Museums need a workforce that represents their communities, is respected and rewarded equally, and delivers and supports the ambitions of this manifesto.

A case study from Museums and Galleries Edinburgh

When a pandemic shuts down a museum service three days before your traineeship starts, what do you do?

This was the situation faced by trainees Susie and Thessa, who joined Museums and Galleries Edinburgh in the middle of the Covid-19 crisis.

The NLHF-funded Inclusive Museums Heritage Project, in partnership with social enterprise Next Step Initiative, creates opportunities for people of Black and minority ethnic heritage to access the Scottish museum sector.

We know a diverse and representative workforce directly increases participation with under-represented communities. As a sector we must commit to real and sustainable improvement in this area.

The trainees quickly built relationships with new colleagues and adapted to the challenges of a collections engagement role with no collections, venues or people. Embracing digital opportunities, they produced a podcast examining our relationships with objects in the home, influenced by lockdown.

Susie created a digital resource collecting individuals’ histories from a photography collection of a fishing community in north Edinburgh. Thessa is exploring different perspectives on dolls from Asia, within the Museum of Childhood collection, contributing to the Empire Museum online.

Both are working with the city’s library service to create online exhibitions exploring Edinburgh’s development in the 1920s, and contemporary collections of protest material.

With the Black Lives Matter movement rightly dominating the public agenda, our trainees have challenged the museum service on programming, interpretation, collections classification and recruitment practice.

Our service needs their creativity, enthusiasm and skills. Increasing diversity in museums and heritage is long overdue. At Edinburgh museums service, our experience with the trainees has cemented our commitment to creating a pipeline of opportunities for people of colour to join, and remain with, the service.

We aim not just to attract short-term placements, but to develop a more diverse staff, structurally reshaping our workforce and becoming more representative of the people of Edinburgh.

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