On The Brink: Heritage in the Cost of Living Crisis

Heritage Alliance Insight Report, published May 2024

This insight report sets out the critical effects of the ongoing cost of living crisis on heritage. Following 18 months of data gathering, the research highlights how new challenges have deepened cracks in the foundations of our sector. Featuring case studies from the breadth of heritage alongside recent evidence on the immense value we contribute to the economy and society, the report provides a snapshot of the state of heritage in 2024 and sets out a powerful case for investment in our sector.

  • Heritage is facing an existential threat: If heritage is not looked after it declines rapidly – and once it is gone, it is gone forever. Neglect becomes expensive, and it is not always possible to save assets further down the line: it is better to invest little and often. Without ongoing investment, the risk of collapse is real – and in many cases, literal.
  • Heritage has 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. Fortified by investment from funders, the sector has worked tirelessly to help itself, and demonstrated remarkable resilience and creativity – but it can only do so much without sustained support.
  • 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 – both intrinsically, and instrumentally through programmes supporting communities and vulnerable people. It is the arena and backdrop to our successful creative industries, gives pride and meaning in place, and boosts the UK’s soft power internationally.
  • Heritage could do more with more: Investment in our sector will yield benefits for everyone. The transformative Culture Recovery Fund was unprecedented, but does not need to be unrepeatable. Sustained, sustainable, and targeted investment is needed at this critical time to stimulate growth and unleash the social good that heritage has the power to provide.

“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 also enable it to keep delivering for those that need it most.”

– Dr Ingrid Samuel OBE, Chair of the Heritage Alliance

View the report
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