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New investment in heritage science to boost infrastructure

The AHRC Capability for Collections (CapCo) fund is making a £15 million investment in modernising the 'back of house' facilities of museums, galleries, libraries and archives across the UK.

CapCo responds to the strategic vision for future investment in arts and humanities infrastructure set out in UKRI’s ‘Opportunities to grow our capability’ report. This estimated the national GVA of the heritage economy at £29 billion and identified that “investment in conservation and heritage science facilities; and physical spaces bringing practitioners, curators and scientists together would be critical to the heritage sector’s continued success.”

The fund is therefore part of UKRI’s wider investment programme of £213 million to expand and upgrade existing research infrastructure. The funded projects, spread across the UK, will provide UK researchers with advanced equipment, facilities and technology, and with the aim of maintaining the UK’s position as a leader in research and innovation.

“Galleries, libraries, archives and museums are the bedrock of our culture and heritage economy, anchoring us to our past and pointing to innovation to safeguard our future. As these institutions are increasingly vulnerable, it is essential that we invest in the research facilities that drive their success,” UKRI details. 

"This is an unprecedented investment in collections organisations and has the potential to transform the heritage sector’s ability to generate research and create marketable products such as the immersive digital experiences. Historically, these back-of-house spaces have severely lacked secure funding but with this investment, we can ensure the future of some of the UK’s most valuable cultural and historical assets," UKRI asserts.

Institutions supported by the Capability for Collections fund include:

  • The V&A has received funding to open and transform their collections at the new cultural quarter in London in East Bank (refurbishment of the V&A's Science Laboratory).
  • The Tate has been awarded funding to renew their Conservation Science Facilities.
  • The University of Leicester which has received funding to upgrade its Archaeological Material Labs and to enhance the digital capability of its library collections.
  • The grant to Historic England will allow ageing microscopes and cameras to be replaced with state-of-the-art equipment to improve research facilities. This will transform the organisation's imaging capabilities, making it possible to show the public how Historic England do research.
  • The funding awarded to The National Archives will be used for an urgent upgrade of core equipment for the digitisation programme, and for the Heritage Science and Conservation Research Laboratory in the Collection Care studio.
  • Durham University has received funding to transform research access to the Oriental Museum.
  • National Museum Wales will be able to purchase new X-Ray kit and funds will be put towards enhancement of equipment-based research and conservation capability for National Museum Wales.
  • The University of Cambrige has received a grant to invest further in its Cambridge Heritage Science Hub (CHERISH) initiative.
  • English Heritage has been awarded funding to upgrade its Heritage Science and Conservation Treatment Facility. The award will enhance the fabric of the conservation science buildings and workshops, and allow English Heritage to upgrade vital imaging and detection equipment.

We are particulary delighted that this new funding from AHRC will support the broad range of conservation and heritage science activity that underpins the care of the UK's oustanding collections. Sara Crofts, Icon's Chief Executive, who chaired the grants assessment panel advising the AHRC on the allocation of the CapCo funds commented; "This investment in new laboratory spaces and state of the art equipment will genuinely transform the work of the conservation teams, unlocking new potential for learning and innovation."

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