Published: 06:00, 09 October 2020
| Updated: 13:27, 09 October 2020
Major tourist attractions in Kent are among hundreds to benefit from a £1.57 billion cash boost from the government to support them through the coronavirus pandemic.
Romney , Hythe and Dymchurch Railway, the Kent and East Sussex Railway in Tenterden , the Shell Grotto in Margate and Tunbridge Wells' Spa Valley Railway are among those to receive a financial injection from the Culture Recovery Fund for Heritage as part of a lifeline package for organisations hit by the crisis.
Romney, Hythe and Dymchurch Railway has been awarded up to £470,000 which will be used to keep the railway running, help start vital reconstruction work and prepare for a positive season in 2021.
The attraction has closed for the first time in 93 years during lockdown and to general manager Danny Martin said the boost can help it reach its centenary.
"We are both relieved and very grateful for the chance this gives us and the confidence it shows in our ability to work hard and deliver the best possible railway in 2021 and beyond," he said.
The money will let them maintain the engines, rolling stock and buildings through the winter and will keep the skilled team of workers and volunteers together.
The Grade I listed Shell Grotton is hailed as "one of Margate's great little gems".
Discovered by the Newlove family in 1835, almost all the walls and roof are covered in mosaics created entirely of seashells, totalling about 2,000 square feet of mosaic, or 4.6 million shells.
Craig Mackinlay, MP for South Thanet, welcomed the £48,200 boost.
He said: “The Shell Grotto and shop is a magical, mysterious and beautiful place – one of Margate’s great little gems on the tourist trail in Thanet.
“This £48,200 of funding will greatly help with the Grotto’s conservation efforts and I would encourage all who have not yet seen it to go.”
In Tunbridge Wells the Spa Valley Railway will benefit to the tune of £153,900 which will help make the attraction Covid-secure and pay for marketing, accounting and IT equipment to support remote working.
Boss Jonnie Pay said: “There were times throughout the closure where we did wonder how we would recover from this and what would the future hold for our heritage railway.
"We are absolutely delighted that we have been awarded £153,900 which will really help the Spa Valley Railway continue through October and well into 2021."
Rebuilt by a team of volunteers following closure in 1985 by British Rail, the Spa Valley Railway is now Tunbridge Well’s largest tourist attraction carrying more than 40,000 visitors a year.
The Kent and East Sussex Railway - which runs from Tenterden to Bodiam, Sussex -has also heard it will be receiving £301,500 from the grant scheme.
Bosses have said the money will ensure employee numbers can be maintained, Covid-safe measures can be upheld and enhance its IT systems and online booking ability.
Kent and East Sussex Railway chairman Simon Marsh said: “The award of this grant is a testament to the determination of the Kent and East Sussex Railway to weather the pandemic, and a vote of confidence in the measures we have already taken and still plan to take.
"We will use it wisely to secure our immediate future and ensure that our people will be able to operate heritage steam trains for the enjoyment and education of our visitors in the years to come.
"There is still much hard work to be done to reset the business and make it fit for the new world, and we shall always require support for the capital projects that are necessary to further improve what we can offer, but this is a tremendous boost to us and means that we can now look forward to the future with renewed confidence."
This is the first £103m tranche of funding from the Department for Culture, Media and Sports for heritage, covering grants of up to £1m.
Almost 445 heritage organisations across the country have been awarded cash in the first round.
Culture secretary Oliver Dowden said: “As a nation it is essential we preserve our heritage and celebrate and learn from our past. This massive support package will protect our shared heritage for future generations, save jobs and help us prepare for a cultural bounceback.”
Historic England’s chief executive Duncan Wilson said: “These grants range from giving skilled craft workers the chance to keep their trades alive to helping heritage organisations pay the bills, and to kick-starting repair works at our best-loved historic sites. The funding is an essential lifeline for our heritage and the people who work tirelessly to conserve it for us all, so that we can hand it on to future generations.”