*Post updated July 2021*
This blog was written at the start of the Covid pandemic, with the aim of giving heritage sites ideas for how to support their local communities. I believe that history and heritage organisations are an integral part of their town or region, and the advice is still relevant today.
As a small business myself, I know how hard the next couple of months are going to be. Many of my friends and clients are also running smaller companies, and lockdowns could have serious ramifications for us, and we won’t know for some time what that will look like.
At the same time, we all need to support one another, and continue to buy and sell wherever possible. And whenever sanctions are lifted or eased, we need to be able to help businesses recover. Heritage sites are often managed or helped by local governments, and it will be the local residents who visit the most.
Here are five ideas for how heritage sites can support local businesses, both during lockdown and once we have the all-clear from coronavirus.
1. Link up with a Café
If you don’t have an on-site café, see if there’s one nearby you can connect with. Promote it as somewhere your visitors to go for refreshments after wandering your galleries, and have a supply of vouchers or loyalty cards for the café you can give out. You could also offer reciprocal discounts if you charge entry to your site.
If you do offer your own food and drink, perhaps ask a local baker or caterer if they’d like to supply you with cakes or pastries. Even a small, regular order could make all the difference, and if they know there’s a contract waiting for them, they can plan accordingly.
Now is a good time to start finding people you can work with and seeing how you can work together. Promote your joint offer on your website and social media, and ask the café to do the same. Raising awareness now will let your visitors know what you’re doing.
2. Heritage Sites Should Support Local Artists
Invite local artists, crafters and photographers to exhibit in your gallery or shop free of charge. Start promoting this now on social media, to give visitors an idea of what’s available when lockdown is over. They may go and visit the artists’ websites now and make a purchase.
Ask the artists if they’d like to do a talk about how they do what they do, or run a workshop so people can try a new skill with expert guidance. If they’re social media savvy, they can probably do taster videos or send short audio snippets so you can start generating interest now.
The Tyne and Wear Archives and Museums network supports heritage sites in the north east of England. They manage four galleries under the TWAM umbrella, and they hold special exhibitions for local artists.
3. Business Networking
Offer networking with a difference and invite local business owners to come and mingle (post-lockdown) at your venue. Give them a free meeting room and supply tea and coffee, or let them use one of the galleries. Breakfast butties are also popular, so if you’ve made connections with a local café already, they should be able to help!
Ask one of your curators or managers to do a tour of the site and give a talk to the attendees too. Many networking events include a short presentation section, so this will go down well. And as always, start promoting it now online.
4. (Virtual) Treasure Trail
Get a list of local businesses near to your site, and see what historical facts you can find out about them. For instance, is there a shoe shop that’s been there for generations and is still run by the same family? Is the estate agent in the office of a local dignitary? Is the street where the florist is formerly known as being full of butcher shops?
Link up with them to create a virtual treasure trail around your town, which visitors can do in real life once lockdown is over. You can provide them with some interesting facts, and they may have paperwork or photos you’ve never seen. Encourage them to come up with some kind of offer for your visitors, and work with you and each other to promote what they do.
5. Offer Visitor Incentives at Your Heritage Site
Local residents will make up a big proportion of your visitors. They’re also often business owners, and they’ll be struggling in the current situation. Once they’re able to go out and about with their families, a heritage site may be somewhere they want to visit.
If you charge entry to your site or for special exhibitions, you might want to offer discounts or waive entry fees for local business owners and their families. Offer a discount in your café. Maybe you can have a loyalty scheme, or do a special ticket rate for people to visit more than once.
Bonus Tip: Small Business Saturday
Small Business Saturday in an annual, national celebration of SMEs, and events are often supported by chambers of commerce and other business organisations. They also promote businesses throughout the year. The date is usually the first Saturday in December, but it’s worth checking their website.
There is a bus that tours the country, stopping in towns and cities to help locals to learn more about the businesses in their area and to run activities. In the 100 days leading up to each Small Business Saturday, they highlight one business per day. This could be a great way for you to get involved, promote your heritage site and support local businesses.