Demystifying the National Lottery Heritage Fund

13 March 2024

The National Lottery Heritage Fund (NLHF) has awarded a remarkable £8.8 billion to 51,000 heritage projects including to churches of all shapes and sizes in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland since 1994.

Not to be confused with the National Heritage Memorial Fund, the NLHF is funded by National Lottery ticket sales and its decision-making process is entirely independent of the government.

The NLHF changes and updates its funding programmes from time to time. You will often see a mixture of ‘live’ programmes which range from supporting smaller grassroots projects to major, long term capital projects. Currently, there are five ‘live’ programmes, but just two are relevant for churches:

Both of these main Heritage Grant programmes fund all types of heritage projects in the UK. Faith-based or church organisations can apply but will need to address NLHF’s investment principles.  These include a focus on people and communities, so to have a chance of success, your project should aim to strengthen links with your local communities, and welcome or support more people. This could be by creating volunteering opportunities, education and learning programmes, engaging with schools, inter-generational projects, or by improving access.

The other three current live projects award grants solely for the restoration and creation of Welsh woodlands and nature. Keep an eye out for these programmes changing though. It is worth signing up to the NLHF newsletter via their website; this will alert you to fresh funding programmes as they are announced.

Whether you are applying for a main Heritage Grant at the lower range of £10,000 to £250,000, or at the higher range of £250,000 to £10 million, you must first submit an expression of interest (EOI) of a maximum of 1,000 words. It is a rolling process so you can submit an EOI any time. Submitting an EOI is a great way to get feedback on your project idea directly from an NLHF officer. At the lower range, you will get a response to your EOI within 10 working days - at the higher range, within 20 working days.

If your EOI is successful you will be able to submit a full, development phase (first phase) application. As a basic rule of thumb, allow for at least 3 to 6 months to build and write your development phase application. Also, factor in that it will take between 8 to 12 weeks (depending on the size of your grant request) before you receive a development phase application decision.

There are two phases of application for a main Heritage Grant: the development (first phase) and the delivery phase (second phase). If you are awarded a development phase grant, you must complete the work that you outlined in your application before you can apply for a delivery phase grant.

In 2023, NLHF launched their current ten-year strategy ‘Heritage 2033’. Woven into the strategy are four ‘investment principles’ which underpin all their grant-making decisions. These are:

  • saving heritage
  • protecting the environment
  • inclusion, access and participation
  • organisational sustainability

NLHF funds a broad range of projects – they don’t define what heritage is, but your project should include work that will be in line with these investment principles.

It is a competitive process applying to NLHF. You will be up against hundreds of applicants, so the closer your project is to meeting the investment principles, the better chance of success you will have.

Checklist for submitting an EOI

  • Can you articulate the need for the project?

It may be obvious to you why you need a new roof for example, but NLHF will want to know what it could mean in terms of benefitting people in your community, how it will create opportunities for people to come together in your church, find connections, share stories and bring the building to life. The need could also be about how your new roof will create sustainability, enable you to undertake other conservation work, and host community activities.

  • Have you spoken to the people who will benefit from your project?

This is sometimes called ‘stakeholder research’; it will help NLHF get a sense of how enthusiastic or engaged local people are (or those that will benefit from your project). You could start by interviewing local people to capture positive responses to your plans; as plans develop you might plan to host stakeholder sessions, where people come together to share ideas and help you define project activity. Explaining this in your EOI will chime with the NLHF investment principle ‘inclusion, access and participation’.

  • Do you have an estimate of the total cost of your project?

The figure you put in your EOI may have changed when you come to writing a development phase application (project costs often change over time, NLHF expect that) but it is good to start out with a realistic figure based on current cost estimates. Typically these include costs for capital work, repair costs, creating learning materials, appointing professionals, and undertaking surveys or interviews.

  • Have you agreed how much you are applying for?

It is important to estimate what percentage of your total project costs you are asking NLHF to fund. While they can fund total project costs, they like to see how much of your own contributions could go towards the project and how much you estimate will come from other fundraising.

Further help

The NLHF website has more in-depth guidance on the application process.

We also encourage you to use our Fundraising hub to make the most of the grant opportunity for your church. Our resources will help you to identify some key points to consider with our checklist for your application to creating a compelling case for support.

Church fundraising PC screen