Emergency funding secures immediate post-lockdown future for beloved heritage site and visitor attraction.

When it was forced to close by COVID-19, on 17 March, there was huge uncertainty whether Creswell Crags, near Worksop, would be able to reopen again. Run by an independent registered charity, Creswell Heritage Trust, the closure meant a loss of all income. Now, in the most significant of a series of emergency financial support measures, the National Lottery Heritage Fund has given the site a lifeline, in the shape of a £250,000 grant. It is one of only three sites in the UK to receive the maximum pay out from the fund.

The grant goes a long way towards ensuring the site’s immediate survival. This adds to a lockdown rent holiday from landowners, the Welbeck Estate, and much appreciated smaller grants including from Historic England and Bolsover District Council. There has also been a successful public fundraising campaign which continues with a live online auction hosted by Derbyshire-based celebrity auctioneer, Charles Hanson, on 3rd July. Together, the support has put Creswell Heritage Trust in a much more confident financial position, as they look to open to visitors, in a phased reopening, beginning on 1st August.

The picturesque limestone gorge and caves, home to the only Ice Age cave art in the UK, archaeological evidence of early humans, mammoths, hyenas and other prehistoric animals, and the largest collection of early modern ‘Witch Marks’ in Britain, is of international significance but also well-loved by locals as a place to spend time in nature, with a café, museum, cave tours, gift shop, and events programme. This news will be welcomed by the local community, and students of anthropology, folklore, and archaeology worldwide. The site is protected as a Scheduled Ancient Monument and SSSI, and is on the tentative list for UK nomination as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Ice Age rock art in Church Hole Cave. Credit: Paul Bahn

Creswell Crags. Credit: Andy Platt

Creswell Crags’ team is now focused on how to best use the funding to open safely and cost effectively. The Trust warns that this support alone is not enough to guarantee a longer-term future: the main income streams used to be school visits and public cave tours, neither of which will be able to resume at their previous levels until at least early 2021. Although the car park, museum, café and shop will reopen, and some events will be planned, capacity will be reduced due to social distancing measures, limiting the ability to generate income. Visitor numbers will be unpredictable. As the Trust starts to take its employees out of furlough in July, to begin to prepare the site, there will be a need to balance costs against likely income. The very generous support from the National Lottery Heritage Fund is incredibly welcome and will enable Creswell Heritage Trust to restructure and redefine the visitor offer for the post COVID-19 world. However, the site will need to generate enough income to be self-sustaining when it reopens, and further support might be needed as new challenges arise.

Witch Marks in Robin Hood Cave. Credit: Creswell Heritage Trust

Celebrity Auctioneer, Charles Hanson, who is hosting a fundraising auction for Creswell Crags on 3rd July. Credit: Hanson’s

Paul Baker, Executive Director of Creswell Heritage Trust said, “We are obviously delighted, relieved, and very grateful to the National Lottery Heritage Fund, for this emergency funding, which we will be putting to use immediately to help us work towards a safe reopening in August. Through lockdown, we’ve only had a core team of four staff working, and we’ll now be able to look at bringing key colleagues out of furlough to help us get ready to welcome back visitors. This is not an end to our challenges, as we will reopen towards the end of summer and will have missed many of our most profitable months. We face the prospect of having to change our programme to work within social distancing measures, the loss of regular income from school visits, and reduced capacity in our café, shop, and museum. We will be working hard to plan a more sustainable future for this internationally important heritage site, asking for continuing public support and understanding, and looking out for further funding opportunities. We can, however, breathe a small sigh of relief after a very difficult time of uncertainty, thanks to everyone who takes part in the National Lottery.”

Ros Kerslake, Chief Executive of The National Lottery Heritage Fund, said: “Heritage has an essential role to play in making communities better places to live, supporting economic regeneration and benefiting our personal wellbeing. All of these things are going to be even more important as we emerge from this current crisis. Thanks to money raised by National Lottery players we are pleased to be able to lend our support to organisations such as Creswell Heritage Trust during this uncertain time.”

Creswell Crags Visitor Centre. Credit: Creswell Heritage Trust

Creswell Crags has a JustGiving page for donations towards reopening costs.

The live fundraising auction with Charles Hanson will take place online on Friday 3rd July

For further information, contact Communications and Programmes Manager Rebecca Morris-Buck: rebecca.morris-buck@creswell-crags.org.uk

[Featured image courtesy of Stephen Elliot]

About The National Lottery Heritage Fund

Using money raised by the National Lottery, we inspire, lead and resource the UK’s heritage to create positive change for people and communities, now and in the future. www.heritagefund.org.uk #NationalLotteryHeritageFund. The Heritage Emergency Fund remains open for applications for grants ranging from £3,000 to £250,000 until 31 July 2020. Extra advice and support and longer-term skills and capacity building initiatives has also been made available for the heritage sector. Read more about The National Lottery Heritage Fund’s response to the Covid-19 emergency