Museums Change Lives Awards 2023
Congratulations to our winners
We’re delighted to reveal the winners of the four categories of our annual Museums Change Lives Awards. The awards recognise and celebrate outstanding practice by UK museums delivering social impact, promoting the best examples of work by museums and individuals that support communities and engage with contemporary issues.
The awards were presented in a ceremony at Conference 2023: The Power of Museums, 7-9 November at The Glasshouse (formerly the Sage), Gateshead. Each award winner received a cash prizes of £500.
Read on to find out more about the four winners and the eight further shortlisted projects and people.
Best Museums Change Lives Project
WINNER | Glasgow Museums, Bangladesh Association Glasgow, and Our Shared Cultural Heritage – Scotland’s Lascar Heritage
Scotland’s Lascar Heritage is a project that uncovered the story of South Asian sailors in Scotland. An intergenerational community-led research project by Glasgow Museums with the Bangladesh Association Glasgow and young people from the Our Shared Cultural Heritage initiative explored the experiences of South Asian seamen under the colonial system in Scotland.
The research was a catalyst for an extraordinarily flourishing of creative responses which connected the historic seafaring story with contemporary South Asian identity in Scotland, as well as linking to the lives of surviving Lascar seamen in Bangladesh. The project culminated in a book launch for Scotland’s Lascar Heritage and a premiere for the Lascars and Us film, which brought the participants together in an emotional intergenerational celebration of Scottish South Asian heritage and culture.
The work was made possible via the AHRC-funded EXCHANGE project 2021-23.
Mansfield Museum – Art Power
Mansfield’s high levels of deprivation includes women experiencing trauma from domestic violence and abuse. Art Power focuses on participatory activities in the museum to explore how we can learn from each other and make positive change. The museum delivers creative experiences for at-risk women, inspired by the museum’s collection and directed by the participants’ interests.
Facilitated by the Community Projects Assistant and supported by artists and an art therapist, the museum is discovering the ‘herstories’ within its collections. Creative workshops encourage mindful engagement with process and creation and, along the way, friendships are made and support networks built.
The council has achieved Domestic Abuse Housing Association accreditation and the Nottinghamshire Independent Domestic Abuse Service provides training in domestic violence awareness for museum staff.
Heritage Doncaster – Creative Recovery: Body Image Through Time
NHS England data shows a dramatic rise in the number of young people accessing treatment for eating disorders through young people’s mental health services in Doncaster. In 2023 Heritage Doncaster and Doncaster Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service (CAMHS) co-designed a creative programme for young people accessing disordered eating services.
Body Image Through Time aimed to boost self-esteem, build confidence, and facilitate group and peer therapeutic discussion by exploring ideas of beauty and body image in the museum’s collection. The programme culminated in working with an artist to express views on bodies through deconstructing and reconstructing clothing. All young people who attended Body Image Through Time self-reported increased confidence and shared they had built connections with other participants, a key indicator of growth in wellbeing.
Best Small Museum Project
WINNER | The Whithorn Trust – Whithorn ReBuild Schools Engagement Project
The two-year Whithorn ReBuild project involves working with vulnerable young people from Whithorn’s local high school to enable them to sample opportunities in heritage construction skills which are in nationally short supply: architectural and green woodworking, stone carving, working with lime, and stained glass. The aim of the project is to engage young people with heritage through skills which have been practised on the site for over a thousand years.
The training opportunities are offered on-site by a charity partner, Whithorn ReBuild (a social enterprise spin-off from the Whithorn Trust), which recruits 18-25 year olds from unemployment and offers in-work training in heritage skills. The school pupils are tutored by both time-served masons and carpenters, but also by the young trainees, providing peer-to-peer learning. The end of the first year of the project was marked by a series of films created by high school pupils mentored by a professional film crew, which linked the artefacts in the Whithorn collection to the skills being learnt on site today.
Dylan Thomas Centre and Your Voice Advocacy – Our Museum, Our Voice
The Dylan Thomas Centre (DTC) worked co-productively with Your Voice Advocacy (YVA) to design and develop an accessible museums qualification. Since 2016 YVA has run its weekly advocacy group from the DTC, led by and for people with learning disabilities. YVA and DTC co-designed course content and created Easy Read learning resources, resulting in the group trialling and completing the course in 2023.
The project emerged from the need for an inclusive, accredited cultural qualification. Discussions with YVA highlighted the need for options reflecting the diversity of people’s skills, interests and abilities. It was important that the course would work easily within any museum, and together the project team developed Wales’ first co-designed accessible accredited course for use in cultural settings. Following the summer’s trial with YVA, many more adults and young people will be able to achieve the qualification in partnership with museums.
Turner’s House Trust – Art & Heritage: Wellbeing at Turner’s House
Art & Heritage – Wellbeing at Turner’s House engages with people receiving mental health support to promote mental and physical wellbeing, alleviate loneliness, encourage creativity and build confidence. An estimated 20,000 people in the Richmond borough have a common mental health problem, and Turner’s House works in partnership with Richmond Mind to offer creative workshops inspired by Turner, his themes, and contemporary artists.
Participants are encouraged to experiment freely and develop new sets of knowledge and skills that support them in their journey to improve their mental wellbeing. 80% of participants felt that their mental wellbeing had improved, 100% felt more optimistic, and 80% felt more connected after the workshops. In March 2023, the house hosted a public exhibition of the artworks produced during these sessions, giving participants the opportunity to proudly show off their work and skills in a museum space.
Decolonising Museums Award
WINNER | Wilberforce House Museum – Changing Perspectives in Hull
Since 2021, the Wilberforce House Museum, in partnership with the Wilberforce Institute at the University of Hull, has developed a creative approach to deliver a new community engagement strategy that engaged underrepresented communities in temporary and permanent exhibitions development. Tackling power and privilege, the museum collaborated with people from Africa, or those of African-American, Caribbean or African descent, to embed decolonisation into its working practice.
In 2022-23 they worked together to produce a series of short films, two exhibitions, and a re-display of the permanent gallery space. The development of inclusive exhibitions created spaces where people of colour felt heard and could explore difficult issues. Strong bonds of mutual respect have been developed through co-creation, and the participants are now acting as a permanent advisory board to guide the work of the museum and partners. The group is integrated into the museum’s work, and members are being invited onto other projects as volunteers and paid advisors.
Judges’ Lodgings Museum – Facing the Past: Black Lancastrians at Judges’ Lodgings Museum
Judges’ Lodgings Museum worked in collaboration with Lancaster Black History Group, three primary schools, the Institute for Black Atlantic Research and Lancaster University to reveal the slavery links in the museum’s collections to all visitors. Artist Lela Harris produced six portraits of 18th century Black Lancastrians, which are displayed juxtaposed with Gillows furniture and portraits of those who benefitted from slavery. The artist and Geraldine Onek, of the Lancaster Black History Group, delivered school workshops about runaway ‘Ebo Boy’, with a children’s exhibition and learning pack available.
Alongside the six new portraits, a children’s exhibition, new partnerships with Lancaster Black History Group, good relationships with three local primary schools and staff and volunteer training, the project also produced Black art and history events featuring Lancaster Lit Fest, French artist Elissa Morris Vai, historian Hannah Cusworth, and a Black history symposium.
National Museums NI – Global Voices Local Choices
The Global Voices Local Choices project, by National Museums NI (NMNI) in partnership with the African and Caribbean Support Organisation Northern Ireland (ACSONI) and Northern Ireland Museums Council (NIMC), addresses colonial legacies through bringing diverse cultures and perspectives into local and national museums across Northern Ireland.
The partnership secured commitment from six marginalised ethnic minority groups in six boroughs across Northern Ireland, to each attend six creative workshops at their local museum resulting in six displays. Participants get to make choices about how NMNI’s world cultures collections are interpreted, challenging perspectives upheld by collectors and curators. The voices of those directly connected to colonialism are amplified and their stories included, making displays richer. Partners are now working to develop equitable decolonisation guidance specific to Northern Ireland.
Radical Changemaker Award
WINNER | Zeynep Kuşsan – London Transport Museum (previously Museum of London)
Zeynep conceived and curated the exhibition ‘Harry Kane: I want to play football’, which embodies the Museums Change Lives theme of enhancing health and wellbeing, while also inspiring engagement across new audiences. The display was inspired by the momentum around England reaching the final of the delayed Euro 2020 championship – a moment of hope during the ongoing pandemic, especially for young fans coming out of lockdown. With her personal dedication, Zeynep was able to negotiate a loan of Kane’s personal collections which had never before been on public display.
The display celebrated Kane’s achievements but also acknowledged the rejections he experienced as a young player – an important message of resilience for young visitors. In planning the display Zeynep’s aim was to inspire and to give something back to communities, aligning with the work of the Harry Kane Foundation, which aims to transform a generation’s thinking about mental health. Zey is also dedicated to improving the lives of museum workers: as a union rep supporting colleagues during the pandemic, and as a steering group member for Museum as Muck.
Jill Iredale – Bradford District Museums and Galleries
Jill is delivering powerful, impactful and collaborative social projects in her new role as a community curator for Bradford Museums and Galleries. One recent collaboration is Don’t Give Up – a fully co-curated exhibition with Windrush Generations. The project engaged young people from the Caribbean community to spend time with and talk to the first generation elders who settled in Bradford. It resulted in a powerful and personal exhibition at Cartwright Hall Art Gallery in Manningham, where many of the community settled and still live. Elders shared their histories, many for the first time, and over 20,000 people visited the exhibition.
This entirely collaborative way of working has informed the other projects Jill is working on, including the co-development of a new gallery space designed to support young people with their mental health. Jill is also working with groups of refugees and asylum seekers, who are supported by the Anchor project, to develop long-term and trusting relationships. There is no planned outcome or agenda, and Jill’s whole practice is one where the community leads the way.
Katherine McAlpine – Brunel Museum
Katherine’s focus on fair pay and tackling climate change at the Brunel Museum is both enhancing health and wellbeing and creating a better place to live and work for staff. Fair wages are key to a happy and healthy workforce, which in turn affects the visitor experience, so Katherine committed to becoming a Living Wage employer and in September 2022, against the backdrop of rising prices, Brunel Museum increased wages in line. In April 2023, she successfully lobbied the board to increase the employer pension contribution from 3% to 5%.
Katherine also put climate justice and climate action front and centre, writing and launching the museum’s sustainability strategy and making the Brunel Museum the first museum to sign up to the pioneering climate perks scheme. She has created a place of inspiring engagement, debate and reflection through the Climate Conversations programme, and the conversations about sustainable travel will be embedded in the next phase of the museum. The museum was also a ‘cool space’ for the local community over the summer, offering a place of respite and reflection.