Leicester City's story was one we had to tell

Matthew Constantine, Issue 116/06, p17, 01.06.2016
A story this significant should be celebrated in our flagship museum as much as dinosaurs and fine art
March 2016: Leicester City Football Club have been top of the Premier League since early January and the growing excitement across the city seems to draw together everyone from across a diverse community. The council press team reports there have been more international media enquiries than at the height of Richard III fever. The phrase “doing a Leicester” is being used across the world to describe any kind of unlikely achievement.

It was clearly a major event in Leicester’s history and the museum service needed to respond in some way. This was partly pragmatism; we wanted more city residents and tourists to visit us. It was also principle – since 1849 Leicester’s museums have been free and accessible places where the whole community can come together. A story this significant should be celebrated in our flagship museum as much as dinosaurs and fine art.

It was, however, a gamble. The Foxes could yet fall short and the story was still evolving. Should we wait and reflect down the line? Ultimately, it felt important to show we were part of the city – it would have been a mistake to stand aloof. Our long-planned summer exhibition was postponed and instead we began creating an entirely new exhibition to fill 315 sq m by the beginning of June.

The experience of Richard III in 2012-14, when we rapidly created an exhibition and then a visitor centre, gave us confidence to know we could respond quickly and with quality. But this time, there would be no external design help.

The exhibition uses photographs, film and objects to tell the story of Leicester City going from bottom of the table to, as it has turned out, Premier League champions in just 14 months. The other half is dedicated to reflecting on the impact this has had on the city. How and why has it captured the world’s imagination? We knew we did not have time to co-create or capture more than a fraction of the stories that have emerged, so instead we have made sure this will be a space people can visit and add their own mark, sharing stories and reflections.

We have been lucky to get the support of the Leicester Mercury, the local BBC and ITV teams and – despite being at the centre of an international feeding frenzy – the club.

Most importantly, in an echo of the football team, the museum staff have worked for each other and without ego to create something special. Whatever the future holds in challenging times, this is an extraordinary moment.

Matthew Constantine is the collections, interpretation and learning manager at Leicester Arts and Museums Service