Rent Holiday Boosts Creswell Crags’ Chances of Survival

In mid-March, forced to close to the public due to COVID-19, Creswell Crags announced that it is under threat of permanent closure. In a very welcome development, the Welbeck Estate have stepped in to offer support.

Creswell Crags was one of the first independent heritage organisations to declare itself in danger due to COVID-19. Run by Creswell Heritage Trust, an independent registered charity, the site near Worksop on the Nottinghamshire/Derbyshire border, has existed for at least 60,000 years. The limestone gorge, honeycombed with caves, was home to early humans and Neanderthals, woolly mammoths and hyenas. With its stunning views, museum of archaeological artefacts, cave tours and welcoming café, it’s a key part of the East Midlands tourism economy.

Image of Creswell Crags by Andy Platt/Creswell Heritage Trust

Since the announcement due to COVID-19, the Trust has furloughed most of its staff and launched a public fundraiser, currently at 30% of the £50,000 target on JustGiving. The four staff who are still at work have been researching and applying for emergency grants and working on fundraising initiatives such as an upcoming auction. There has been huge public support on social media. The announcement of a rent holiday by the landowner, the Welbeck Estate, is one of the most positive developments so far.

Ian Goodwin, CEO of Welbeck Estate said, “We are happy to support Creswell Crags through this challenging financial time, and so while the lockdown is in place we won’t be asking Creswell Heritage Trust for monthly rent payments.” Echoing many of those who have donated to the campaign, he added, “Creswell Crags is a hugely important heritage site and must be protected for future generations. We hope that our gesture will help support this important charity for the benefit of the local community.”

The limestone gorge, caves, footpaths, meadow, car park and Visitor Centre are part of the land owned by the Welbeck Estate which is one of the great traditional landed estates, with a portfolio including The Harley Gallery, The Portland Collection, The School of Artisan Food, and a farmshop, bakehouse, brewery and more.. Creswell Heritage Trust holds the lease to maintain the site, which is a Scheduled Ancient Monument and Site of Special Scientific Interest, conserve the heritage and run the museum and visitor attraction. This decision has been very gratefully received by Creswell Heritage Trust.

Creswell Crags with swans/Creswell Heritage Trust

Executive Director of Creswell Heritage Trust, Paul Baker, said, “This has been a humbling situation, we’ve had so much support from so many of our visitors and friends in the heritage, arts and academic communities. Now our landlords, the Welbeck Estate are looking at ways they can help make these donations go further during this challenging period. I am very appreciative that they have responded positively to our call for help. The Welbeck Estate is the home of a rich variety of leisure, arts and cultural organisations and we are proud to count them as our friends and neighbours. I’m sure together we can find new ways to confront the challenges ahead.”

 Until recently, the Trust received funding from the local authorities, but this ended early in 2020. Despite the team working hard to make the attraction self-sufficient, the COVID-19 pandemic has stopped all income from visitors, schools and special events. The potential loss of the charity which cares for Creswell Crags would not just be a tragedy for the dedicated staff and volunteers but could endanger access to the site’s heritage, which includes the only verified Ice Age cave art in the UK. Creswell Crags has more evidence of Neanderthal inhabitation than nearly anywhere else in the UK and is the site where the oldest coloured drawing in Britain was found inscribed onto a bone. A more recent discovery, its Robin Hood cave has more early modern ‘Witch Marks’ than anywhere else in the UK; this generated international publicity and fascination in 2019.

Witch Marks in Robin Hood Cave/Creswell Heritage Trust

Around 12,000 school children take part in the Creswell Crags education programme every year. It is visited as a valued outdoor space and window into the ancient past by countless visitors, both locals and tourists, with at least 60,000 visitors a year.

During lockdown, the gorge and lakeside paths remain open for local people to walk or jog for daily exercise but this is via a public bridleway and does not generate income. The small staff team has also added free downloadable educational resources on their website, to support learning at home, and continue to engage audiences through social media. However, the major focus is securing the financial future of the site and the rent holiday offered by the Welbeck Estate presents a more optimistic outlook for the coming months.

Children on a cave tour/Creswell Heritage Trust

Dr Tim Caulton, Chair of Creswell Heritage Trust, said: “We are immensely grateful for the lifeline that Welbeck Estate has thrown to us. It means that Creswell Heritage Trust is no longer in danger of imminent insolvency and we are now able to apply for emergency funding available in support of heritage organisations at risk. The situation will still be financially difficult for the Trust as we are locked down at the peak of our trading season, but we are taking the time to restructure our organisation and the way we operate. The Harley Gallery / Portland Collection and Creswell Crags both provide leading visitor attractions that are closely connected both geographically and culturally, with many famous works of art by George Stubbs and others painted in the stunning limestone gorge at Creswell Crags. We hope this generous gesture by the Welbeck Estate will enable both organisations to forge a new partnership in the future.”

Even with the rent holiday and donations to their fundraiser, the future reopening of Creswell Crags as a visitor attraction is not secure. The staff team continue to explore all options available to them.

Creswell Crags has a JustGiving page: https://www.justgiving.com/campaign/supportcreswellcrags

Or text CRESWELLCRAGS to 70085 to donate £10 direct from a mobile phone.

Follow Creswell Crags on social media:

Facebook: Creswell Crags Museum and Prehistoric Gorge

Twitter and Instagram: @CreswellCrags

For further information, please contact Communications and Programmes Manager Rebecca Morris-Buck