk now facing the sector and paints a stark picture of what ‘one more rainy day’ could mean. Importantly it captures how our heritage leaders and organisations are feeling about the pressures they face. But amidst the troubling realities, the report also captures signs of hope. Across the sector, heritage organisations have come together to help one another, sharing skills and knowledge to ensure mutual survival. Many organisations have demonstrated striking creativity in tackling the challenges they face whilst broadening access and engagement and making a tangible difference to the most vulnerable in their local areas.

Heritage is not just ‘old things’, or all about the past. The choices we make today are about what we want to carry forward into a tomorrow we want to see. I hope that our evidence and recommendations will arm decision-makers with the tools to support and invest in the future of heritage, and enable it to keep delivering for those that need it most.”


Heritage is the bedrock of Britain; it breathes life into our towns, cities, coasts, and countryside, creating places that people want to live and invest in. The heritage sector contributes an estimated £45.1 billion in gross value added to the UK economy and supports over 538,000 jobs. It is estimated to make a larger direct contribution to UK GDP than the security, deference, or aerospace industries. Heritage is a living and breathing part of our everyday economy – from canals and railways to high streets and theatres. However, the heritage sector is now facing a significant threat. 

The report finds that:

  • Heritage is facing an existential threat: If heritage is not looked after it declines rapidly – and once it is gone, it is gone forever. Without ongoing investment, the risk of collapse is real – and in many cases, literal.
  • Heritage is facing particular vulnerabilities: Whilst all sectors have felt the brunt of economic pressures in recent years, pre-existing challenges have made the heritage sector particularly vulnerable: from the demographics of our workforce to the fixed costs of heating, repairing, and conserving historic assets
  • Heritage is a resilient and resourceful sector: Heritage organisations have survived and thrived in the face of significant threats, many of them in recent history. With investment from funders, the sector has worked tirelessly to help itself, and demonstrated remarkable resilience and creativity – but it can only do so much.
  • Heritage is part of the solution: Our sector is uniquely placed to drive sustainable growth and offer support to those that need it most. Heritage has significant wellbeing value, it is the arena and backdrop to our successful creative industries, it gives pride and meaning in place, and it boosts soft power internationally.
  • Heritage could do more with more: Investment in our sector will yield benefits for everyone. The Culture Recovery Fund was unprecedented but does not need to be unrepeatable – sustained, targeted investment is needed at this critical time to unleash the growth and social good heritage can provide.

This report is timely as we enter a turbulent new period, and fresh challenges rear their head. Recent cuts to local authority arts and culture budgets come in the wake of long-term resourcing and capacity issues in historic environment services, forcing some councils to sell heritage assets and close museums. The heritage repairs backlog is worsening, heritage crimes including theft, arson and vandalism have risen significantly since 2019; and visits to heritage sites have still not recovered to pre-Covid levels.

Urgent action is needed to ensure that our living, breathing heritage is not consigned to the past. As part of our Heritage Manifesto, we have called for a range of practical interventions including a new Culture Growth Fund: a major new phase of investment to support the sector during the ongoing crisis, and in turn to support the wider public through the benefits heritage provides. As the Culture Recovery Fund recognised, an investment in the future of our heritage is an investment in our country’s future prosperity, and in the public who use and value it. 73% of UK adults agree that the UK government has a moral obligation to protect our heritage – now is the critical moment to deliver on that responsibility.



Ben Cowell OBE, Director General of Historic Houses, said:

“Heritage is all around us. Its true value to people and communities is almost incalculable. For that value to be sustained, it needs constant care and attention. As this report so vividly shows, the costs of looking after heritage just keep on growing. Member properties at Historic Houses face challenges from all sides, among them soaring fuel costs, escalating insurance premiums, and the struggle to keep pace with regulatory requirements. Given that most heritage is looked after within the private sector, it is clear that government should do much more to support the many independent owners and custodians of some of England’s most important heritage assets.”

Dr Nick Merriman OBE, Chief Executive of English Heritage, said:

“The effects of the cost of living crisis go far and wide, but this report highlights how the heritage sector can benefit those who need it most. As a charity, English Heritage is proud to be working with the Trussell Trust to help those who use the trust’s food banks – but to really unlock heritage’s public wellbeing potential, it should be embedded in health and social care strategies. Ultimately, supporting the heritage sector to weather this crisis will allow it to help society in meaningful and long-lasting ways, for the benefit of everyone.” 

Matthew McKeague, CEO of the Architectural Heritage Fund, said:

“The cost of living crisis is particularly impacting on small and medium sized charities and social enterprises managing historic buildings up and down the country, presenting acute challenges that this timely report highlights. It is vital that government and its partners work together to develop a range of solutions that can address these challenges, particularly in areas of economic deprivation where the problems are particularly pronounced.”

Hilary McGrady, Director General of the National Trust, said:

“The story of our nation is embodied in the heritage buildings, collections and sites which form the backbone of our communities, drive tourism and contribute significantly to local growth and regeneration. However, the organisations which care for this vital heritage – particularly the smaller ones – are facing acute challenges, with the cost of living crisis affecting their operations, staff and revenue, against the backdrop of a critical loss of income during the pandemic.

“There is a real risk that the structure of the sector could begin to crumble, and that heritage assets – and the skills and workforce that care for them – will be lost. We want to see more attention paid to this urgent threat, and action from government to shore up this sector that enhances all of our lives.”

Lisa Ollerhead, Director of the Association of Independent Museums, said:

“AIM warmly welcomes this timely and thorough exploration of the challenges facing the sector. While the findings may be sobering, the wealth of recommendations and acknowledgment of the resilience and creativity within our represented organisations inspire optimism. We look forward to continued collaboration with The Heritage Alliance, not only to amplify this work but to address these challenges together, seeking innovative solutions to safeguard our irreplaceable heritage for the years ahead.”

Richard Parry, Chief Executive of the Canal & River Trust, said:

“England’s heritage is a tangible way for people to connect with the past. It is something that can be seen, touched, and explored, bringing our history to life for millions of UK residents and visitors. Often outdoors and at the mercy of the elements, our heritage’s accessibility also makes it vulnerable, and it requires a huge, and expensive, amount of care. The report highlights the significant challenges that the heritage sector is facing, but also offers a message of hope: recognising our heritage’s remarkable resilience and demonstrating how a well-funded sector could stimulate growth and bring wide-ranging benefits across society.”

Duncan Wilson CBE, Chief Executive of Historic England, said:

“This report offers a helpful insight into the current state of the heritage sector. At Historic England, we are committed to continuing to fund research that helps us to understand the impact of the financial challenges for the heritage sector and offers potential solutions to secure its future.”


For further information on the report please contact Lydia Gibson, Head of Policy.

For images and content, please contact Max Clark, Communications Manager.