As two organisations which both have a mission to use research and data to enhance the impact of cultural and heritage policymaking and strategies, we’re very excited that the UK’s largest heritage funder, the National Lottery Heritage Fund (NLHF), has just announced a list of nine places who’ll receive long-term funding informed by work The Audience Agency (TAA) and MyCake carried out in 2022.

The NLHF's new approach combines a data-driven approach with engagement alongside local stakeholders to identify local areas where they can deliver long-term projects designed to transform local areas, towns, cities and landscapes, improving the condition of heritage and increasing the pride people take in their local environment. This builds upon research and advisory work TAA carried out in 2021 with the NLHF on collaborating strategically with local authorities.

This is a change from the way they have previously allocated funding, taking learnings from their other place based work such as the Great Place Scheme and working with Historic England on High Street Heritage Action Zones. As with other public bodies, open programmes awarding money to projects according to national criteria can advantage those which already have the greatest local capacity, infrastructure and history of being funded. Whether framed as ‘Levelling-Up’, inclusive growth or the Preston Model, public funders increasingly have to demonstrate that they’re spending money where it is most needed and can have the biggest impact. Research and data about places and heritage can appear rather theoretical. It’s fantastic to see that this rigorous approach to using data will make a difference on the ground.

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Glasgow is one of nine places to receive NLHF funding.

To address this, we helped the NLHF develop an evidence-based approach to prioritising projects according to key factors about the places where they were located, targeting help where it is considered heritage can be a driver of wider change. We interrogated the proposed new conceptual framework for place and heritage:

  • Need – places with heritage of all kinds which are at risk of loss, damage, neglect or in significant need of investment, where it is shown that the sector lacks capacity, communities face challenging economic, social and wellbeing circumstances.
  • Opportunity – the local economic and political/civic factors within places, including time-specific events and funding, which may function as multipliers for investment in heritage and lead to wider reaching impacts.
  • Potential – factors inherent to a place (quality and type of heritage, prior connection to heritage, social infrastructure and partnerships) that make successful delivery of heritage projects or a stronger contribution to their local community more likely.

We then identified 13 key factors to use in prioritisation. Reviewing 180 publicly available datasets, we identified 500 potential indicators to measure those factors. Selecting from those where there was sufficient data comparable at a national level, we then road-tested prioritising sample lists of potential priority places with these indicators.

TAA is experienced in working with multiple datasets to enrich the picture of places – whether cities, towns or rural areas. This results in robust evidence which helps make the case for investment or change in people and place, produces ‘baseline’ data against which impacts over time can be compared and is also now available as ‘live’ local creative and cultural data portals. Combining our proprietary national Cultural Participation Monitor study and Audience Spectrum cultural behaviour geo-profiling with population data, engagement data, national datasets and mapping of local assets and infrastructure gives the most detailed picture of the social, economic and cultural environment available on the market today. This contextual insight enables local authorities, cultural organisations, businesses and communities to come together to develop new creative visions of place, collaborate and attract investment and other support.

“When you walk around some of our towns and cities, you can see the potential - unused or underused heritage sites on high streets, quaysides, seafronts, along canals and rivers or in neglected corners. But what you can’t see so clearly, is what the specific need is in a place and how regenerating a building or other heritage asset would bring benefit, or who is best placed to lead such development. This rigorous approach surfaces a 360 view of particular kinds of places and therefore helps NLHF target their support and funding to integrate heritage as a sustainable driver of change led by communities.”

Penny Mills, Director of Consultancy, The Audience Agency

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“As culture and heritage increasingly competes for public funds, the need intensifies to explicitly model the social and economic impact of such investments to be comparable with other sectors such as health and transport. The UK is not alone in wanting to address long-term structural inequalities between regions through policy interventions in cultural heritage. In undertaking this work, we drew on UK thinking on social, built and other ‘capitals’ of places and impact measurement in International Development – and are keen to continue to contribute to this policy debate.”

Patrick Towell, Director of Innovation, The Audience Agency

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“This new approach means that it becomes easier to identify areas which historically may have been underfunded relative to their need, opportunity and potential and thence to consider how to address this. Furthermore, by publishing details of how the index calculates these three elements a conversation can be developed as to ways in which the index may be improved over the coming years.
In this work on the heritage sector and also when MyCake maps the Voluntary Community and Social Enterprise sector for a place it enables local leaders to see a holistic picture in ways that haven’t been possible when one only looks at the actions of a single funder, programme, organisation or year. When we combine financial data on hundreds of organisations with the data on grants received not only can we build a richer and more nuanced picture but we can then go on to compare how the results to a set of key metrics vary from one place to another e.g. comparing the national spend per head of population by funder by year between different local authority areas. It is this benchmarking between places that shows up patterns in under-funding which need to be addressed.”

Sarah Thelwall, MD of MyCake

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