NMNI unveils restructure plan

National Museums Northern Ireland plans to extend its role and relevance, as it seeks to increase visitor numbers
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Rob Sharp
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National Museums Northern Ireland (NMNI) has unveiled restructuring plans designed to help it deal with ongoing reductions to its core funding, while developing services that more clearly define and extend its role, purpose and relevance.

The service’s priorities over the next five years will include developing its collections, expanding its audiences and seeking investment in redevelopment across its estate, according to director and chief executive Kathryn Thomson, who joined the organisation in March.

The restructure involves the creation of three strategic director roles, overseeing collections, business operations and public engagement.

“There’s a real need for us to bring the collections front and centre of everything we do as an organisation,” says Thomson. “In the workshops we’ve done with staff, it’s been important that we focus on the collections, both in terms of how we care for, manage and develop those collections, but also in terms of how we make them more accessible.”

Alongside developing its collections, creating a more inspiring visitor experience, and redeveloping the buildings across its sites, the museum’s latest strategy document highlights the importance of opening up its venues to support greater community cohesion, connecting with more people.

NMNI hopes to achieve its aims, in part, through developing its digital capability, becoming more self-sufficient through commercial operations and working in partnership.

Thomson says her decision to restructure came in part because she has seen “visitor-facing and audience-facing activities that straddle several directorates. From my perspective, it was lacking efficiency and alignment in terms of our service delivery.”

She adds that growth targets have not been set, partly due to uncertainty over the latest draft of the Northern Ireland Programme for Government, the strategic document outlining government priorities, which is out for public consultation.

“Critically, we’ll need to work out what our financial position is going to be,” she says. “To a large extent, our financial position will dictate our targets.”

Thomson says that in five years, she wants annual visitor numbers to reach a million. The organisation welcomed 798,067 visitors in 2015-16.

“I don’t know if it’s possible, but it’s something we should be aiming for, especially as tourism to Northern Ireland grows,” she says.

Targeting the hard to reach

Thomson adds that NMNI is formulating targets for hard-to-reach audiences.

Development possibilities include a revamp of the Ulster American Folk Park to become the Museum of Emigration, broadening the story of Irish emigration to more countries around the world, and enhancing the Ulster Folk & Transport Museum to strengthen its narrative and the quantity of the collection on display.

“There has been no major capital investment in the Ulster American Folk Park or the Ulster Folk & Transport Museum in recent years, and none since 2009 at the Ulster Museum, where we need to look at increasing access to our collections – our history and art collections need extra gallery space,” says Thomson.

She says other local attractions, including Titanic Belfast, attract lots of visitors from abroad.

“Our foreign visitors are 25% of our audience and there’s huge potential to grow that,” says Thomson. “We have a critical role to play in extending length of stay and visitor spend, giving people a reason to stay two or three days in Northern Ireland.


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