Funding to bring people closer to collections

Grants will boost engagement with collections at a time when traditional access is on hold

Fifteen museums have been awarded a total of £367,000 from our Esmée Fairbairn Collections Fund for projects that bring people closer to collections at a time when physical access to museums is restricted. 

Supported by the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation, we launched Sustaining Engagement with Collections in May – a new £350,000 funding stream with a quick turnaround to support innovative interventions with collections during the Covid-19 crisis.

With 145 applications, the programme was heavily oversubscribed and the available funding was raised to £367,000 to meet this demand. Each of the projects will be completed within a year of being funded.

From older people to schoolchildren, care leavers to volunteers, the projects will reach people and communities who have been affected in many different ways by the Covid-19 pandemic. 

Across the applications, common themes and needs arose, and we will explore these separately to look at how we and museum development bodies can support museums as they move more of their programming online, and share learning on best practice. 

The grant recipients are:  

Amgueddfa Cymru: £30,000 for the Covid-19 Questionnaire – revisiting collecting methods of the past. To revisit 800 original, completed questionnaires spanning the 1930s-80s capturing details of life in 20th-century Wales, and to undertake Wales-wide engagement activities to develop a new way of working with communities post Covid-19. 

Barnsley Museum Service: £17,250 for Draw Hope – promoting wellbeing for young people through the act of drawing. To engage young people, building skills and confidence and to bring their voices into new interpretation of the Sadler Collection of English Drawings (comprises 85 works and a range of delivery partners). 

Birmingham Museums Trust: £30,000 for MuseumStream – a new hybrid outreach programme combining digital resources, live streaming and real objects. To pilot a new combination of physical and digital co-produced collections engagement for school and community audiences in a new loan box programme, MuseumStream. 

Creswell Heritage Trust: £25,086 for Virtual Creswell Crags – reuniting the caves, collections, prehistoric art and medieval witch marks. To create digital resources through 3D scanning of cave interiors and key artefacts found in them using the latest digital technology in order to reach new audiences, provide future resilience and increase the collections offer to existing audiences post Covid-19. 

Foundling Museum: £27,900 for Shared Stories: Shared Voices – engaging audiences at the heart of the Founding Museum’s story. To engage former Foundling Hospital pupils; graduates of their care-leaver training programme; and volunteers and use new digital channels to share their stories and voices about collection objects they’ve chosen.

Glasgow Museums: £10,021 for Museum on your Doorstep – an outreach response to Covid-19. To produce non-internet-based resources for different groups at risk of loneliness and isolation to be distributed via community partners, e.g. print media and filmed reminiscence sessions.

Gunnersbury Park Museum: £26,961 for Shooting Stars: Behind the Scenes at Ealing Studios. To undertake remote intergenerational volunteering work to digitise and interpret the collection in order to build skills, tackle loneliness and isolation and share the collection widely online and with an outdoor exhibition in Gunnersbury Park. 

Imperial War Museums: £30,000 for Connecting, Sharing, Learning – sustaining relationships between collections and older communities. A pilot programme to enable War and Conflict Subject Specialist Network organisations to trial new methods of digital collection-based engagement with older communities – 70+, both living at home and those in residential care – through the Covid-19 pandemic. 

Jewish Museum London: £28,000 for the Object Lending Library: An Accessible Collection. To pilot a temporary loans programme to people’s homes and community spaces, in particular to support an event or occasion using objects relevant to modern audiences such as women’s history, black history, migration, interfaith and LGBTQ+ rights. 

Museum of the Home: £30,000 for Stay Home. To explore the new collection of lockdown experiences in the context of the wider Documenting Homes collection and develop capacity to collect, share and manage digital material. 

Museums of the University of St Andrews: £29,345 for Online Storytelling with university museum collections. To develop and implement a new tool for storytelling-based engagement with digitised collections and to make this available as open-source software to other museums. 

Museums Worcestershire: £18,996 for Volunteers at Home – Access not Isolation! To explore safe and risk assessed ways for current volunteers that are isolated by the pandemic to continue to work with museum collections and then offer this experience to those that are permanently isolated. 

Newman Brothers at the Coffin Works: £20,850 for Access through Innovation – creating a digital museum guide at the Coffin Works. To develop a digital museum guide including collections images, research, and videos to help visitors navigate their way around the museum as an alternative to the guided tour model not possible with social distancing. 

Thackray Museum of Medicine: £23,414 for Open Wide – kick-starting a new digital learning programme. To develop a digital collections-based learning programme in response to the rapidly changing needs of schools post-Covid. Piloted with Prince Albert’s medicine chest, its contents and associated materials, which provide a unique angle on stories of colonialism and social privilege at home and abroad.

Wisbech and Fenland Museum: £19,000 for New Conversations. To complete the museum’s first digital audience research project, scoping and testing new ideas in a range of media to create a digital collections strategy.

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