70 historic house businesses may fail in the next five years, according to UK Historic Houses Association (HHA). Rather a startling statistic from a great talk by Ben Cowell, HHA Director General (and former National Trust Director of the East of England) here in London on Thursday.
The HHA represents a group of over 1,600 privately and charitably owned historic houses, castles and gardens, about 60% of which are open to the public with 24 million people visiting every year. First established in 1973 to help owners conserve these wonderful places, the HHA today provides a network for sharing knowledge, lobbying and marketing on behalf of its member properties. There are around 20 similar organisations in other countries and a European Association of Historic Houses based in Brussels.
So on Thursday (January 19th) evening Ben, who many of you will remember from the 2015 Cambridge ICNT, was talking about “Sustaining the Country House” at the UCL Institute for Sustainable Heritage. Following a fascinating introduction to the history of saving the British county house (including several that succumbed to the bulldozers, often to the delight of local people!), Ben then highlighted some HHA success stories.
Like the entrepreneurial Claire and James Birch at Doddington Hall in Lincolnshire who, noticing how popular cycling is in their flat county, opened a state-of-the-art bike shop! Also Knights Glamping at Leeds Castle, wild Brazilian graffiti at Kelburn Castle, and the exciting new solution for Wentworth Woodhouse, the largest privately owned house in Europe, combining visitor access, retail, catering, events, and new business units.
HHA members are working hard to make their family homes sustainable and future-proof. But it’s not a walk in the park. The 1970s were pretty good for historic houses in the UK with favourable tax incentives and grants. However, the 1990s saw a stripping away of these measures which has left the country house vulnerable. Hence, the HHA’s call for the government to revitalise heritage maintenance funds. To help owners with huge repair backlogs – and forestall those 70 closures. (Will there be anything for this important sector in the ‘Industrial Strategy’ announcement tomorrow?!)
1. Firstly, historic house owners and managers need to be entrepreneurial, creative and willing to take risks
2. However, governments need to create benign conditions to help historic buildings survive – to be able to keep the roof on, the collection in tact and the public visiting
3. Historic house visiting is good for the economy … but
4. … must be part of a mix of uses and range of activities in order to be sustainable
5. What do you do with a castle like Kinloch which has no visitors, no business model and £20m needed to repair it?
Finally, you can either download the HHA’s full Study or take a quick peak at the infographic below.
Thanks for reading!