YAT secures £1.9m Arts Council England Cultural Recovery Fund grant

The charity behind the JORVIK Group of Attractions is breathing a sigh of relief having secured a £1.9 million grant from the Cultural Recovery Fund to help weather the continuing Covid-19 storm.

The Cultural Recovery Fund is administered by Arts Council England awarding funds from the National Lottery, and provides financial support for cultural organisations that were financially stable before Covid-19, but have been severely impacted by the pandemic.

One of York Archaeological Trust’s primary sources of income is from visitors to its five visitor attractions – JORVIK Viking Centre, DIG, Barley Hall and the two attractions within the city walls, Henry VII Experience at Micklegate Bar and Richard III Experience at Monk Bar – which has been hugely disrupted over the last year, not only in terms of tourist numbers, but also the massive fall in educational visits which usually fill the term-time troughs in the tourism calendar.

“The last 12 months have been incredibly challenging, but we are phenomenally proud to be coming out of the other side. We have managed to retain the majority of our highly-skilled and knowledgeable staff without requiring redundancies, whilst using every technique at our disposal – from acquiring government loans and using the furlough scheme to winning Innovation UK grant funding – to continue whichever parts of our work we were able to do under the restrictions” explains Director of Attractions, Sarah Maltby.

“We’ve continued to support teaching in schools and homes around the country by developing and delivering live ‘Meet the Viking’ sessions, hosted an incredibly successful online festival – ‘That JORVIK Viking Thing’ engaging with 3.6million people worldwide, and taken time to explore new innovative ways of delivering content and access to the archaeological collections we care for that will continue even when the ‘normality’ resumes. We also reopened at each opportunity as lockdown was lifted through the year, adapting our experience to enable 100,000 visitors to visit safely whilst enjoying the renowned Viking welcome. This is an impressive feat when you consider the constantly changing position with lockdowns, tiers, closures and social distancing.”

In fact, even since the Trust put in the application for funding to Arts Council England, many things have changed. “We had expected to be able to re-open attractions in time for the key Easter period, but now that has been delayed until mid-May. With our reserves exhausted, navigating this next three months would have been very challenging. This grant enables us to concentrate on re-opening safely for all those people who want to come to York and carry us through until visitor numbers return to pre-pandemic levels in the summer months. We are extremely grateful to the Arts Council England for their support at this critical time and all of the assistance from our other friends and supporters over the past 12 months,” adds David Jennings, York Archaeological Trust’s Chief Executive Officer.

Whilst JORVIK Viking Centre, Barley Hall and DIG will re-open for prebooked visits from 17 May, the two city walls attractions will not re-open in their previous guise. “The last year has prompted us to relook at how these sites operate, particularly as they lack facilities including running water. During the closures, Monk Bar has been redesigned to house sets for our digital educational programmes – and indeed, we hosted our Schools Week livestreams from here in February,” explains Sarah. Meanwhile, Micklegate Bar will house temporary exhibitions and displays to feature as part of a series of new archaeology themed walks and tours planned over the summer.

Tickets are now on sale for the three attractions for visits from 17 May, with all visitors strongly encouraged to prebook so that visitor flows can be managed and queuing minimised. “This perhaps marks the end of a 37-year tradition – the JORVIK queue encircling St Mary’s Square during school holidays – but hopefully gives visitors more time to enjoy the city and its other attractions during a visit to York,” concludes Sarah.

“Our record-breaking Culture Recovery Fund has already helped thousands of culture and heritage organisations across the country survive the biggest crisis they’ve ever faced,” said Culture Secretary, Oliver Dowden. “Now we’re staying by their side as they prepare to welcome the public back through their doors – helping our cultural gems plan for reopening and thrive in the better times ahead.”

“Investing in a thriving cultural sector at the heart of communities is a vital part of helping the whole country to recover from the pandemic. These grants will help to re-open theatres, concert halls, and museums and will give artists and companies the opportunity to begin making new work,” added Sir Nicholas Serota, Chair, Arts Council England. “We are grateful to the Government for this support and for recognising the paramount importance of culture to our sense of belonging and identity as individuals and as a society.”

The funding awarded today is from a £400 million pot which was held back last year to ensure the Culture Recovery Fund could continue to help organisations in need as the public health picture changed. The funding has been awarded by Arts Council England, as well as Historic England and National Lottery Heritage Fund and the British Film Institute.