SURF’s Heritage & Creativity Alliance (SH&CA) is a forum for eight key relevant national agencies to join forces in a shared effort to enhance participative regeneration in communities across Scotland.

As the work of SH&CA continues to evolve, especially in response to the current crisis, SURF will be able to share more detail of the collaborative processes already set in motion by the first three SH&CA gatherings.

The following brief report, which formed part of the first gathering review, presents some of the background and expected benefits of SH&CA.

(June, 2020)

SURF’s Heritage and Creativity Alliance (SH&CA) celebrates its first two years with a survey that shows partners are benefiting from the closer collaboration it has encouraged.

SURF‘s experience is that heritage and creativity are essential tools in successful community regeneration.  While recognising that many effective national heritage and creative organisations already support regeneration efforts in Scotland, SURF is confident that greater collaboration could enhance the shared benefits for organisations and communities.

With that objective in mind, SURF has provided an opportunity for relevant national agencies to strengthen existing relationships and create new ones within a SURF Heritage & Creativity Alliance (SH&CA).  SURF’s intention is to assist increased cooperation towards more successful, inclusive and sustainable community regeneration.

This brief report outlines the background, current state of play and aspirations for SH&HA, following an inaugural meeting at SURF’s Govan office in April 2019.


SURF has long recognised the crucial role that can be played by heritage and creativity in regenerating communities struggling with historic and contemporary inequalities.

SURF’s work, through its place based Alliance for Action initiative and its annual award and workshop programme, has supported countless examples of heritage and creativity engagement producing positive benefits for communities.  Enhanced mutual understanding and practical cooperation across relevant agencies could be a catalyst for even more successful, inclusive and sustainable community regeneration. It could also increase added value from available resources. SURF initiated conversations with those national agencies, readily finding common ground and a positive response to the proposal to form a SURF Heritage & Creativity Alliance.


In order to better understand current relationships and the extent of collaboration between Scotland’s national heritage and creative agencies SURF asked them to participate in a simple baseline survey.  There was a positive response and the members of which now include Architectural Heritage Fund, Architecture & Design Scotland, Built Environment Forum Scotland, Creative Scotland, Historic Environment Scotland, Museum Galleries Scotland, National Lottery Heritage Fund Scotland and Regional Screen Scotland.

The main findings confirmed that all the organisations thought there would be benefits to greater collaboration and that those benefits would be to both the national organisations themselves and to the communities in which they work.

Although all the organisations said they had adequate or strong relationships with at least one or two others, all of them additionally had relationships with other organisations which were weak or non-existent. When asked about the possible benefits of enhanced collaboration between them, all of the organisations believed that would result in a better targeting of resources. Two thirds of them thought it would additionally lead to cooperation on shared priorities and more than half of them thought it would result in sharing investment, avoid duplication and increase learning on good practice and process.

When asked what would enable organisations to achieve enhanced cooperation, organisations agreed that a better understanding of each other’s goals, priorities and target recipients would help facilitate collaboration. There was general agreement that opportunities for open discussions and more chances to ‘meet round a table’ would increase collaboration.

Food for Thought

The inaugural meeting of SH&CA was held at SURF’s office in Govan in April in the form of a SURF Food for Thought event.

A dozen guests joined SURF for an informal, discreet Chatham House Rule lunch which began with a presentation from Martin Avila, Development Director of the Kinning Park Complex (KPC) and a key colleague in SURF’s Alliance for Action work in Govan.

Martin’s experience of running the successful Kinning Park Complex has given him an exceptional overview of the challenges facing communities in their engagement with those national policy influencers and funders which make decisions about where and how resources are distributed.

His recommendations reflected many of SURF’s own findings and formed the basis for much of the conversation that followed.  These were:

  • Successful arts and heritage funded project originate within communities and are embedded in them
  • Funding and other resources should be targeted and coordinated
  • Collaboration among funders increases benefits and outcomes
  • Sustainability is key to success
  • Reduced availability of local authority support increases the need for introducing partnership models and looking at match funding
  • Form relationships/hubs with partners with the same desired outcomes – even if the usual pathways are different
  • A single-minded focus on asset transfer to communities is not necessarily best way forward – should also be looking at blended agreements and long-term lease models
  • Upskilling, empowering and building capacity in communities is key

The subsequent Food for Thought discussion endorsed much of what Martin had said and the following additional points were raised:

  • There would be benefit from:
  • Sharing models of practice (successful and failed/flagging)
  • Identifying shared themes
  • Identifying interests in common
  • Better understanding of gap between policy and practice
  • Acceptance that there is risk
  • Collaborative responses to community needs
  • A national mapping of existing funding and funding opportunities could be of value.
  • While there is some cooperation, silos still exist.
  • Successful models in one community can’t simply be transposed to another but more could be made of good practice and shared learning.
  • The usefulness of those informal relationships between national bodies which already exist demonstrates the potential benefits of greater collaboration.
  • Collaboration would reduce the complexity of ‘too many confusing funding options’ for communities
  • There was enthusiasm for SURF using its Alliance for Action site collaborations to bring forward agreed, coherent and relevant place based investment and support opportunities for cross agency consideration.

Overall, there was support for SURF’s offer to facilitate greater collaboration and agreement that this would be productive above and beyond producing benefits to the participating partners.

What next?

SURF anticipates that benefits of this collaborative effort will include:

  • Enhanced shared understanding across a relevant set of resourceful national agencies
  • Productive shared learning on the practicalities of cooperative cross sector engagement in place based community regeneration.
  • A strengthened and authenticated narrative for SURF to use in objectively advocating the quintessential role of heritage and creativity in realising widely shared aspirations for more authentic, inclusive and sustainable community regeneration.
  • SURF supported opportunities for increased cooperation in coordinated, place focused investments, offering more efficient, effective and added value outcomes for the agencies and for local people and organisations

The event concluded with a consensus that a reality based proposal would be useful as a focal point for the next meeting. The meeting welcomed SURF’s suggestion that the policy, place and cross sector activity connections of SURF’s Alliance for Action programme could be the means of intelligently and productively linking national policy and resources with local knowledge, assets, challenges and priorities. SURF could provide an opportunity for national agencies to pool their expertise and resources to respond to practical needs identified by the communities.

On that basis SURF has agreed to liaise with the Alliance for Action communities and convene a further meeting once relevant priorities have been established.

(May 2019)