The Government has announced £15 million of funding for The Architectural Heritage Fund’s (the AHF) Transforming Places through Heritage Programme. This will help charities and social enterprises to regenerate and put back into use historic buildings on high streets across England. The funding was announced in the Budget 2018 as part of the Government’s Future High Streets Fund. The total fund for restoring historic high streets is £55 million, with £40 million being allocated to an extension of Historic England’s Heritage Action Zone initiative.

For a number of years the AHF has been assisting communities, social enterprises and charities to develop and deliver imaginative solutions through its unique mix of advice, loans and grants. This funding will help inject impetus into new uses for historic buildings on high streets across England. 

The Government’s investment will help support:

•        Investment to assist the delivery of an estimated 150-200 projects across England, including exemplar, scalable schemes, such as ‘retail to residential’ pilots, workspaces and cultural venues    

•        In partnership with the National Trust, the piloting of new social enterprise ‘heritage development trusts’ to investigate taking ownership of and developing historic buildings in urban and town centres

•        A team of AHF project advisors to support schemes for the delivery of new uses of historic buildings on high streets

•        Increased investment into alternative use feasibility studies and ‘meanwhile uses’ for existing buildings

Michael Ellis, Minister for Arts, Heritage and Tourism, said:

"Historic buildings, whether that be in medieval market towns or on post-war high streets, are incredibly significant to our communities and our sense of identity.

“By investing £55 million up and down the country, we will help restore and regenerate our towns and high streets most in need of support, creating places that people want to live, work and visit."

Commenting on the new investment, the AHF’s Chairman Liz Peace, said:

“I have long made the case for new use models and approaches in town and urban centres – and the vital role historic buildings can play in the future of our high streets. Trying to return to past visions of success will not work, but with imaginative ownership, reuse and adaptation schemes – particularly for our most valued buildings - we can start to create the conditions for a new vision for our town centres. This new investment from the Chancellor will act as a catalyst for places and communities across the country.”

As an example, Havens Department Store in Southend-on-Sea epitomises the challenges facing our high streets – and the potential solutions. The business opened in 1901, moving to a new building in 1935 – the landmark Grade II Art Deco store. It was the last remaining independent department store in Southend-on-Sea until the store closed in 2017 and the business moved online. Now, with support from the AHF, a partnership has emerged with Age Concern Southend-on-Sea (ACSOS) to develop a new use for the building that will see it become a social and community hub for the town, as well as provide office space for Havens to operate its ongoing internet business.

Speaking about the potential the scheme offered to projects like ‘The Haven’ in Southend-on-Sea, Michael Nicholson, Chair of Trustees of ACSOS, commented:

“Our vision for Havens Department Store is one where it becomes a thriving hub for older people and Southend, building on its historic role as a social as well as retail space. We hope it will become a model for other similar stores and this new investment is a great opportunity to help ‘The Haven’ and other schemes like it.” 

The Government’s £15m investment will enable the delivery of more projects like ‘The Haven’ and will also help the AHF develop new partnerships and support the delivery of strategic approaches.