A changing landscape? How the heritage sector adapted in 2020

10 June 2021 | By Erin Hughes

In case it somehow slipped your attention, this has been an unusual year. For many heritage sites, the lifeblood of their work – the visitors – suddenly disappeared. Organisations across the country were forced online, grappling for new ideas to ensure their survival during an indeterminate period with closed doors. The heritage sector is therefore left questioning whether things have changed forever and, if so, have they changed for the better?

Here, we take a look at a few heritage organisations that have used the challenging year of lockdown as an opportunity to re-invent themselves, or re-think their offering. What can we learn about changing business to ensure longevity as the world starts to re-open?


Black Country Living Museum

If you haven’t yet the pleasure of listening to “1920s grandad” giving you life advice in a thick black country accent, I highly recommend you remedy that by clicking here.

The Black Country Living Museum took TikTok by storm last year and with over 350,000 followers worldwide, it might be the most popular small museum in the world on the platform. The video of “1920s grandad” has been viewed over 2.2 million times, and the museum was named one of TikTok’s 100 top UK accounts in 2020.

There is no proven formula for a viral hit on social media, but what Black Country Living Museum did particularly well was to recognise the trend towards TikTok as the ‘perfect vehicle’ to engage with younger people. Better still, the content was authentic and cemented a real sense of place in the heart of the black country.


The Louvre

Back in December 2020, The Louvre Museum in Paris, home to some of the world’s most famous works of art, hosted an online charity auction to raise money for its education and social outreach programmes. Among a host of paintings donated for the auction, The Louvre offered some unique experiences including the opportunity to visit the Louvre by night (available for a mere €10,000-€15,000). Perhaps the highlight, though, was an opportunity to attend the Mona Lisa’s annual inspection, a remarkable and one-off opportunity to see the painting without a glass cover.

The charity sale was a first for the Louvre, aimed at funding projects which are seeking to attract more local visitors, especially those from more disadvantaged sectors of the population.

While we don’t all have a world-famous Da Vinci painting at our fingertips to inspire fundraising, this initiative from The Louvre Museum still has a lot to teach heritage organisations about fundraising in unusual circumstances. Perhaps most importantly, it is a good lesson in really carefully consider what assets you have available, which might include expertise as well as physical assets, and then thinking creatively about how you can utilise those assets to engage supporters. 


CAER Heritage

Adapting its existing plans for 2020, the CAER Heritage Hidden Hillfort Project evolved for Covid19 by devising the Bid Dig and Cupboard Archaeology schemes. 

The Big Dig project saw members of the local community doing their own archaeological digs in their back gardens, and Cupboard Archaeology participants excavated their own homes to find buried objects with interesting stories.

Through the projects, CAER Heritage focussed on its community, which faced increased unemployment and isolation. This led to the organisation not only sustaining engagement through lockdown, but actually growing it.

Critically, feedback showed that the project led to 100% of respondents feeling more engaged with local heritage – definitely a lockdown heritage win!

This example really shows how creatively thinking about projects and activities can not only help to expand your organisation’s reach, but also to share your own excitement and passion for the whole heritage sector!


These organisations are just a few examples of the innovative and dynamic ways that heritage organisations redeveloped their fundraising and business strategies against a very challenging backdrop last year. Across the sector, organisations have been taking the opportunity to engage new audiences virtually. The new challenge will be keeping hold of these audiences as the sector opens back up to physical visitors. The sector will need to show its grit but, with some creativity and support, it has every hope of riding out the storm.


You can redevelop or reinvigorate your business model by joining our Heritage Compass Programme. Applications are open until 30th June 2021 - find out more here. 

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