Diversifying heritage buildings

22 August 2018

Diversification is a great way for heritage organisations to stay relevant, generate additional income and appeal to new audiences.

Aerial view of the grounds of Blenheim Palace

Blenheim is a large landed estate and World Heritage Site in the heart of Oxfordshire. It is a diverse business, generating its income to preserve and conserve the Palace and Estate for future generations to enjoy through a range of commercial activities that include a visitor business, property development, hospitality and farming. Its vision is to be the lifeblood of the local economy, ensuring its communities flourish and thrive alongside it.

Why diversify?

Growing maintenance costs, funding and reputational risks are all concerns for the heritage sector1. Finding ways to increase revenue, remain relevant to the market, broaden appeal to a wider audience or increase footfall can ultimately help to support a positive reputation and assist in meeting maintenance costs.

Diversification doesn’t have to be complex and it seems more organisations are taking the opportunity to tap into new income streams. In a recent survey, we found 37% of heritage organisations and building owners have diversified and over three quarters have found it successful1.

Opportunities to diversify?

There are many options for diversification, small or large, temporary or long-term, depending on your appetite for new visitors and the funds you have to back the project. If you are considering exploring new avenues for the first time, perhaps one of the following examples will inspire you

Cater for school visits

There are over 1.6million school visits to historic properties each year2. These visits help to generate interest in heritage properties among a younger audience and inspire future generations of people with heritage skills. There is support from organisations such as the Heritage Lottery Fund through its programmes which encourages projects that see a collaboration between young people and heritage.

One-off tourism/heritage festivals

Heritage is one of the UK’s 12 unique selling points and visits generate billions for the economy3. Heritage Counts found that 86% of visitors said they visited a local site to support their local heritage2. One-off events are a fantastic way to introduce your premises to a broader audience and research shows if they visit once, it’s likely they will return.

In 2017, the Heritage Open Days initiative attracted 3million visitors, of which over 60% were visiting for first time and 80% felt encouraged to visit more properties in the future2.

Rent space

To a local project or business on a long terms basis and help to provide employment, build community support and generate income. 1.4million jobs are with businesses occupying a heritage building and many are in the creative and charitable sectors2.

The desire to provide rental space might also create the opportunity and funds to regenerate an otherwise unused space.

Innovative diversification
  • Extend the opening hours or offer unusual hours of access
  • Experience days and vouchers
  • Community and education hub
  • Be a film location
  • Regenerate buildings no longer in use
  • Employ digital technology
  • Organise charity events
  • Become a destination for proposals.

Risk management

With change comes the opportunity to maximise the attraction but you must be careful to do so without damaging the organisation. Considerations should include the potential risks to your staff, visitors / users, hirers, contractors and suppliers. Here are some things to look out for:

  • Electrical safety
  • Building in safety
  • Risk assessments
  • Event safety plans
  • Cyber security
  • Building works.

The ideal is to plan any changes so that ‘normal’ operations can continue un-interrupted. Change is exciting and can produce positive results but how you manage that change can make all the difference.

More information on each topic can be found in our risk management articles.

1 Based on 155 respondents in the FWD Ecclesiastical annual Heritage tracking survey 2017.

2 Heritage Counts 2017 report, Historic England

3 "GREAT campaign, Heritage Counts 2017”