Photography of objects for digitisation (Image: the Board of Trustees of the Science Museum Group)

Covid-19: Changes to Esmée Fairbairn Collections Fund

Supporting new work with collections in response to the impact of Covid-19
The Esmée Fairbairn Collections Fund supports a range of projects that bring collections closer to people. 

We award the fund on behalf of the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation to projects that demonstrate the significance, distinctiveness and power of collections to people. The fund has awarded £9.1m to 113 projects since it launched in 2011. 

We have made some changes to our funding provision in response to the coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic.  

New funding: Sustaining Engagement with Collections  

In response to the current difficulties facing museums, we are diverting £350k to a new type of small grant, Sustaining Engagement with Collections, which will offer grants of up to £30k for projects of up to a year. This will enable us to support 12-15 organisations to explore different ways of engaging with collections while physical access is not available or is severely limited. 

The deadline for applications to this fund is 26 May 2020.

This is a one-off funding round with a quick turnaround that has been developed to complement other funding streams, in particular those from Art Fund and the NLHF Digital Skills for Heritage. We would particularly encourage potential applicants to think about experimental or innovative interventions with collections online, and/or collections work that will put the museum in a stronger position when it is able to reopen, for example by building audiences and income generation through work with collections.

How to apply: 

This is a simple, one stage application process.  Applicants should first read the Sustaining Engagement with Collections Guidance for Applicants at the bottom of this page. We would encourage you to then discuss your idea with our team before applying. 

Key Dates: 

The next deadline for applications is 5pm on 26 May 2020 and successful applicants will be informed w/c 15 June 2020.

Existing funding response to coronavirus  

Our existing funding is separated into two types of grant. Both grants follow a two-stage application process. We have made some changes to our dates and deadlines of these funds to enable us to respond to the immediate needs of museums during lockdown and social distancing. 

We would like to reassure current and potential grantees that we will continue to be flexible during this period of uncertainty caused by the Covid-19 pandemic. 

Collections innovation and engagement grants 

Collections Innovation and Engagement grants are usually awarded twice a year in spring and autumn. This year we will award only one set of projects from a total pot of £500k.  Shortlisted grants from the March 2020 round have been invited to the second stage of the autumn grant round and we will accept new expressions of interest as well with a deadline of 14 September 2020.   

These grants of up to £90k over two years are available for outstanding ideas that make a strong link between the collection, the people you want to work with, and the activities and context of your organisation. 

How to apply:

We will accept expressions of interest in September. A shortlist of projects will then be invited to make a full application within 8 weeks alongside those shortlisted in March.

Key dates: 

  • The next deadline for applications is 14 September 2020.
  • Shortlisted applicants will be invited to submit a full application in November.
  • Decisions will be made by our selection committee in December.

We strongly recommend you seek advice from staff at the MA before applying to ensure the project is a good fit.

Collections strategy and development grants 

Grants of up to £250k for projects running for five years or under will be awarded to initiatives that use collections work to support the established strategy of an organisation for longer term benefit. 

This type of grant aims to accelerate the development of museums that are ready to find new ways and do more to involve their audience and communities with collections. It’s designed to help organisations overcome some of the barriers of traditional project funding, and the MA will offer additional coaching where our skills and network can add benefit.

This fund was due to award its first projects in 2020, but we have postponed this round to 2021 and will fund more projects than initially planned for this year. We hope that this will enable organisations to fully understand the impact of coronavirus (Covid 19) on their business plans and long term strategies. Some projects have already been contacted by us to advise that they will be invited to talk with us in autumn 2020 in order to submit an expression of interest in 2021 should their project remain relevant or to discuss any potential change in focus as a result of the current situation. 

How to apply:

Before submitting an expression of interest, you will need to speak to a member of our team to discuss your project - this is because the strategy and development grant process is more time-consuming for applicants. We would ask that you delay contacting us about this fund until September 2020 to enable us to prioritise working with Sustaining Engagement with Collections and Innovation and Engagement applicants.

Suitable projects will then be invited to submit expressions of interest in Spring 2021 (8-12 projects in total). It is recommended that you speak to a member of our team before March 2021.

Key dates:

We anticipate that these will be the dates for the 2021 round of Collections Strategy and Development grants but these are subject to change, so please keep checking this site for updates.

  • September 2020 - March 2021: speak to Sarah Briggs or Sally Colvin about your idea and obtain expression of interest form
  • May 2021: submit expression of interest 
  • June 2021: our selection committee will create a shortlist of projects
  • September 2021: we will invite shortlisted projects to submit a full application, with the support of MA staff by September 
  • December 2021: Decisions will be made by our selection committee

More details on our new and existing funds can be found via the links below


Please contact Sally Colvin or Sarah Briggs for advice on eligibility for the fund and help to develop applications: 

Sally Colvin, Programmes Manager:, 020 7566 7851
Sarah Briggs, Collections Development Officer:, 020 7566 7834