When the British Council, in co-operation with the Department for Digital, Media, Culture and Sport, was tasked with developing a fund for the protection of heritage in 12 conflict-affected countries in the Middle East and Africa, the desire was to “create something open and transparent that would not run the risk of becoming a pet project”, says Stephen Stenning, the council’s director of culture and development. The idea was to encourage economic development by building capacity to foster, safeguard and promote heritage in these regions. It was created in anticipation of the UK’s ratification of the 1954 Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict, which the government finally ratified in September. Over the past two years, the £30m Cultural Protection Fund has awarded “roughly £11m” to 22 projects ranging from safeguarding Turkey’s archaeological sites to recording the oral histories of nomadic Bedouin communities of the Occupied-Palestinian Territories.
So far, the four-year fund has received 138 “full” or complete applications seeking a total of £294m. After initial requests for grants of £2m to £3m it is beginning to receive more applications for smaller amounts. When it launched in 2016, applicants could apply for up to £3m, but that figure was reduced to £2m after the first round because of the large number of requests for the maximum amount. There was concern that “it would be difficult to cope” with too many £3m projects, Stenning says, adding that although the literature discourages it, there is nothing to prevent someone from applying for more than £2m. Read more