Resilience is the organisational goal on which all other goals rest – it is the ability to adapt to change, the capacity to endure and recover from difficulties - from loss of funding to environmental damage or negative press - and to survive. Even before the Covid-19 crisis – resilience was a key question for heritage organisations.
Our heritage sector is diverse, but each organisation is a vital part of a greater whole
In the UK, heritage ranges from World Heritage sites like Stonehenge through to a plethora of small and micro organisations, which often operate without paid staff and a very small team of volunteers. There are hundreds of small heritage organisations, whose combined impact is crucial both culturally and economically speaking.
The positive role of the preservation of heritage can help communities rebuild from crisis, as outlined in the recent First Aid to Cultural Heritage report. The economic impact is no less vital, the Economic Impact of Museums in England report found that small, independent Museums generate 45% of the sector’s economic impact. It’s clear that small organisations play a vital role.
What do small heritage organisations need to do to be resilient ?
But how do organisations, especially small and under-resourced organisations achieve resilience, especially in the light of Covid-19?
Research has found that when crisis or disaster hits, most small and medium organisations (37.5%) point to a lack of financial resource as being the key problem that affected their ability to respond. However, lack of leadership skills (for example organisational inertia, lack of capacity and lack of recovery plan) accounted for the remaining 62.5%. Resilience is contingent on the passionate individuals (both staff and voluntary) who manage heritage, and therefore training and skills-development are vital. The need for the heritage sector to develop skills is not a new concern. A 2017 UCL report examined skills gaps within the heritage sector and found that ‘serious skills gaps were found in business skills; information technology skills; leadership; and project management’.
The Heritage Fund’s strategy 2019-2024 identifies two key skills in resilience; the ability to work across sectors and with a wide range of partners; and connecting people with heritage. However, the Evaluation of HLF Skills for the Future programme found that 50% of heritage organisations lacked the skills to widen access. And likewise, skills in partnership development are not innate, managers of heritage need to learn these skills like any other, through training and experience.
If developing skills in leadership, particularly in partnership and audience development, are the building blocks of resilience in the heritage sector, then small heritage organisations need to overcome the further challenge of how to develop these skills.
There may not be finance available to cover the costs of training and the sacrifice of financial resource or productivity can seem prohibitive. A government report on charity trustees 2017 found that “there is the belief in smaller charities that all income should be spent on service delivery rather than support services and that Trustees are reluctant to invest in training. But there is a need to prioritise training above the immediate day-to-day pressures because, as pointed out by a Historic England report, the long-term implication of the leadership skills gap is that heritage organisations will fail.
If skills underpin resilience, but there is little resource to invest in them, what is the next step?
For small and medium organisations who face challenges in undertaking training in terms of time, travel and costs, but that want to build capacity that will support them through in-job learning, leadership training, fundraising and business planning skills, there is an opportunity to join the Heritage Fund supported Heritage Compass programme. This will be a free, 18-month programme of capacity-building within a supportive environment of professional support and networking led by Cause4 in partnership with Arts Marketing Association and Creative United.