Museums Change Lives Awards 2021
The Museums Change Lives Awards celebrate the achievements of museums that are making a difference to the lives of their audiences and communities across the UK.
The 2021 awards took place in Liverpool on Monday 8 November as part of the Museums Association’s annual conference.
The awards had four categories, including a new Digital Engagement Award, which recognised the best online responses to the coronavirus crisis.
The Best Museums Change Lives Project award recognised the best project in the previous year that reflected one or more of the themes of the Museums Association’s Museums Change Lives campaign: Promoting Health and Wellbeing; Creating Better Places; and Inspiring Engagement, Reflection and Debate.
The Best Small Museum Project recognised the best project at museums with an annual turnover of less than £320,000.
The Radical Changemaker award recognised the achievements of an individual in promoting one or more of the themes of the Museums Change Lives campaign in their museum.
Scroll on to see the nominees and find out who won.
Best Small Museum Project
WINNER: The Scottish Crannog Centre – Apprenticeship Scheme: They Might Be Giants
The Scottish Crannog Centre set out to create an apprenticeship programme that would provide training and work opportunities to five young people in rural Scotland. They created an apprenticeships programme that was designed to build confidence and community engagement. The apprentices work within a non-linear hierarchy where they are encouraged to have the freedom to make the right decision at the right time. Their new ideas and young voices have enlivened museum engagement and ensured the centre is working within the community.
The Peace Museum – Peace OUT
Peace OUT is a project which works with local LGBTQ+ communities in Bradford to co-create exhibitions and events. It explores peacemaking within the LGBTQ+ community and features the work of LGBTQ+ artists and campaigners. Alongside the exhibition, the museum is hosting wellbeing events and reminiscence sessions for older people and craft activities for youth groups. From community collections to a recent exhibition to a touring exhibit, Peace OUT has been an exemplary community project.
The Stirling Smith – 20 Great Paintings
The Stirling Smith recognised that many of its users were particularly isolated during Covid lockdowns due to their lack of digital literacy. They responded by producing a booklet that showcases 20 paintings from The Smith’s collection. It was designed with accessibility in mind: with large text and images and easy-to-turn pages. The Stirling Smith worked closely with local charities and care homes to distribute the booklets and had glowing reviews from many readers. The staff at the Smith have reflected on how this project has deepened the links between the gallery and its local community.
Best Museums Change Lives Project
WINNER: National Justice Museum – Make It Yours: Workshops in an Envelope
This project was inspired by an extraordinary soap sculpture in the National Justice Museum’s collection. Realising the potential for this craft activity to engage prisoners and service users as well as the wider public, the museum launched a ‘workshop in an envelope’ that was produced and distributed during the Covid crisis. Audiences then shared their creations through social media, and some were collected for display. The packs have also been shared through prisons, with people who were locked in cells for 23 hours a day. The vast majority of participants had never visited the museum.
Wakefield Museums and Castles (Wakefield MDC Cultural Services) – A World of Good
This project by Wakefield Museums and Castles seeks to inspire people to take action on the most urgent issue we face: the climate crisis. It centres on an exhibition about Charles Waterton, a 19th-century environmentalist who built the world’s first nature reserve and campaigned for the protection of nature.
Through collaboration with local artists and renowned experts such as Sir David Attenborough, Liz Bonnin and Chris Packham, the exhibition prompts visitors to reflect on the parallels between Waterton’s campaigns and our situation today, and is complemented by educational resources for schools, a programme of digital activity and displays co-produced with local environmental activists. It has also led to the creation of Do A World of Good, a campaign that calls on people to sign up to a public pledge to take action, which people can sign up to in the exhibition, online, or in non-museum locations around the city.
Barnsley Museum – Feels Like Home
Feels Like Home is a project that has been set up for people new to Barnsley for whom English isn’t their first language, delivered in partnership with Barnsley Refugee Council. The group now has a membership of around 70, mainly refugees, asylum seekers, and migrant workers from across the world. The group learns English through shared experiences: engaging with Barnsley’s heritage through the museum collections and exhibitions and by taking part in cultural visits and art projects delivered in partnership with other cultural organisations. Feels Like Home is a safe, fun place for people often experiencing difficult times.
Digital Engagement Award
WINNER: The Mixed Museum – Brown Babies
Organised by the start-up museum the Mixed Museum, which is devoted to mixed race issues in the UK, this is a digital exhibition that was developed from Professor Lucy Bland’s interviews with over 50 people who were born in Britain to Black GI fathers and white mothers during the Second World War. The exhibition uses its digital platform in a clear and thoughtful way to share this community’s memories and photographs and help educate the public about their little-known history.
V&A Dundee – Work in Progress
Created in response to the Covid crisis and the near total disappearance of entry-level opportunities in the creative and design industries, the idea of Work in Progress was simple: offer free 1-2-1 online tutorials connecting emerging creatives with established practitioners for advice and feedback. Since its launch, ‘Work in Progress’ has supported 72 early-career creatives. The initiative has also provided paid opportunities for 16 creative freelancers and practioners and has demonstrated the ways that museums can support young people – even when the doors are closed and in the midst of a global crisis.
The Jewish Museum London – Virtual Classrooms
The Virtual Classrooms project was the transformation of an existing schools programme on racism, tolerance and the Holocaust into online content at speed. It was designed to be easy for teachers to engage with, and it met with substantial success. It has reached almost 5,000 schoolchildren, enabled the museum to retain a substantial portion of school income, and has developed new audiences for the museum’s material across the whole UK.
Radical Changemaker Award
WINNER: Sam Bowen – SEND In Museums
Sam is a campaigner and activist for the inclusion of children with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND) in museums. Since 2017, she has run partnership projects across the south east of England, linking museums with special needs learning groups. Sam runs training courses for museums across the UK on how to support children with Special Educational Needs and Disability has also written the Special Schools and Museums toolkit, the only sector guidance on this topic.
Victoria Ryves – Heritage Doncaster
Victoria’s work on the History, Health and Happiness programme has made a real and meaningful difference to people’s lives. She has used exciting new partnerships and the museum’s collection to spark conversation, improve wellbeing and tackle isolation. Victoria’s innovative approaches in designing activities and her creativity and care have been hugely appreciated by participants.
Anna Smalley – Tullie House Museum
Anna has been instrumental in bringing community voices into the everyday work of Tullie House. She has introduced a community board to advise the main board of trustees and brings people from local underrepresented groups into the work of the museum. Anna also successfully led the bid for the City of Carlisle to be part of the pilot Thriving Communities Initiative and continues to lead the scheme for the many city-wide groups involved.