Culture: Jeff's a Convert for Heritage; Demands on the Heritage Lottery Fund in the West Midlands Are Seemingly Endless and Bewilderingly Diverse. Terry Grimley Meets the Man at the Sharp End of the Decision-Making

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Byline: Terry Grimley

Jeff Carpenter describes himself as a West Midlander by adoption, with the conviction of the converted.

By the time you have been talking to him for five minutes you are left in no doubt about his enthusiasm for the region, the quality and variety of its natural environment and its cultural history.

As chairman of National Lottery Heritage Fund's committee for the West Midlands, he and his colleagues need a wide appreciation of their brief. So far the fund has spent pounds 154 million on 590 projects across the West Midlands -ranging from extending a nature reserve in Hereford to helping buy a painting by Patrick Caulfield for Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery from the restoration of Leominster Old Priory to supporting Coventry's city centre Phoenix Initiative.

'I like to think I've earned my credentials,' he says. 'I was deputy chairman of the regional museums council for five years and it helped get me this position as first regional chairman of HLF.

'I give it up next year. I've been doing it for two years now, and before that I was on a committee for the English regions.

'The heritage lottery is a big job. We've got a committee of six, all of whom have lived and worked all their lives in the West Midlands and were appointed as a result of a public exercise: it was all fully advertised and people had to apply. I hope I'm really aware of the richness and diversity of West Midlands heritage.'

Looking after the character of the shires, villages and county towns is a high priority, but as a former student of Birmingham University and assistant academic registrar at Aston University Jeff Carpenter is a big fan of the city.

The voice still reveals his Welsh origins, but he first came to live in Birmingham at the age of 15.

He began his working life as an education training officer in a Black Country foundry, later working for many years at Worcester College of Technology, when he also wrote books on tourism and local history.

A lengthy career in local politics included stints as mayor and deputy mayor of Worcester. So he takes particular pride in a recent project he and his colleagues have supported: a new gallery devoted to the history of the Worcestershire soldier at the city's Museum & Art Gallery.

He is a strong believer in regional identity and collaboration, and was disappointed that the regional character of Birmingham's bid to be European Capital of Culture was perceived negatively by the judges.

'I regret that, and whoever came to that view was plainly wrong in my estimation,' he says.

'It's important to understand the difference between the countryside and urban areas, but this false polarisation between Birmingham and its sister metro areas really has been quite damaging. I am very keen personally on keeping the differences but taking advantage of the work that's been done on the Capital of Cuture bid.

'Heritage and the arts are not peripheral but are absolutely crucial to a new dynamic regional identity. We're particularly keen on working alongside agencies like the new cultural consortium [West Midlands Life]. I'm desperately anxious that doesn't become peripheral. Advantage West Midlands has a huge job to do with transport, industry and education.'

The Heritage Lottery had some negative publicity earlier this summer when there was widespread criticism of the decision to award pounds 11. …