Hull's Arctic Corsair was moved for the first time in 20 years as part of a five-year capital project to redevelop the city's marine heritage

Fundraising for capital projects is no plain sailing

Simon Stephens, 08.08.2019
As Hull awaits a crucial funding decision, Simon Stephens looks at the challenges of raising money for cultural infrastructure
Hull’s Arctic Corsair, the country’s last distant-water side-winder trawler, was moved last weekend for the first time in 20 years. 

The relocation of the trawler signals the start of Hull: Yorkshire’s Maritime City, a five-year project to refurbish and preserve four historic maritime sites and two historic ships, including the Arctic Corsair. The scheme aims to capitalise on Hull’s stint as the 2017 UK City of Culture, when there was substantial investment in the city’s cultural infrastructure.

More will be known about the progress of the project in the autumn, when the National Lottery Heritage Fund is expected to make a decision on a £13.6m funding bid. Until then, Hull Culture and Leisure will be on tenterhooks, as fundraising for heritage capital projects, including museums, is never plain sailing. 

It was recently revealed that the National Museum of the Royal Navy (NMRM) is struggling to raise the money needed to build a new Royal Marines Museum in Portsmouth. The project was dealt a huge blow last year when the National Lottery Heritage Fund turned down a £12.9m grant application. 

Since then, the NMRM has scaled back the project and is now looking to raise £5m, to allow it to reach its £10m target. The aim is for the museum to be open by 2022.

The Norwich Castle: Gateway to Medieval England project fared better with the Heritage Fund, having secured £9.2m last October. The scheme, which is due to be completed in 2021, will reinstate the medieval floors and rooms in the keep and also create a new visitor entrance, cafe and shop. The £13.5m project has also received support from Arts Council England, New Anglia LEP and several grant-giving trusts, including the Garfield Weston Foundation, Wolfson Foundation and Foyle Foundation. 

Steve Miller, the director of Norfolk Museums, says: “Fundraising for a major capital project never feels easy, no matter what the state of the economy. While it is certainly a competitive environment, there seem to be as many sources of funding for museums as there ever were – perhaps more than ever.”

The Museum of London is facing daunting fundraising target for its move to West Smithfield, with the estimated cost of the relocation having risen from £250m to £332m. This makes it the UK’s most expensive museum building project ever, overtaking the £266m cost of Tate Modern’s 2016 extension. 

But the project still faces the same uncertainties and challenges as smaller schemes.

Museum of London director of development Matt Pepler says: “Fundraising is not a science and is always unpredictable but, so far, we have been successful in bringing together a range of partners into the new Museum of London project: the City of London, the mayor of London, the Goldsmiths’ Company, the Linbury Trust and global law firm DLA Piper. We are also in conversation with a number of individuals who are thinking about the right moment to get involved.

Pepler says that despite the huge amount of money that needs to be raised, working on such a large scheme does have its benefits.

“The scale and impact of a capital project this size certainly works to our advantage – donors are able to think about the long-term legacy of their support.”

Another complicating factor that is hanging over those raising funds for museum capital projects is the ongoing uncertainty over Brexit.

“The impact of Brexit is impossible to predict,” says Pepler. “We certainly have not found things grinding to a halt – indeed, a case for a new museum that enhances people’s sense of identity and belonging is all the stronger in these uncertain and fractured times.”

Miller says uncertainty around Brexit is adding some unwelcome challenges to fundraising, especially for those museums that are reliant on support from larger international companies and businesses that are waiting for some clarity on the future before making major investment decisions. But overall, he is positive about future fundraising opportunities. 

“It’s definitely not all doom and gloom,” adds Miller. “For the entrepreneurial and fleet-of-foot, uncertainty and change will always bring new fundraising opportunities, as well as additional challenges.”

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