About Us

12 June 2020

COVID-19 survey shows significant impact on Scotland’s heritage sector

Historic Environment Scotland (HES) joins meeting of heritage bodies to set out first steps for recovery.

Aerial image of Edinburgh skyline at dawn. Edinburgh Castle is in the foreground and Arthur's Seat is behind.

Historic Environment Scotland (HES) has today (12 June) published the findings of research into the impact of COVID-19 on Scotland’s heritage sector.

The publication of the research coincides with the first meeting of the COVID Historic Environment Resilience Forum at which Alex Paterson, Chief Executive of HES, outlined three important strands of work for HES and the sector:

  • Taking practical steps to tackle the immediate impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic
  • Adopting a collaborative approach to recovery, including sharing expertise, insights and information
  • Developing a long-term vision for the future of Scotland’s heritage sector

The work will include considering how the sector can support the national recovery and wider agendas such as wellbeing and the transition to a sustainable low-carbon economy. HES also intends to share its thinking and approach to resumption planning, which includes topics such as the safe reopening of historic sites.

The plans have been informed by the survey into the impact of Covid-19 on the country’s heritage sector, the full findings and analysis of which have been published today.

The survey, which canvassed a wide range of businesses, organisations, social enterprises and voluntary groups across the heritage sector, was conducted to understand the implications of the COVID-19 pandemic on the sector as a whole and provide the basis for a coordinated and collaborative response to the current crisis.

Key findings from the report show nearly 80% of respondents have experienced either a loss or postponement of work and revenue due to the current pandemic, while over 70% reported having to cancel planned income generating events.

Almost a quarter (22%) said they face a high risk of their business not surviving the current situation without major intervention, with sole traders or partnerships (32%) reporting the highest level of risk, citing cashflow and future orders as the main source of concern.

Results also indicate the areas of the sector most at risk are museums, and those involved in education, training and life-long learning.

Alex Paterson, Chief Executive of HES, said:

"This is a difficult time for all of us working across the heritage sector, and on behalf of HES I would like to extend my gratitude to sector colleagues for responding so openly and honestly about the challenges we face.

“Our historic environment makes a vital contribution to communities right across Scotland - from supporting jobs and local economies to developing skills and learning, as well as promoting health and wellbeing – and we must champion the key role the sector has to play in our national recovery.

“While the current crisis has significant implications for Scotland’s heritage sector, it has also presented us with an important opportunity to come together to map out our vision for the future.

“In these uncertain times we understand the expectations on HES as the lead body for the sector.

It is also more important than ever that we work together, and we want to use this survey as an important step in our path to recovery, serving as a basis for collaboration as we plan for the future challenges and opportunities facing the sector.”

Euan Leitch, Director of Built Environment Forum Scotland (BEFS), said:

The survey results highlight the extreme uncertainty facing all organisations, with the rapid changes in the situation making future planning very challenging.

"It also confirms the need for the recently established COVID-19 Historic Environment Resilience Forum, a collaborative space to inform the production of a route map of medium and longer-term actions to grow sector resilience, sustainability, and evidence the sector to be a beneficial participant in Scotland’s national recovery.”

Susan O’Connor, Director at Scottish Civic Trust, said:

The survey report highlights not only the immense challenges faced by small local groups in the light of the Covid-19 pandemic, but also the unusual opportunities for change it presents.

"We are all aware this is going to be a difficult period as we all adjust to a reduced funding landscape, lower visitor numbers and increased care in the army of volunteers who keep Scotland's heritage sector alive, but this survey report reveals an underlying agility of thinking and approach that gives hope for a cautious optimism.”

Caroline Clark, Director of the National Lottery Heritage Fund in Scotland, said:

“Good evidence-based tracking of the unfolding impacts of Covid-19 is crucial to informing our response to this crisis, whether as a funder such as ourselves, a charitable organisation or a sole trader at the front line of caring for our nation’s heritage. I’m pleased that our staff were able to collaborate with HES researchers, building on the learning from the National Lottery Heritage Fund survey which took place in March – just one small example of the collaborative working we will need to see increasing across the sector as we move forwards together.

There is no question that this survey by Historic Environment Scotland sharply illustrates the challenges ahead.

"It is clear that there are particular concerns around the medium to long term. As funders, we need to listen to these messages and respond quickly to needs as they emerge, standing ready to support the change and innovations that this crisis is forcing on the heritage sector and the wider world.”

View the survey findings

About Historic Environment Scotland (HES) 

  • We are the lead public body charged with caring for, protecting and promoting the historic environment. We will lead on delivering Scotland’s first strategy for the historic environment, Our Place in Time.
  • Historic Scotland, Scran, Canmore, The National Collection of Aerial Photography (NCAP), The Engine Shed, Stirling Castle and Edinburgh Castle are sub-brands of HES.
  • View our press pack and keep up to date by registering for media release email alerts. If you wish to unsubscribe, please contact us.

Follow Historic Environment Scotland

Twitter: @HistEnvScot | @welovehistory

Facebook: @HistoricEnvScotland | @VisitHistoricScotland

Instagram: @HistEnvScot | @historicscotland


For further information, please contact:

Claire Mullaney
Historic Environment Scotland Media Office
Direct line: 0131 668 8588
Mobile: 07881 512 379