Summary of our activity - Museums Association

Summary of our activity

The Esmée Fairbairn Collections Fund, run by the Museums Association since 2011, supports projects that develop collections and connect them to people. During this 11-year period the fund has awarded over £11 million in grants to 170 projects and received 1,392 applications.

Over 11 years
in grants

The history of the fund represents a gradual evolution. Today it emphasises community participation in museums and with collections as part of civic society. The Collections Fund is instrumental in supporting work in museums that explores contemporary issues such as decolonisation, anti-racism and climate crisis – largely through a lens of equity, sharing power and participation in collections work. 

When the Collections Fund began, its focus was on making better use of stored collections for public benefit. With the launch of Museums Change Lives in 2013, the fund began to shift further towards a focus on communities. From round 7 (2014) we added a call for proposals that have the potential to use collections to make a difference for audiences.

And in 2017 the guidance criteria changed again with even more emphasis on social impact and learning dissemination, helping to produce guidance for the wider sector such as the Power to the People Framework and our decolonisation guidance:

“Through the Collections Fund, we want to fund a range of high-quality projects which use collections for a social purpose, demonstrating that collections change lives and enhance public benefit. We will draw on the learning from these projects and beyond to stimulate excellent practice across the whole sector, through open events and resources for everyone.”

EFCF Guidance for Applicants 2017

Collections have always been central to the fund. UK museums have benefitted in terms of research, conservation and collections management that would not have taken place otherwise; and in terms of how museums prioritise, and engage people in, collections work.

Projects have covered a multitude of specialisms, including social history, archaeology and palaeontology, numismatics, costume and textiles, fine and decorative art, sound and film, oral history, natural history, archives and manuscripts, world collections, military, photography, maritime, industrial history, and rural history.

The fund has supported high-profile collections and objects such as the Staffordshire Hoard and the Birmingham Qur’an manuscript. It has also funded lesser known or more locally significant collections such as Doncaster Museum’s mining collections and Inverness Museum and Art Gallery’s Highland collections.

T-shirt saying 'My dad is a striking miner'
T-shirt from Doncaster Museum’s mining collections Image courtesy of Doncaster Museums and Galleries

The fund has safeguarded at-risk collections such as the National Holocaust Museum’s collections of survivor testimonies which was in danger of being lost due to obsolete digital formats. It has also brought more diverse perspectives to collections such as National Museum Liverpool’s project to reinterpret collections from an LGBT perspective. 

Museums of all types and size have benefitted directly from the fund, from small volunteer-run museums such as Glenside Hospital Museum to nationals working in partnership, such as Amgueddfa Cymru – Museum Wales and the Imperial War Museum. Local authority and former local authority trusts have been well represented in funding along with independent museums such as the National Justice Museum.

Sector bodies and networks such as the Social History Curators’ Group and the Federation of Museums and Art Galleries of Wales have also received funding as well as academic establishments such as the University of Leicester’s Research Centre for Museums and Galleries. 

Museums from across all four nations of the UK have received funding. Our 170 projects have been from as far afield as Shetland, the Western Isles, Derry, Fermanagh, Great Yarmouth, Cornwall, Swansea and Pontipridd.