National Lottery to fund new regional Heritage Project

Tue 23 February, 2021
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A grant worth a quarter of a million pounds has been secured by the University of Bedfordshire to fund a vital thirty-month long capacity-building and skills development project for the communities of Luton, Bedford and Central Beds.

National Lottery Heritage Fund logoFunded by the National Lottery Heritage Fund and overseen by the Arts & Culture Projects team, the project will launch this spring and run for approximately two and a half years, culminating in the summer of 2023. It will expand upon previous TestBeds activity with a focus on enterprise, extending activity to support cultural and community practitioners and organisations working across Bedfordshire’s heritage sector.

Emma Gill, Arts & Culture Projects Manager, was the driving force behind the University’s successful application to the National Lottery Heritage Fund. This valuable funding, worth £250k, comes at a time when diverse community heritage is at risk of collapse due to the impact COVID-19 has had on local people and the cultural sector.

Emma GillEmma said: “I am grateful to the National Lottery Heritage Fund which has supported the realisation of this project. COVID-19 has illustrated how vulnerable non-tangible and community heritage is if not supported. This is especially the case in Bedfordshire, including in Luton, where we have rich community heritage that is nationally and internationally applicable. But without local support and investment, stories will continue to be untold and practitioners will seek opportunities elsewhere.”

The Heritage Project will be split into two parts, including a Heritage Impact Accelerator programme launching in April 2021. This element will provide support for entrepreneurs and creatives in Luton, with the aim to accelerate and push practitioners to identify what ‘heritage’ means to their community and, in turn, develop events, projects and enterprises to encourage and increase community engagement and widen public participation.

The second component of the project is a Heritage Enterprise Hub, launching in the summer. This Hub will be a resource and programme of needs-driven training sessions and events for people in Luton, Bedford, Central Beds and across wider Bedfordshire.

Emma continued: “As an infrastructural educational partner with specialisms of teaching, research and outreach in culture, heritage and community, I am passionate about the role the University of Bedfordshire can provide in delivering capacity-building programmes such as our Heritage Impact Accelerator and Heritage Enterprise Hub. Equally, local communities have knowledge and specialisms that we as an institution can learn from, and the local ecology as a whole can be enriched through transactional dialogue and partnership-working. I can’t wait to roll up my sleeves and get started!”

Arts & Culture Projects (copyright Emma Cherry)Throughout the duration of the project, the dedicated Heritage Project team will work laterally  with colleagues across the University of Bedfordshire, including staff from within the Faculty of Creative Arts, Technologies and Science (CATS) and its School of Art & Design which is based in the Alexon Building – a former fashion house nestled in the heart of an ongoing regeneration project to convert the town’s old hat factory district into a thriving hub for local creatives, known as Luton’s Cultural Quarter.

As part of the project, Amanda Egbe – Lecturer in Media Production with CATS’ School of Media & Performance and a heritage practitioner and researcher – will provide mentored support to the Heritage Project team. She said: “What’s exciting about this project is that it will allow us to explore how we can diversify and take note of our heritage in a collaborative, inclusive and non-discriminative way.

“In areas such as Luton and Bedford, so much of the culture and creativity that has played an important part in the development of their communities has been overlooked, partly through lack of preservation and archiving but also because people haven’t acknowledged these artworks, happenings and moments as important – but they are.

“Through the University’s Heritage Project we will help participants exchange skills and develop approaches in identifying and preserving Bedfordshire’s diverse heritage, to make it accessible for future generations.”

Professor Alexis Weedon, UNESCO Chair and Director of the University’s Research Institute for Media, Art & Performance, added: “This project is going to bring about multiple opportunities for the University to research the heritage around us and find out what is meaningful to locals and the wider community. This new project will enable us to get to know our cultural heritage anew in all its energising and empowering diversity.”

Anne JenkinsThe National Lottery Heritage Fund helps to resource the UK’s heritage to create positive and lasting change for people and communities. Anne Jenkins, Area Director of National Lottery Heritage Fund Midlands and East, said:

“We’re really excited about this new partnership with the University of Bedfordshire. Thanks to National Lottery players, this project will enable more opportunities that connect people with Luton and Bedfordshire’s rich and vibrant heritage. As we begin to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic, this project will contribute to bringing people back together over the coming months, inspiring pride in communities and boosting investment in the local economy.”

Further information about the University of Bedfordshire’s Heritage Project and other cultural community activity can be found on the Arts & Culture Projects webpage: www.beds.ac.uk/arts-and-culture-projects

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