Tributes have been paid to the former chair of the National Lottery Community Fund, who has died unexpectedly at the age of 64.
Peter Ainsworth, who had also been chair of the Churches Conservation Trust since 2016, held the role at the then-Big Lottery Fund between 2011 and 2019.
Described as a “passionate advocate for heritage”, he became chair of the Heritage Alliance in 2018.
Ainsworth spent more than 30 years in public service roles, including chairing the Big Lottery Fund between 2011 and 2019, and before that spending 18 years as a Conservative MP.
The former investment banker’s contribution to the heritage sector also included roles at the Environment Agency, Plantlife International and the Elgar Foundation.
He sat on the Rhodes Commission, an inquiry launched to consider the future of the Cecil Rhodes statue at Oriel College, Oxford University.
His parliamentary career began in 1992 where he was elected as the MP for East Surrey, and in 1995 he was appointed parliamentary private secretary to the secretary of state for national heritage.
He also served as shadow secretary of state for culture and shadow secretary of state of the environment, food and rural affairs.
The CCT and the Heritage Alliance said in a joint statement they were grateful for Ainsworth’s time as chair, which saw the CCT through a change of chief executive, the implementation of a new strategy and the pandemic.
“At the Heritage Alliance, Peter chaired the organisation through the pandemic, which has greatly affected many of our members, and we are grateful for the way in which he both supported the Alliance’s growth and tirelessly championed our 150+ organisations in a time of great need,” said the statement.
“Peter was passionate about effecting positive change and ensuring heritage is understood as a public good. Our thoughts are with Peter’s family at this time.”
Dawn Austwick, chief executive of the Big Lottery Fund/NLCF between 2014 and 2020, said: “I am so sad that Peter has passed away. He was a delightful colleague: courteous, wise, and witty.
“It was a pleasure to work for and with him for six years at the National Lottery Community Fund, which he led as chair with integrity, humility, and principle. He will be much missed.”
John Rose, interim chief executive of the NLCF, said: “We’re very saddened to hear of the death of our former chair, Peter Ainsworth. Peter was a tireless public servant and passionate advocate for the environment and for communities across the UK. Our thoughts are with his family and friends.”
Culture secretary Oliver Dowden commended Ainsworth's commitment to public service.
He said: “He was unfailingly kind, charming and a committed public servant, which he demonstrated most recently as a passionate chair of the Churches Conservation Trust and the Heritage Alliance. We will miss him greatly, and my thoughts are with his family at this difficult time."
Ainsworth was also a founding partner of a sustainability consultancy called the Robertsbridge Group, and a patron of the College of St Barnabas, a residential community of retired Anglican clergy in Lingfield, Surrey.