Progress under the radar
2019 turned out to be a frustrating year, but in the end it was one in which we made a lot of meaningful progress 'under the radar'.
To recap, in 2018 our application to the Heritage Lottery Fund for the money to buy and renovate Nicholson's house was turned down, albeit accompanied by encouraging feedback.
The HLF then closed applications for several months while they went through a restructuring process. When they re-launched, around this time last year, it was with different priorities and a different application process. We submitted a formal Expression of Interest as a precursor to a second formal application last summer, but to our dismay this was turned down. We were however reassured that the door was not closed and we could try again.
Since that disappointment we have been working to rebuild our case. We have had three priorities - 1, to broaden and strengthen support in our home ground, Cumbria; 2, to develop relationships which will enable the house to make a positive contribution to the wellbeing of the local community; and 3, to research sources of funding which could augment any grant from the Lottery.
Each of these has gone very well and we believe that this groundwork will pay off when we make a second application to the Lottery.
At the same time, having taken advice from Cumbria CVS (Council for Voluntary Service), the Norman Nicholson Society's committee made the decision to set up a Community Interest Company to progress the project and operate the house if and when we are successful. We successfully obtained funding from Copeland Council which paid for business advice and assistance drawing up the relevant documentation, and the new company is due to be formally established within the next few weeks.
In the last few months we have expanded the Society's usual programme of events by holding a two-day Norman Nicholson Festival last June, an Open Day at 14 St George's Terrace in November, and an afternoon of poetry readings inside No 14 on the anniversary of Nicholson's birth a couple of weeks ago. All went very well and demonstrated an appetite for Nicholson's work and an interest in his environment.
We intend to submit our second application to the Lottery (now renamed the National Lottery Heritage Fund) later this year, and we are grateful to the many organisations and individuals who continue to support us.
I would also like to thank the Rev Clive Shaw, who has decided to step down as a patron of the NN House project, having retired from his post as vicar of St George's, Millom. We are grateful to Clive, not just for backing the project, but for the many ways he has helped and supported the Society during his time in Millom.
The first step in our new application to the (renamed) National Lottery Heritage Fund is to submit an Expression of Interest. This is an online form which provides the NLHF with an outline of our intended project and estimates of cost and time. We have now submitted the form and we should know within 20 working days whether we have been given the go-ahead to progress to the next stage, which will be to submit a detailed Development Plan.
Today Janice Brockbank and myself had a meeting with two officers of the National Lottery Heritage Fund. It was invaluable. Nick, an investment manager for the NLHF, and Antonia, an engagement manager, spent the best part of an hour and a half discussing our 2018 application and the reasons why it fell short, and also gave us some great insights into the way our next application could develop. Allied to the information we have taken on board already, through the NLHF briefing in February and documents available online, we have a clear picture of the criteria required. We were reassured to know that our plans for the purchase and renovation of the house itself were well received. While we will review those plans to ensure they still fit with the overall vision, we will focus mainly on the mid- and long-term use of the house and ways in which we can ensure that it exerts a beneficial influence on the life of the community. This is not just about bricks and mortar and books and poetry, it is about achieving something meaningful for the whole town, and beyond through Copeland and Cumbria.
What's happening about the Society's plan to buy and renovate Norman Nicholson's old home in Millom? Behind the scenes, quite a lot. We are gearing up for the launch of the Heritage Lottery Fund's new-look grant scheme, which will be unveiled next month. The Society has been invited to attend one of four launch events to be staged by the HLF in the North West and we will be represented at the Lancaster event on February 25th. That will give us the inside track on what has changed since our previous application, and we will immediately begin working to prepare our new bid. We have also added new advisors to our team, extending the range and depth of expertise available to us. Meanwhile, the house will be open to visitors during the Norman Nicholson Festival on June 29/30 in Millom this summer, so if you've always wanted to see inside the house that inspired so much remarkable writing, this is your chance. Make a note of the dates and keep checking here and our social media for more details.
The post I didn't want to write...
I didn't want to have to write this blog post - but I always knew it was a possibility. The HLF met on September 20th and decided not to approve our application re No 14. I received the news in a phone call the following day, and then had the task of informing all the people who have worked so hard on this project, those who have backed us, and the public in general. Not an enviable task really, but I kept reminding myself that it would have been even worse not to have tried to do anything at all about Norman's old house. At least we were in there fighting, and bearing in mind that 50% of HLF applications are thrown out at the application stage, and only a third of those that reach the panel are approved, we were always up against it.
That phone call was hard to digest but it's important to take on board the positives. Those are very positive indeed - 1, the feedback indicates that the substantive elements of our application attracted no negative comments; 2, the HLF believe our project has the potential to succeed; and 3, they told us we are welcome to apply again. Equally encouraging has been the response of my fellow members of the Working Group who are unanimous in their determination to keep going and apply again next year, and indeed the response from the many members and others who have urged us to keep going.
We will take on board the HLF feedback, examine all other ways in which we can strengthen our application, and do all we can to follow in the footsteps of the many organisations who have succeeded at the second attempt.
While on holiday in Cornwall I was delighted to be able to visit Cyprus Well, the home of Charles Causley, a 20th century poet who, like Nicholson, recognised the value of localness and celebrated the ways of his home town, in Causley's case Launceston. This was not just a sight-seeing trip but a wonderful opportunity to meet Malcolm Wright of the Charles Causley Trust and find out about the excellent work the Trust is doing to celebrate Causley's life and work. Bearing in mind our own ambitions to develop Nicholson's house and encourage interest in his writing, it was great to tap into Malcolm's experience. He was extremely generous with his time and advice and I hope we will be able to show direct benefit from this in the coming months.
An important day
Today presented another of those tingling moments - when you are 100% certain you have done everything you can before passing the point of no return, but you can't help hesitating, just in case. Well, there was a certain amount of hesitation but shortly before 2pm I pressed the 'submit' button on the Heritage Lottery website, and off went our carefully-crafted application for just short of £550,000 which, if we're successful, will allow us to press on with our project. It's been a lengthy process, full of interest with the occasional bump in the road, but we have got there thanks to fantastic input by the Society's working group, the support of our wonderful patrons, and many others. We are due to receive the verdict in September.
Things are moving. Again. Last week Sue Dawson and I had a good meeting with Antonia, our Heritage Lottery officer, in Millom. We were delighted that Antonia was keen to visit Millom and see No 14 for herself. As well as giving her a tour of the house we visited St George's Church, and saw the Nicholson 'miner' memorial in Market Square. Yesterday Janice Brockbank and myself met up to review our application to the HLF which will be submitted next week. Bernard, our accountant, is going over the financial figures as I write. The task right now is to transfer our case from a much-revised Word document to the HLF's online portal - so I'm signing off the blog for now to do just that.
We continue, encouraged
We were pleased to meet two officers from Copeland planning department at No 14 on Monday. The meeting was arranged as a follow-up to the initial, informal query submitted by our architects so that the department could have an early look at the plans. It's great to be able to report that the meeting was very successful and we continue on our path duly encouraged.
With our feasibility study concluded, we are now working on our application for a Heritage Grant which, if accepted, will give us most of the funding we need to move on with the project. The first step has been to complete an online 'project enquiry' which has required us to provide the Heritage Lottery Fund with a lot of detail about our aims. That 'enquiry' form has been accepted and was followed by a positive meeting involving myself, Janice Brockbank from the Society's working group, and our new Lottery officer Antonia Canal in Lancaster. We confirmed our intention of submitting a Heritage Grant application by the end of May. If successful, this will usher us into a two-stage process in which we will work closely with the HLF to development our project in fine detail, with funding supplied by the HLF, and if that stage is deemed satisfactory the HLF would release the rest of the funding to allow us to go ahead and make an offer to by the house and carry out the work. We will be required to contribute at least 5% of the total ourselves and we will therefore be looking at additional funding sources.
Charlie Lambert, chair of the Norman Nicholson Society