Special report: As Norfolk’s hidden gems throw open their doors, how should we continue to look affter Norfolk’s rich heritage?

PUBLISHED: 09:18 06 September 2012



The rich history of Norfolk is both a blessing and a burden. A blessing in that our churches, stately homes and buildings attract thousands of visitors a year; a burden in that the lengthy bill for maintaining our cultural gems needs to be paid.

Those responsible for the upkeep of our historic buildings have seen grants fall, with government funding for English Heritage cut by 32pc.

In the face of these cuts, voluntary groups have come to the fore, while heritage groups which rely on public money, are sharpening their business skills.

The chief executive of Norwich’s Heritage, Economic and Regeneration Trust (Heart), Michael Loveday, said the charity was now looking to get more money from its own business activities, rather than relying on public sector grants.

Heart took over the Colman’s Mustard Shop and Museum in Norwich’s Royal Arcade in 2009, and have turned it from loss-making to breaking even.

Some of the places to see as part of Norfolk’s Heritage Open Days

Bishop’s Garden, Norwich

The private, four-acre garden has belonged to the Bishops of Norwich for more than 900 years and is normally closed to the public.

Norwich Playhouse

The 300-seat theatre is one of East Anglia’s most modern acting venues. Visitors can get a 30 minute behind-the-scenes tour

Bishop Bonner’s Cottage Museum, Dereham

There will be heritage walks around Dereham, including a tour of the museum.

Pleasure craft Houseboat Heather in Hoveton

A visit to a traditional yet quirky houseboat, built in the Netherlands as an industrial barge and converted to a pleasure craft.

Tours of Francis Cupiss Limited, Diss

A former school room taken over by veterinary medicine manufacturer and printers in 1874.

Caistor Roman Town

Free guided tours of the Roman town, which last one hour.

St Peter’s Church, North Barningham

A 15th century church on a hilltop south of Sheringham. It features the Palgrave monuments.

RAF Air Defence Radar Museum, Horning

Museum tells the story of the air defence of the UK since the 1930s.

St Peter Mancroft, Norwich

Visitors can watch a ringing demonstration and chime a bell for themselves.

Norwich Sea Cadets

The training ship Lord Nelson is one of only four floating corps headquarters remaining in the UK. Meet cadets and staff and see scrapbooks and memorabilia.


Through heritage consultancy work, selling books online, and the shop, Mr Loveday hopes to increase Heart’s turnover, which is around £1m a year, and pump it into preserving the city’s buildings and organising cultural events.

“We need to be more commercially savvy,” he said. “Money doesn’t drop into our laps. We have had a mind shift in the last year. We have realised we can not depend on public sector philanthropy.”

But public sector grants remain the key source of income for maintaining Norfolk’s heritage.

Mr Loveday said the secret to securing grants was to show the economic benefits of the project.

“We are successful because every time we have done a project, we have done a fairly sophisticated economic appraisal of its benefits,” he said. “You have to show the hard-nosed economic impact of things.”

The heritage group was given £500,000 from the now defunct East of England Development Agency (Eeda) to establish the Norwich Lanes.

But sensing Eeda was on its way out, Heart turned to the European Union and was awarded ¤4.5m to fund the Norwich 12 project – a collection of 12 architectural gems.

But one saviour Norfolk’s historical buildings can depend on is the hard work of volunteers.

The Norwich Historic Churches Trust launched an appeal yesterday to raise funds for four of the city’s churches, while two volunteer restoration projects are up for an award from English Heritage – St Mary’s Church in Fishley, and St Mary in West Somerton.

At St Mary’s Fishley, outside Acle, churchwardens Ivan Barnard and Chloe Ecclestone began bringing the church back to life in 2006 and raised £110,000. Mr Barnard’s first task was to mend the church gate and his enthusiasm sparked a huge fundraising campaign.

“It kick-started a wider interest in the church,” he said. “People started following our example.”

But by 2008 the wardens were exhausted and Mr Barnard asked English Heritage for help. They were given around £11,000, which they matched through their fundraising in the community.

After that success they were offered another £71,000 and raised thousands of pounds themselves, to save the 13th century church, through further grants from the Norfolk Churches Trust and the Sainsbury Family Charitable Trust.

A project costing £180,000 also saved St Mary in West Somerton, while St Peter and St Paul Church, at Runham was restored this year, after fundraising £117,000 over 20 years.

Bobbie Walsh, who led the fundraising at Runham said fetes, flower festivals and charity dinners, had supplemented grants from English Heritage and the Norfolk Churches Trust.

The public’s passion for their heritage also came to the fore in the campaign to save the Britons Arms in Elm Hill, Norwich.

The Norwich Preservation Trust took over the lease of the building for 21 years, after a campaign, backed by the EDP, to save it from being auctioned by Norwich City Council. Now, with grants from English Heritage, it is being restored.

Malcolm Crowther, from the trust, said much of their funding came from leasing out buildings which they had helped to restore.

He said: “We do have our own income stream which is quite important to us, because we can top up our fund and put our own resources in. English Heritage is very restricted these days. The government cuts have really hit them.”

When waiting for grants, they can also borrow money from the Architectural Heritage Fund at an interest rate of five per cent.

Sue Skipper, tenant of the Britons Arms, said: “A private owner would never have been able to raise the funds. We had a huge amount of support for our campaign.”

Through a similar mix of local fundraising and grants; volunteers hope to save St Nicholas Chapel in King’s Lynn. If they can raise £210,000 by the end of the year, the Heritage Lottery Fund will give them a £1.5m grant.

Paul Richards, from the Friends of St Nicholas Chapel, said: “We have worked very hard and we are always trying to think of new fundraising ideas. We are not far away from our target now.”

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