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Making Funding Applications

The success (or otherwise) of an application for something like a grant to repair or renovate a historic building can depend as much on how the application is presented as on the intrinsic merits of the project itself. These guidance notes set out some basic guidelines for optimising the likelihood of succeeding in a grant application to a funding body.

It is unusual, and in many cases impossible, for funding bodies to offer grants for work that is already underway, let alone for work that has finished. It is essential to ascertain each source’s requirements, timetable and conditions before planning the project in any detail.

At the earliest appropriate moment, therefore, contact should be made with organisations from which a project might be able to benefit to obtain up-to-date guidance. Take the trouble to ensure that the project meets the funding source’s stated criteria and that the information needed (both at the time of application and subsequently) will be provided.

Always tailor an application to the particular funding source’s requirements. Make it as clear and concise as possible, and check that all the supporting material required is provided. Do not send generalised “round-robin” appeals. The majority of charitable trusts have limited administrative support and tend not to consider such appeals.

Charitable trusts often have limited financial resources, and some prefer to offer a large number of small grants rather than a small number of large grants. Do not expect too much from anyone charitable trust source.

On a more general note, prospective applicants might find it helpful to think in terms of three broad categories of funding sources: (1) those specifically dedicated to the repair and restoration of historic buildings; (2) those which have a broad range of grant-making interests, one of which relates to work on historic buildings; and (3) those whose primary purpose has nothing whatever to do with historic buildings, but for which such projects may nevertheless qualify on other grounds.

Although the first type is often oversubscribed, applicants can usually be confident of receiving serious consideration providing they fulfil the requisite terms and conditions of the charitable trust or other donors concerned. Even so, the funding sources will often see themselves as funding public benefit (especially public access or education) rather than historic buildings per se.

The second category of funding sources can pose more of a problem. The fund may be of a substantial size, and state that it provides grants to support the repair or restoration of historic buildings subject to certain conditions. Nevertheless, prospective applicants should be aware that this objective may only account for a relatively small proportion of total disbursements in any given year, and that the situation may change (for better or worse) from time to time when the funding priorities are re-assessed by the trustees. So an apparently generous fund may, in fact, offer only limited opportunities for historic building projects. Where this is known to be the case, a cautionary note will be included in the Editors Comment section of the main listing for the source on this website.

It is ironic that the third category can prove to be financially the most rewarding source of funding for historic building projects, even though the programmes are not principally concerned with such matters. However, the applicant must be able to demonstrate first and foremost that their project will achieve the principal objectives of the funding source. The application must be presented in terms of achieving these objectives; do not lay too much stress on historic building benefits if they are incidental to these objectives. Good examples of this type are projects based on urban regeneration, or the provision of workspace or community facilities. The fact that the regeneration, or provision of space, happens to involve the repair of a historic building is entirely incidental to the primary objective of the funding programme.

Projects will doubly benefit if they can obtain support for improvements to access, both from grants specifically offered for this purpose as well as from being able to meet public access conditions imposed by other funding bodies.

In all but the most straightforward essential maintenance or repair projects, some form of the feasibility study will probably be required at an early stage. Applications will certainly benefit from this forward-thinking, and most funding bodies will insist on it. More complex projects may also require a conservation plan, a business plan and a management plan for the project after completion, to satisfy the funder that the improvements they have contributed towards will be maintained. Some funding bodies offer financial assistance to cover the preparation of these essential plans, as well as grant-aiding the work itself and are included in the detailed listing of funding sources provided by this website.

Many projects have a significant impact on the wider community, in terms of the location of the building in question and the use to which it will be put once the project has been completed. Potential funders are more likely to support projects which can demonstrate such a beneficial impact and which have enlisted public support by raising awareness and seeking the endorsement of groups and individuals with a voice in the local community. This will assist fundraising in general, and lend considerable weight to many applications (especially those to the Heritage Lottery Fund, for which broader community benefit/support is an important criteria).

Don’t assume that filling in application forms to a number of funding bodies is the only way of raising money for a project. Most of them receive applications for funding far in excess of their available resources. The situation is being exacerbated by the current weakness in the equity markets, which is dramatically reducing the value of the funds and the dividend income of smaller private trusts, in particular, forcing them to limit their activities in order to conserve their resources. The response of some grant-making trusts is to reduce the number of recipients, so as to continue to be able to give sums of sufficient size to really make a worthwhile contribution to a project. Others continue to try to spread their resources as widely as possible, so as to give some assistance, however modest, to as many applicants as possible.

At the other end of the scale, the largest grantmakers, including the Heritage Lottery Fund, insist on sizeable levels of matching or partnership funding. In other words, grants from these sources will be contingent on the applicant raising a sometimes significant proportion of the total project cost from other sources. The end result for all but a fortunate minority of applicants is that a substantial element of self-help is likely to be critical to the ultimate success of a project to repair or restore a historic building. This may take the form of an appeal within a church congregation, or local fund-raising activities, or an approach to a commercial sponsor.

Many more funding sources are prepared to assist in building repair projects undertaken by registered charities or other not-for-profit organisations than will help private individuals. Private owners of historic properties seeking financial support to carry out repairs therefore frequently find themselves in a particularly difficult situation.

One radical solution to this problem is to give the property to a charity. The downside is obviously the loss of ownership and probably also control. The upside is the freedom from liability or obligation and the knowledge that the building will be in the hands of a body which is better able to look after it for the public benefit. Charities may also be able to provide a use for the building which will cover its long-term maintenance.

Unless the present private owner is prepared to establish an endowment fund to pay for repairs, the willingness or ability of a charity to take on the ownership and management of a historic building will depend on its condition at the time and the immediate and longer-term anticipated maintenance costs involved. The Architectural Heritage Fund can suggest existing charities which may be able to take on a historic building or help to set up a new charity for this specific purpose.

We have independently compiled the following list to provide further information on funding, so please explore the websites before making contact.

Header Image Credit: Oliver Brodrick-Ward