Impressions of #HeritageFinance Conference

Joaquin Basile Patron, Communications Intern at Prince’s Regeneration Trust, reflects on his impressions of BEFS two-day conference, Financing the Historic Environment.

On the 29 and 30 of March 2017, I attended the conference Financing the Historic Environment organized by Built Environment Forum Scotland, Heritage Lottery Fund Scotland and the BRICK (Building Resources, Investment & Community Knowledge) programme run by The Prince’s Regeneration Trust (PRT) where I currently work.

As a communications intern from Uruguay who has lived in London for less than two months, my background in heritage is limited, making the chance to be a part of this conference a great opportunity for increasing my understanding of relevant issues within the heritage field. Before I attended this conference, I did not know how heritage projects managed to obtain funding, and I was curious to discover the different processes that organizations must go through to achieve their goals. Listening to all the presentations and interviewing some of the key people at this conference allowed me to understand that finding funding for heritage projects can be a struggle, but with determination and community engagement, it is not impossible and, indeed, there are many success stories.

Different methods to achieve financial goals were successfully explored in both days of Financing the Historic Environment. On day one, a main topic discussed was “Commercial Investment in the Historic Environment,” which guided participants to better understand this alternative method for obtaining funds for project development. Representatives from Scottish Property Federation, Trevor Osborne Property Group and the Royal Bank of Scotland examined the risk factors behind investing in a historic building. Although the speakers initially established a slightly pessimistic scenario for historic buildings by agreeing on the greater economic appeal of modern buildings, they did share hope for those who intended to restore heritage sites. When an audience member enquired on how to address some of the given risks, the speakers agreed that, although the lack of flexibility and lower-level efficiency of historic buildings represent a risk to investors, the negative impact of these factors might be decreased through community engagement, increasing a project’s chances for funding.

On day two, I was able to understand the benefits of tourism on the preservation of historic treasures. On the section “Heritage Tourism Investment” Jana Hutt from Knockando Woolmill, Martin Hulse from Dunston Staiths and Paul Higson from Portsoy Sail Loft discussed their work on projects that were meant to attract tourism. Although combining touristic activity and historic buildings can be a challenging task, these speakers emphasized how a deep knowledge of a heritage project can benefit the project’s outcomes. When an attendee asked about the importance of collaboration among different heritage projects, Ms. Hutt argued that it is important to collaborate with other local projects to achieve better results. Day two also provided examples of success stories to help inspire delegates who are working on similar projects.

Overall, “Financing the Historic Environment” was a huge success, trending locally on Twitter (with #HeritageFinance) and with great attendance both on 29th and 30th of March. Personally, this conference has taught the difficulties for some projects to reach completion but also how rewarding it is for all those who were involved every step of the way. The tools provided by each speaker will hopefully encourage the preservation of other historic buildings that are significant to the history of the United Kingdom and that have the potential to provide new jobs and revive a local community. The diversity of the speakers presenting at Financing the Historic Environment further elevated this event by exposing me and the rest of the attendees to the benefits (and challenges) of obtaining both public and private funding and by providing insights into different heritage projects. Events such as Financing the Historic Environment share BRICK’s goals of supporting community groups that are trying to create a better future for their local area by saving their heritage sites. I believe that these kinds of events can be meaningful for communities and lead to new projects. I sincerely hope that more collaborations among heritage organizations happen in the future to preserve, what I see to be, one of the biggest parts of the UK’s culture.