In the latest instalment of the Historic Environment Forum’s Sector Resilience Interviews series focussed on the theme of Diversity and Inclusion, we speak to Beverley Gormley, Programme Manager at Heritage Trust Network.
Please tell us a bit about yourself and your organisation’s role in the sector.

I’m the Programme Manager at Heritage Trust Network, the UK’s umbrella organisation for non-profits that are rescuing, restoring, re-using and managing historic buildings, structures and spaces.

As a disabled woman, limb-different from birth, I’m acutely aware of how inaccessible and exclusionary the world is. A quarter of the UK’s population is disabled and a passion for improving the situation was the starting point for me, but rapidly grew into making the Network more accessible and inclusive for all.

What can you tell us about your organisation’s work in relation to Diversity and Inclusion? What does this work aim to achieve?

The starting point for us was when we received funding from the National Lottery Heritage Fund to deliver our Unlocking the Power of Communities project in 2020. ‘Unlocking’ was a major development and capacity building project, with one element being the introduction of online training sessions. It soon became clear that our members had varying needs with regard to accessing webinars, so we started to ask them if they had any access requirements during the booking process and introduced which is a live speech to text transcript that connects to Zoom.

At this point, I felt that I would benefit from digital accessibility training with the Disability Collaborative Network which was a huge eye-opener, and I spent the next few months upskilling myself which had a profound effect on my thought process when planning the rest of the project.

Our legacy website wasn’t very accessible and, as a short term solution, we added an overlay widget. Overlay widgets aren’t the be all and end all as they can sometimes make interactive websites less accessible – however this one was a small improvement as it enabled people visiting the website to have it read to them, have the contrast increased and have the text enlarged. Following this we redirected some of the funding towards a digital accessibility audit. This has underpinned everything we’ve done online, including our communications, and I can’t stress how important it’s been. It brought home exactly how inaccessible our website was, from images that did not have alt text so couldn’t be understood by people using screen reading technology, to text with low contrast which couldn’t be identified by people with visual impairments, to badly formatted webpages that were difficult to access by people who do not use a mouse to navigate the Internet and videos with no captions. At the time it seemed like an insurmountable task to put things right, but at this point we’ve fixed as much as we can possibly fix before we start on the development of new website.

The Disability Collaborative Network became an important sounding board for us, and after they’d spoken at one of our Network Natters we met with them to discuss how we could make our annual conference more accessible. The conference was going to be held in Caernarfon North Wales and we knew from the outset that there would be live Welsh to English translation, a quiet space and a prayer room, but we wanted to go much further. Alongside the more obvious accessibility questions to ask when considering potential venues, the DCN’s advice included lots of things we hadn’t thought about such as asking workshop leaders to provide advance information about what they will be expecting delegates to do, what sort of materials lifts are made from, whether there is seating and free water available during tours, where the nearest Changing Places toilet is and if venues accept card, cash or other methods of payment so that people could be prepared. All of this information led to us producing our first ever accessibility guide for a conference and we’ve built on this ever since, now supplying accessibility information for all of our in-person events. We’ve also developed accessibility guidelines for speakers that are preparing presentations for our events and we check those presentations in advance.

In the last 4 years our membership has grown by over 350% and has become much more diverse. We’ve delivered a targeted campaign to almost 50 ‘accidental’ heritage organisations that work with marginalised communities and run training ad advice sessions for them.  The development of a thriving Youth Forum has greatly helped us to include and engage young people who are in the early stages of their career, are students, or simply have an interest in heritage. We have big plans for the Youth Forum which now has over 100 members!

One of my own proudest moments was being invited to speak at the Memberwise Digital Excellence conference in May 2024 on our journey towards being a more inclusive and accessible Network. You can find out more about the work we’ve been doing at

What contribution will this make towards resilience in the heritage sector?

If the sector does not become more diverse, inclusive and accessible there’s no possibility of it ever becoming resilient! Not only is it the right thing to do, at the basic level it also affects your bottom line. For example, 25% of the UK’s population is disabled, and businesses (which our organisation essentially are) are losing out on £2billion PER MONTH by not making their online presence accessible and inclusive. That’s a lot of purple pounds!

What does success look like for your work?

Success, to us, is seeing more people able to work in, enjoy and volunteer in the heritage sector and embedding access and inclusion in their rescue and regeneration projects. At the moment we’re very ‘light touch’ when it comes to metrics, but one thing that I’ve noticed when people book onto our events is that they thank us for asking if they have any access needs even though they might not request any adaptations. Access and inclusion should be seamless, and asking probing questions can be inappropriate and ‘virtue signalling’.

We’ve worked hard to embed inclusion and accessibility in everything that we do, and that starts with it being included in inductions for new staff. It’s particularly rewarding to see our heritage trainees increase their knowledge and skills in this area and become passionate about it themselves.

A blonde woman wearing glasses and a white polo shirt with colourful hot balloon print gives a thumbs up sign with her white bionic arm
"Thumbs up from Bev" (c) Beverley Gormley

How can sector colleagues get involved or find out more?
Overall, what do you think is most crucial for ensuring a resilient heritage sector?

The heritage sector is currently recognising that there is a problem with the recruitment of young people onto Boards, there’s a skills shortage, and that young people aren’t aware of the sheer range of career/study pathways they can take that can help address this. While interviewing for heritage trainee roles it became clear that there are not enough opportunities for young people to volunteer in the grass roots heritage/regeneration space and, in my opinion, the sector will only become more resilient if we try to address all of this together.

We have transformed from an organisation that didn’t work with young people at all, to one that works with a lot of them. One of the first things we did was successfully piloting a ‘trainee trustee’ initiative where we recruited two young people to our board who spent a year being trained, mentored and participated in our board meetings. Those two young people are now our fully fledged trustees and we will be repeating this in future and will also roll out the initiative to our members. 

We have also recruited ‘Heritage Trainees’ that have worked alongside our small team of staff. These are recent graduates who want a career in heritage but are finding it hard to get a foot in the door because of their lack of experience. The four 6-month traineeships have exposed them to everything that we do, and they have been encouraged to develop their own mini projects to develop their project management skills. We have recently extended our Wales trainee’s contract, and the previous three secured great jobs with Historic England, English Heritage and the Council for Scottish Archives when their traineeships ended. Again, this is something we will be repeating as it has been such a success, only next time they will be 12 month traineeships.

There is a lack of diversity in the heritage sector and the youth forum goes some way to addressing this, although some improvement is still needed in order to help address this sector-wide issue. In spring 2024 research was undertaken into the youth forum’s diversity and showed that: 

  • 17% of the young people involved have a disability
  • 52% do not consider themselves heterosexual/straight
  • 79% describe themselves as female and 14% describe themselves as male with 3% describing themselves as non-binary. 3% of applicants prefer to self-describe
  • 76% describe themselves as white British
  • 71% are based in England
  • Anecdotally the vast majority of youth forum members are educated to degree level or above


We’re now aiming to do more to make the youth forum even more diverse and inclusive, particularly regarding gender, ethnicity, geographical spread and level of education.

Youth Forum members have recently formed a steering group and set up sub groups that are focusing on Equality, Diversity and Inclusion, consultancy and placemaking. We’ve recently recruited a youth forum member to sit on our conference steering group to ensure that young voices are represented.

Over the next four years we have big plans and collaborations in the pipeline so watch this space!


This Sector Resilience interview was shared by Beverley as part of our Heritage Sector Resilience Plan activities.

If you’d like to contribute an interview as part of the series, follow the link below to find out more:

Sector Resilience Interviews – Historic Environment Forum