English Heritage has just launched The Once & Future Fund designed to build an endowment to support specifically the sites looked after by the organisation that don’t have admission charges, shops, cafes or custodians. This group of free to access sites form the vast majority of the national portfolios of English Heritage (as well as Historic Scotland and Cadw), and therefore tend to be less in the public eye for recognition and visitation. The sites which vary in size from the very small (such as Dunster Butter Cross), through to the very large (like Maiden Castle) are theoretically no less important, though they do, unsurprisingly, fall much further down the pecking order when it comes to investment and maintenance.
The campaign by English Heritage is supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund, through its Heritage Endowments programme, with a HLF commitment to match fund donations up to £1 million. It will dedicate much needed funds and attention on this twilight group of sites which has never received the investment it should have, has never been made the most of within the broader national portfolio, and remains hugely under-interpreted for the visitor. Whilst the dedicated attention and matching commitment by the HLF is to be applauded, it does raise further broader questions about the original £88.5 million ‘endowment’ given to English Heritage / Historic England by Government as part of the English Heritage New Model organisational structure change, particularly around the state of play of reducing the long term conservation backlog for the unstaffed sites with complex needs, and the long-term viability of this part of the national collection which will have to increasingly rely on such fund-raising schemes.