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Managing Older School Buildings With the National Lottery Heritage Fund

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Robert Gould

Partner at Barker | Award-Winning Integrated Property Consultants

Property management is essential in the education sector. Carrying out regular maintenance and improvements to estates will keep them in good condition, providing staff with a safe place to work and students with an inspiring environment to learn. Education property management is particularly important for institutions that use older buildings. There are over 5,000 listed school buildings in England and these are often renovated to create modern-day learning environments while conserving their historic past and unique architecture. 


However, many older buildings are owned by independent schools rather than schools in the state sector. Independent schools in the UK don’t receive annual government funding for maintenance and improvements to the school estate. They typically rely on tuition fees and private donations to operate, and may not have sufficient funds required to maintain their historical buildings. Additionally, with the proposed VAT changes looming independent schools will need to seek funding alternatives. 


Fortunately, some funding streams may benefit independent schools, including the National Lottery Heritage Fund. Below we have explored how additional funding from the National Lottery can help independent schools manage older buildings, preserving their heritage while maintaining functional learning environments.


The Challenge for Independent Schools


Unlike mainstream state-funded schools, which receive regular government allocations for revenue funding and capital funding, independent schools have to generate their own income. Commonly, this is through student fees, fundraising events and donations, and is spent on the day-to-day running of the school. However, the costs associated with maintaining older, historic buildings can easily exceed what regular funding can cover. This can result in estates deteriorating over time. 


Older buildings with distinctive architecture and historical significance require specialised care to preserve their structural and aesthetic integrity. This is not only costly but also time-consuming, sometimes requiring a level of expertise that goes beyond everyday property management. Therefore, independent primary and secondary schools often face a challenge in balancing the preservation of their building’s heritage with the practical aspects of providing a modern education environment for students. 


What is the National Lottery Heritage Fund?


The National Lottery Heritage Fund can be hugely beneficial for independent schools that require additional funding to manage and upgrade their estates. The Heritage Fund is designed to support projects that sustain heritage for everyone, now and in the future. It uses money raised by National Lottery players across the UK and invests it into a broad range of projects, including restoring and preserving historic buildings. Since 1994, the Heritage Fund has awarded over £9.1 billion of funding to more than 52,000 projects in the UK.


For independent schools, this type of funding offers a potential lifeline. By providing grants, the Heritage Fund can help schools undertake necessary conservation work, ensuring their architectural heritage is preserved without compromising on the building’s functionality as a learning environment. There are several ways the Heritage Fund can support schools that don’t receive funding from their local authority. 


What Type of Projects Get Funding?


There is no exact definition of ‘heritage’ and ultimately, it can be anything from the past that’s valued and wants to be passed onto future generations. The National Lottery Heritage Fund supports a range of projects, from improving natural habitats and landscapes to restoring historic buildings and monuments. You can find out more about some of the previous projects funded by the National Lottery to get a better idea of what the funding can be used for. 


When applying for funding, there are several ways you can use the money you’re awarded. In addition to using it for the repairs and conservation of older school buildings, it can also cover professional fees. If you require the assistance of education property consultants, architects or builders to maintain your estate, the funding can be used to pay them. This can help make a variety of different projects more feasible for independent schools.


How Much Funding is Available?


The amount of funding available from the National Lottery Heritage Fund varies depending on the scale and significance of the project. There are three different funding programmes, covering grants from £10,000 to £10 million and over. Typically, most education property management projects will fall under either the National Lottery Heritage Grants £10,000 to £250,000 or National Lottery Heritage Grants £250,000 to £10 million


Generally, the grant funding can cover a substantial portion of the project costs, enabling independent schools to undertake significant renovation work that would otherwise be unaffordable. For projects under £250,000, funding decisions are made on a monthly basis and for projects between £250,000 and £10 million, decisions are made every three months. You can find out more about the application process on the Heritage Fund website. 


Using the DfE Guidance on Managing Older Buildings


When managing estates, especially those with older buildings, it’s important to know how to accurately maintain schools to ensure they remain safe, comfortable and inspiring. The Department for Education (DfE) has recently released new guidance for school building owners that is specifically tailored to older buildings. 


This guidance is an invaluable tool for independent schools, providing information about the typical construction types and materials used in older buildings. It can be used to plan appropriate maintenance and repairs across estates, and prioritise future projects to ensure buildings continue to perform long after their intended design life. The DfE’s recommendations cover a range of issues from health and safety considerations to more complex structural concerns. By following this new guidance, independent schools can avoid common problems that could lead to costly repairs and disruptions down the line. 


Working with Education Property Consultants to Maintain Older School Buildings


Education property consultants play a pivotal role in helping independent schools manage their estates. By offering expert advice on property management, these consultants can help you identify your most pressing needs and prioritise projects. Using condition surveys and feasibility studies, education property consultants can help you navigate the complexities of maintaining historical buildings within the constraints of limited budgets. By working closely with you, they can ensure your estate remains suitable for learning, complies with all relevant obligations and provides students with an inspiring place to learn. 


How Barker Can Help 


For independent schools with older buildings, the challenge of maintaining and upgrading facilities can be daunting. However, with some expert guidance and the support of grants like the National Lottery Heritage Fund and bespoke estates and energy strategies, you can ensure your estate remains in good condition for years to come. In addition to being somewhere for children to learn, you can ensure your historic buildings remain accessible, relevant and valued for the long term. 


If you would like to find out more about education funding and the grants available to support independent schools, contact our team at Barker today. We live and breathe education, and have specialist industry knowledge that can make maintaining a school estate hassle-free. We offer comprehensive property management services and combine visionary thinking with professional strategy to achieve results. 

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