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National Lottery Heritage Fund

When the Heritage Fund re-opened its main grants programme in 2021, it is fair to say that building repairs had slipped down the list of priorities, along with some other areas that suited church projects. 

The focus on engaging new, diverse audiences presented a particular challenge in many rural areas and applicants were told to look outside their parish to find the ‘right’ audiences. Whilst the priorities haven’t changed, there is cause for optimism as a small, but significant number of church repair projects have been successful with funding applications, across the Midlands and East region over the last year. 

What does this mean?

If you have a repair project and need to apply to the National Lottery Heritage Fund, whether this is due to the urgency or type of repairs or just the huge cost which cannot be broken into smaller packages of work, do not be put off.  Contact Holly our Historic Church Buildings Support Officer for some early advice, then submit a Project Enquiry or Expression of Interest and respond to the feedback, working with staff at the Heritage Fund to develop a full application.

Do we still have to deliver lots of heritage activities?

Yes, you will and the spend on activities needs to be at least 15% of the total project costs.  What you do, however, depends on the new audiences you will be working with, and this is where there has been a bit of a change.  Applicants are now being supported to focus on new audiences which are appropriate to their circumstances i.e. those within or connected to your community/local area.  For rural parishes this tends to be young people, people with dementia or people with disabilities.  It could include schools, care homes, uniformed groups or bereavement groups. Tourists and online communities are also important, the latter links nicely with the Heritage Fund’s focus on digital engagement. There are, of course, a whole range of other audiences which might be represented in or near to your parish such as LGBT+ groups, armed forces cadets, BAME groups, refugees, Traveller communities etc… but the point is to focus on the new connections you can make within your community, not someone else’s generic vision of a community.

The type of activities will depend on the audiences, the existing skills you have in your church and wider community and the features/stories of your church and village/town.  Here are a some examples from successful applications:

Volunteer Training

  • bell ringer’s leader course
  • research histories & catalogue graves
  • creating a new church guidebook
  • tour guide recruitment & training
  • simple maintenance tasks

Workshops for the Wider Public

  • bell ringing for young people – groups & training
  • heritage workshops such as fresco techniques, stained glass making, wall painting techniques, conservation cleaning etc…
  • craft events to showcase traditional crafts

Digital Activities

  • InfoPoint installation
  • digital interpretation
  • social media
  • website development
  • research & digitising records and documents


  • oral history gathering – intergenerational
  • schools research work into lives of those buried in graveyard

Special Groups

  • engagement for people with autism
  • activities with refugees
  • trails for people with dementia
  • dementia guides – for and by people with dementia
  • histories of armed forces connections
  • schools work

Nature and Wildlife (a key area for the Heritage Fund)

  • garden development and gardening groups
  • wildflower meadow
  • bat & bird boxes

Trails and Tours

  • trails for children
  • children’s trail – developed by children
  • history talks & interpretation
  • heritage and nature trails
  • interpretation & talks by conservators
  • Church trails (walking, cycling, driving) around several churches


  • history festival
  • exhibitions & displays
  • re-enactors
  • Doom/wall painting exhibition
  • hard hat tours
  • film record of repairs process for website
  • timeline

If all this sounds great but you just don’t feel you are able to take on such a project, you can apply to the Heritage Fund for a grant of about £10,000 to help you develop a project.  This is often referred to as a Resilient Heritage project - it’s about strengthening your organisation, developing ideas and consulting with the community.  The small grant from the Heritage Fund could be used to pay for a consultant to lead this work, which not only reduces the pressure on the person/team at a church but can also give a fresh perspective on things.  The sort of activities which are supported at this stage include:

  • community consultation
  • outline ideas for heritage activities
  • business plans
  • fundraising strategy
  • outline architectural plans
  • partnership development

Whilst this stage cannot include any capital works, not even repairs, the work can help to support and maybe even grow your PCC and potentially bring new people to the church; it is not a wasted process whether or not you go on to be successful with a grant for repairs and activities.

Still Uncertain…?

A full application to the Heritage Fund does take time; it is probably one of the most intense of all the grant programmes available.  However, the initial enquiry stage is a very short document in which you simply outline your basic idea and a rough breakdown of the costs (the focus should be on who you will be engaging and the activities that will be delivered). Many of us have been waiting in the hope that the Heritage Fund will change its priorities or that a new source of funding will appear to help save our built heritage, but it doesn’t look like this will happen before 2024.  So, if you have been thinking about applying to the NLHF, it really is worth putting in an initial enquiry now. 

Further Information

Page last updated: Thursday 26th May 2022 11:13 AM
First published on: 26th May 2022
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