Successfully managing capital projects

Successfully managing capital projects



Bill Ferris OBE DL shares learning from the AIM Biffa Award National Heritage Landmark Partnership Scheme on how to manage a capital project.

The AIM Biffa Award National Heritage Landmark Partnership Scheme provided £1.5million to rescue, restore or bring into use, nationally significant industrial heritage.

Capital projects that involve heritage sites and buildings, frequently face unexpected challenges and more uncertainty than normal projects. Managing these, alongside all the ‘normal’ challenges of a capital project is a significant undertaking.

The organisations supported by AIM Biffa Award learnt a great deal about project management in the course of their work and this guide shares some of that learning.

About Biffa Award

Since 1997, Biffa Award has awarded grants totalling more than £156 million to thousands of worthwhile community and environmental projects across the UK. The programme administers money donated by Biffa Group Ltd through the Landfill Communities Fund.

The Royal Society of Wildlife Trusts has more than 20 years of experience in managing social and environmental grant programmes totalling over £250 million and proven successes working with and empowering people to make significant environmental and societal impacts across the UK.

In 1997 Biffa Group Ltd decided to donate landfill tax credits to RSWT to administer under the fund name Biffa Award. To date, Biffa Award has awarded grants totalling more than £156 million to thousands of worthwhile projects across the country.

AIM Biffa Award National Heritage Landmark Partnership Scheme

In 2011, AIM entered into a 3-year funding partnership with Biffa Award which provided a £1.5m investment into independent museums and industrial heritage sites across the UK. The Scheme focused on landmark industrial heritage sites, relating to key industries including mining, textile manufacture, shipbuilding, metal processing, chemical industries, defence, farming and technologies such as power generation and communication. The heritage projects that the funding supported were:

  • Newman Brothers Coffin Works - Coffin Works Learning and Interpretation Project £44,676
  • Brooklands Museum - Stratospheric Chamber Restoration & Interpretation £120,000
  • Ironbridge Gorge Museums - Bedlam Furnaces - Icon of Industry £30,099
  • National Mining Museum of Scotland - The National Mining Memorial £120,000
  • The Historic Dockyard Chatham - Chatham Dockyard World Heritage Discovery Centre £117,500
  • Underfall Yard - Revealing the story of Hydraulic Power £120,000
  • London Museum of Water and Steam - Project Aquarius Babcock Room £80,364
  • Brunel Museum - Opening up Brunel's Shaft £120,000
  • Cromford Mills - Arkwright: Father of the Factory System £112,500
  • Bursledon Brickworks The Museum of Bricks & Brickmaking - Reinstating the Second Steam Engine £82,000
  • ss Great Britain - The Restoration of the Grade II* listed 'Brunel's' Drawing Office £117,180
  • The Postal Museum - Mail Rail: The Birth of the Underground Postal Railway £69,075
  • National Waterways Museum Ellesmere Port - From Port to Powerhouse A Window on the World £119,718
  • Woodhorn Museum - Colliery Winding House New Visitor Access & Interpretation £35,000
  • Middleport Pottery - Bringing the William Boulton Steam Engine at Middleport Pottery Back to Life £120,000

This Guide can only ever be an overview and an outline for Trustees and management boards. You might want to read this before embarking on a capital project, in order to be prepared for the breadth of considerations and again when you know your project is going to go ahead.


So, you’ve raised the money, you know what you want to do; now you’ve just got to do it!

Obvious, but potentially daunting and a critical moment in determining the successful outcome of a project. In reality this delivery part of the process should have been well thought through long before the funding is in place.

Delivering successful projects is a serious business and one that, unsurprisingly, most museum and heritage organisations are not really set up to deal with, despite the probably relevant and wide ranging knowledge held within trustees, staff or volunteers.

Why would they be? Such organisations deliver museum services as “the day job” and capital projects are one off events, so planning how the organisation will resource and deliver a project is as important as every other part of the work of the organisation.

Capital projects are exhilarating, exhausting, exciting, demanding and all consuming! For most organisations the project is a means to an end not an end in itself.

Alongside delivering the capital project you will be researching and preparing your collections for new exhibitions, fundraising, developing new marketing materials, planning new ways of delivering your operations etc. so that when the contractors move out, the “home team” is ready to make a success of the finished project.

Doing all of this, and possibly keeping your museum open throughout, is extremely demanding - make sure you will have the people and budgets you need to make a success of your completed project.

Getting Ready for Your Project

Being a Good Client

You are the client for your capital project and it is your project, not the funder’s, the project manager’s, architect’s or any other of the designers’ or consultants’ who you employ.

You employ professionals to help provide services beyond your experience or capacity and you delegate such services to them but... you must understand the boundary between delegation and abrogation of responsibility.

As client you should build an excellent relationship with all the project consultants, contractors and your own directly involved team members. It should be honest, transparent, creative, communicative and quick - recognising that your organisation is the lead.

The old adage of “not buying a dog and barking yourself” is true but most successful dog owners will tell you that the dog knows who the boss is and will do anything for them. So no need to bark but plenty of need to know why the dog is barking and how to respond as its leader!

Fundamental attributes of ‘a good client’:

  • Leadership and vision
  • Clarity of project purposes and consistency of your success criteria
  • Clear lines of responsibility and authority
  • Engagement and Availability
  • Approachable and able to accept advice for consideration
  • Decisiveness and clear decision-making protocols
  • Good systems especially for rapid decision-making
  • Commitment to excellent communications
  • Enthusiasm to build a sense of team and common goal
  • Plans for what will happen after the project is finished

Download the full guide to read on:
Successfully managing capital projects (PDF)

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Resource type: Guide/tools | Published: 2017