By KIRSTIE NEWTON 11th October 2020

South Devon Railway at Buckfastleigh and the Lost Gardens of Heligan in Cornwall are among the South West heritage organisations to receive a share of the first major payout from the government’s £1.57 billion Culture Recovery Fund, announced on Friday.

Almost 450 heritage organisations across England have been awarded grants of up to £1 million, from an initial release of £103 million, in a bid to deliver a life-saving financial boost to help the heritage sector through the coronavirus pandemic. The money will be used to help restart vital repair and maintenance work on cherished heritage sites, to keep venues open and to save jobs and livelihoods.

The South Devon Railway (SDR) in Buckfastleigh was forced to close in March. It will receive a grant of £332,000, which will secure the immediate future of the seven-mile former GWR branch line, enabling it to bring people back to work and prepare for the planned Christmas 2020 running of Polar Express trains, as well as the planned reopening of the railway in full in 2021.

Funds must be spent by March 31, 2021 – the start of the new season – and the SDR has put together an action plan including a review of long-term objectives and strategy following this year’s loss of revenue, and the changed operating environment due to the pandemic as well as staff retraining, volunteer recruitment and boosting longer-term fund-raising.

SDR Trust chairman Jon Morton said: “We are all bowled over to have received this fantastic grant support. It will certainly provide the vital financial lifeline needed for the railway’s continued survival, and we are confident that it will help get the much-loved steam trains of the South Devon Railway running normally again soon.”

Across the South West, West Somerset Railway has been awarded £865,000 to help secure the railway’s longer term viability as a popular tourist attraction, educational offering and preserver of heritage locomotives.

Glastonbury Abbey will receive £339,500, Hestercombe Gardens near Taunton £258,400 and Wells Cathedral £200,000.

In Cornwall, recipients include Heligan Gardens (£606,400), Jubilee Pool in Penzance (£49,000), Lynher River Barge CIC in south-east Cornwall (£62,400); the Arthurian Centre in Slaughterbridge (£20,000), Cornwall Aviation Heritage Centre at Davidstow (£53,000), the Heartlands Trust in Pool (£500,000), Truro Cathedral (£146,900) and Helston Railway (£76,000).

Devon attractions and trusts include Kents Cavern, Torbay (£219,800), Lynton and Barnstaple Railway CIC (£79,300), St Andrew’s Church, C u l l o m p t o n (£52,000), the Lundy Company (£500,000), Exeter Historic Buildings Trust (£42,700), Fortescue Gardens Trust, Buckland Monachorum (£97,900) and Hele Cornmill in North Devon (£28,800).

This funding is from the £88 million Culture Recovery Fund for Heritage and the £50 million Heritage Stimulus Fund – managed by Historic England and the National Lottery Heritage Fund. Both are part of the government’s £1.57 billion Culture Recovery Fund, which is designed to secure the future of Britain’s museums, galleries, theatres, independent cinemas, heritage sites and music venues with emergency grants and loans. Further support is expected to follow, with larger grants for capital projects awarded through the Heritage Stimulus Fund.

Ros Kerslake, chief executive of the National Lottery Heritage Fund, said: “Heritage creates jobs and economic prosperity, is a major driver for tourism and makes our towns, cities, and rural areas better places to live. All of this is so important for our wellbeing and will be particularly vital when we start to emerge from this incredibly difficult time. Our heritage is still facing a perilous future – we are not out of the woods yet. But this hugely welcome funding from government, and the money we continue to invest from the National Lottery, has undoubtedly stopped heritage and the organisations that care for it being permanently lost.”