Building Preservation Trusts

Funding and Support

Jeremy Fenn

  Repointing and brickwork repairs are carried out from mobile working platforms at the 19th-century Corbridge bottle kilns site in Northumberland
  Repointing and brickwork repairs are carried out from mobile working platforms at the early 19th-century Corbridge bottle kilns site in Northumberland. Commissioned by Tyne and Wear Building Preservation Trust, the project aims to remove these scheduled monuments from the Heritage At Risk Register.)

A building preservation trust (BPT) can be defined as a not-for-profit organisation whose main aims include the preservation and regeneration of historic buildings. The majority are rooted in their local communities and while some cover particular areas, others specialise in particular types of building.

With the support of over 100,000 members in the UK, BPTs are uniquely placed to improve historic environments, breathing new life into derelict buildings, tackling ambitious projects that no one else will touch and, where necessary, taking on the role of community regeneration agencies. In this way, BPTs have saved over 1,000 buildings, raised over £1 billion of funding and delivered important social, economic and environmental benefits to communities across the UK.

BPTs are able to address market failure and operate where the private sector cannot, often in partnership with public sector agencies and private sector organisations. The dual constitution of BPTs as registered charities and companies limited by guarantee allows for any surpluses that are created from charitable investment to be rolled over to support future projects, the ‘revolving fund’ model.

Most BPTs are small local organisations, but they are supported by a national umbrella body, the Heritage Trust Network (HTN), which provides specialist expertise and enables peer-to-peer support to help members develop and change to meet best practice. Evolving out of the UK Association of Preservation Trusts (see below) in 2016 with expanded governance and staffing, HTN has extended its membership to individuals and corporates. It has also increased its influence to lobby government and to comment on policy with strategic partners across the UK through the Heritage Alliance.

As public sector bodies are reduced or redefined and public assets are increasingly transferred to the community, the need for effective BPTs grows ever greater. Funding will always be challenging, and projects need patience, but BPTs now have access to best practice guidance and support to ensure they remain essential as the last line of defence for heritage at risk.

In the 1960s insensitive development was harming the character and distinctiveness of historic European cities still recovering from the ravages of war. Modern interventions, however well intentioned, caused the loss of much medieval townscape and architectural detail. The result was often bland, uniform development, built quickly and cheaply to meet the needs of a rising population with reduced resources.

The growing conservation movement responded with a decade of measures that laid the foundations of the movement today, starting with the establishment of conservation areas in 1967.

A 1969 survey by the Civic Trust identified 21 trusts then in existence. In 1971 it studied the successes and weaknesses of existing trusts and revolving funds to analyse what worked well and to establish whether this concept could be expanded. It put together a simple handbook of advice for those willing to start trusts, including a model form of constitution and articles of association.

  Heckington Windmill in Sleaford, Lincolnshire  
  The restoration of Heckington Windmill in Sleaford, Lincolnshire was completed in July 2017, thanks to funders including National Lottery players, through the Heritage Lottery Fund. The rare, eight-sail windmill is owned by Lincolnshire County Council but it is operated and run on a voluntary basis by Heckington Windmill Trust.  

In May 1972 the Council of Europe’s Committee of Ministers established the first European Architectural Heritage Year to:

  • awaken European people's interest in their common architecturall heritage
  • protect and enhance buildings and areas of architectural interest
  • conserve the character of old towns and villages
  • assure a living role for ancient buildings.

The UK’s programme of activity that year resulted in the establishment of the Architectural Heritage Fund (AHF) in 1976, with a fund of £1 million to provide loan capital to local preservation trusts. Support from the AHF, Europe, central, regional and local government led to an increase in the number of building preservation trusts across the UK, with many county trusts supported by local authorities.

Trusts typically operated a revolving fund model: a BPT would take ownership of a building at risk, often through a back-to-back agreement with a local authority after enforcement action. The BPT would secure funding and restore the property, aiming to sell it after completion for a sustainable use. The proceeds would be used to pay off the AHF loan, with any surplus rolled forward to its next project.

Great successes were achieved using this model across the UK. Public campaigns succeeded in preventing the demolition of neglected industrial sites at New Lanark, Iron Bridge and Cromford, all since designated as world heritage sites. Long-derelict buildings became homes or vital community facilities. Derbyshire Historic Building Trust won the prestigious Europa Nostra Award for architectural conservation for the Wirksworth Project in 1983.

However, conservation projects are never easy. Members typically need a great deal of patience and determination, together with vision and public spirit. This is essential for persuading planners and funders how the restoration of what most people see as a derelict eyesore can create a beautiful and much-loved community asset. Members could be regarded by detractors as awkward, romantic or nostalgic, but the reality is that they are true environmentalists and conservationists, fighting the loss of centuries of skilled work, high quality materials and embodied energy. They are economic pragmatists with the foresight to see how conservation is the key to the long-term prosperity of a neighbourhood.


An overlooked recommendation of the 1971 Civic Trust report was for the establishment of a supporting organisation to provide for an exchange of information between BPTs. Displaying the patience and determination typical of the sector, this idea was revived at the AHF second annual conference in 1988, leading to the formation of the UK Association of Preservation Trusts in 1989.

The association (UKAPT) was an independent charity formed ‘to encourage and assist BPTs, to expand their capacity to preserve the built heritage’. For the next 27 years it was highly regarded, helping to support and guide over 200 members to success, often with funding from AHF. It supported trusts at all stages of a project – from establishing a BPT, to campaigning and fundraising, to the day-to-day running of completed projects.

From 1994, the arrival of the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) provided a new funding impetus. Thanks to National Lottery players, between 1994 and 2014 BPTs secured funding for 364 projects over 19 grants programmes, totalling over £202 million. Other funders also entered the market and there has since been a steady growth of charitable trusts set up as vehicles to preserve heritage assets.

These changes, and particularly the introduction of ‘clawback’ contract clauses for repayment on sale, have reduced the importance of the revolving fund BPT. In their place have grown single project preservation trusts, often having a variety of forms of legal constitution including community interest companies, charitable incorporated organisations and companies limited by guarantee. Furthermore, other types of heritage have been drawn into the preservation trust model, including parks and gardens, industrial heritage and even ships.

By autumn 2017, there were known to be over 500 trusts in operation. The BPT movement, in its broadest sense, is now the primary vehicle for ensuring the sustainable viability of historic buildings and structures for public benefit. BPTs receive international recognition for their successes, with both Middleport Pottery (Prince’s Regeneration Trust) and Cromford Mills (Arkwright Society) recently winning the Europa Nostra conservation award.

As budget cuts become ever tighter, local authorities and other public bodies are increasingly looking to BPTs to take on surplus public assets through capital asset transfer. Many of the major buildings saved for the public benefit are now brought back into viable use by preservation trusts: Hartlebury Castle, Llanelli House and Wentworth Woodhouse are all recent examples of the model in action. To these grand buildings can be added hundreds of ‘lesser’ buildings which are vitally important to local communities and to our national heritage.

However, the UK Association of Preservation Trusts itself saw a substantial cut in its core funding which forced it to rethink its strategy. It concluded that in order to evolve into a more effective and resilient organisation it needed to make important changes including reviewing its governance, broadening its membership, encouraging the private sector and individuals from outside the BPT movement to get involved, and connecting with members throughout the UK through a regional network.

Fortunately, the association was successful in securing transition funding from the HLF and in October 2016 the Heritage Trust Network was launched.


The Heritage Trust Network has absorbed the membership of the UK Association of Preservation Trusts, but with a new name and governance model to reflect the fact that it is a separate and independent new charity. It has also absorbed the association’s 27 years of project and conservation experience and its practical guidance on everything from lime mortar to VAT. The HTN has checked and updated this guidance, expanding it with case studies and member requests. Network members now have access to an online heritage toolkit, over 200 accessible videos and guidance notes, including legal advice and model constitutions.

The network is based at the Newman Brothers Coffin Works site in Birmingham, also home to the Birmingham Conservation Trust (BCT). It shares an office with the BCT and Civic Voice, connecting it to the needs of both members and the wider heritage movement, and enabling wider partnership working. In England, the network’s membership of the Heritage Alliance ensures members’ issues and concerns are heard at a strategic level to influence local, regional and central government policy.


  Trainees and volunteers at Grade II* listed St Margaret’s Church in Norfolk.
  Trainees and volunteers at Grade II* listed St Margaret’s Church, also known as Hopton Ruined Church, Norfolk. The medieval church burned down in 1865 and the ruins, previously on the Buildings at Risk Register, have been stabilised in a project involving a range of partners including the Heritage Lottery Fund, the PilgrimTrust and Great Yarmouth Preservation Trust.

With the introduction of the Heritage Lottery Fund in the mid-1990s, the funding landscape changed significantly. As well as the increase in funding and introduction of clawback clauses (making the revolving fund BPT model unnecessary and less viable), eligibility criteria were refined by the new body, placing greater emphasis on the need for community benefit and public engagement with heritage. This too favoured those BPTs which retain buildings and make access available to the public.

The flexibility of modern heritage trusts and their embedded social and community focus, means a wide variety of funding sources are now available: grants from central or local government, trusts, foundations, the National Lottery or local philanthropy. Grants often need to be blended with loans, community shares and crowdfunding.

Traditional long-standing funding sources remain, but funding by local authorities and the statutory national heritage bodies (Cadw, Historic England, Historic Environment Scotland and Northern Ireland’s Historic Environment Division) has been reduced, and grants are limited. The AHF, however, has been able to expand and increase its influence and capability. With experienced funding advisors in every UK region, AHF should be the first port of call for any community group with aspirations of building restoration.

The largest heritage grant giver remains the HLF. Its Heritage Grants programme is well established and very flexible. Heritage Enterprise is a newer programme that could be custom-built for BPTs and many have been successful in accessing its annual funding of approximately £25 million. The focus is again on finding sustainable new uses for buildings at risk, to drive long-term economic growth for the local community.

The Heritage Enterprise programme is based on evidence that commercial businesses based in listed historic buildings generate a heritage premium of, on average, 4.4 per cent more wealth than non-listed buildings across the whole economy. The programme is intended to engender partnerships between heritage bodies and the private sector and unlock long-standing but highly challenging conservation priorities. The first completed project for the programme was by a BPT, the Northern Counties Club in Derry by the Inner City Building Preservation Trust. It is now the boutique Bishop’s Gate Hotel.

To assist projects at an earlier stage, HLF has introduced the Resilient Heritage grants programme. Many trusts have already benefitted from it, either through using it to develop new, more professional legal and governance structures or to revise their business models for new challenges. It is often partnered with viability grants from the AHF, particularly for viability appraisals for Heritage Enterprise projects.

Crowdfunding and community shares are newer forms of funding made more accessible by social media. Crowdfunding raises funds by attracting small donations from a large group of people via specialist websites. Crowdfunding can prove highly effective for time-limited campaigns for popular causes such as historic buildings or features. In July 2017, Historic England raised £22,000 to restore and return The Sunbathers to public display at London’s South Bank. This unique sculpture by Peter Laszlo Peri from the 1951 Festival of Britain was presumed lost until it was rediscovered at a London hotel. Crowdfunding is used by an increasing range of trusts and is even being considered by local authorities as their central funding is cut.

Community share projects, as the name suggests, are financed by the sale of shares in the ultimate business to community investors. The investment represents an ownership stake, rather than a donation, so there are risks attached. It is also not possible for all groups because companies limited by guarantee are unable to issue shares. However, community heritage projects can attract investment unavailable from banks or traditional lenders. Further, community share projects can raise pound-for-pound match funding from Power to Change, a charitable trust set up to support community businesses to create better places across England.

The Hastings Pier Charity accessed both crowdfunding and community shares in a project which transformed one of the UK’s oldest piers. As part of an overall £14 million HLF project, it undertook the first ever share issue for a charity in 2014, and raised over £590,000 from over 3,000 people, who are now the pier’s owners. A subsequent crowdfunding appeal raised £258,200 from 1,697 investors in just 70 days. The restored pier reopened in 2016 and won RIBA’s 2017 Stirling Prize as Britain’s Best New Building.

To conclude, any current or prospective group interested in restoring its local heritage has a range of options and advice available. HLF, AHF and the statutory national heritage bodies all have area networks and development officers and work closely together. However, all three tend to refer community groups to the Heritage Trust Network for specialist heritage expertise and grass-roots experience where a building preservation trust model would help.

Building Conservation Directory2018


JEREMY FENN is a director of the Heritage Trust Network (


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