The National Trust is the latest heritage organisation to join the Independent Research Organisation Consortium (IROC).
The group of cultural institutions has acquired Independent Research Organisation (IRO) status from the Arts and Humanities Research Council. This allows the organisations to receive money from UK Research and Innovation, which distributes more than £7bn a year for academic research.
In order to apply, organisations have to demonstrate “an independent capability to undertake and lead research programmes”.
Nino Strachey, the National Trust’s head of research, says IRO status will improve the institution’s work “in just about every way, whether it’s our conservation projects or our exhibitions and programming”. She adds: “Almost any activity the trust does has the opportunity for research. In particular, we will be thinking about who we could work in partnership with to make our work more innovative, whether that is universities or other IROs.”
The application process took about a year, says Strachey, and the support of other members of the consortium was extremely useful during this period. The trust’s approach to research is influenced by that of Tate, according to Strachey. “It is about inclusive and collaborative research, responding to our audiences, and ensuring that the research we’re doing is relevant, inclusive and participative – so particularly thinking about opportunities for citizen science and community involvement,” she says.
An organisation’s existing capacity for research is a key part of IRO eligibility, and the National Trust had existing relationships with several universities, as well as running collaborative research across the UK.
Recent and ongoing projects include a trial using mobile technology to increase access to historic book collections in trust libraries, run at Wimpole Hall in Cambridgeshire with University of the Arts London; and a PhD project with University College London looking at the implications of mould growth on books, textiles, furniture and paintings.
Research is a growing area for museums and galleries. Earlier this year, Tate announced the new Hyundai Tate Research Centre: Transnational, which focuses on international art and supports five curatorial posts at Tate Modern, and the British Museum established the Santo Domingo Centre of Excellence for Latin American Research.