Museum of… British Red Cross Museum, London - Museums Association

Museum of… British Red Cross Museum, London

Pippa Kelly is treated to a tour of this extensive archive that celebrates 150 years of helping people in crisis across the globe
Museum Of
Red Cross vehicle model, 1995, made by children in Angola, mainly out of Red Cross food aid tins
Where

The museum is housed in the British Red Cross head office in east London. 

What

A museum dedicated to the history of the British Red Cross. It originates from the personal collection of Beryl Oliver who worked across the organisation from the 1910s to 1960s. The collection arrived in its current location in 2004, but with limited public access much of it remained in storage.

This changed in December 2021 when an exhibition space opened to the public. The museum now has a permanent exhibition that tells the 150-year history of the British Red Cross, alongside a programme of changing exhibitions. 

A new exhibition space opened to the public last December
The collection

About 10,000 objects, dating from 1870 to the present day, which spans the UK and international humanitarian work of the British Red Cross. “One of the most significant objects is a flag with a red cross from 1870,” says the museum’s curator, Mehzebin Adam.

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“It’s believed to have been used by the founder of the British Red Cross, Robert Loyd-Lindsay, when he travelled to deliver financial aid in the Franco-Prussian war. The red cross emblem has become a powerful symbol of hope, so this red cross flag is a very significant object for the organisation.” 

Highlights

“A personal highlight is the Changi quilt. It was created by women internees in Changi jail in Singapore in 1942,” says Adam. “It tells a story of friendships between those brought together during a crisis and shows how kindness can keep people together. Some of the objects that people seem to be most inspired by are the creative objects that have been made during crises, such as the toy vehicle models made out of Red Cross food tins by children during the Angolan civil war.” 

Help at hand

Adam works full time supported by a part-time collections auditor and a volunteer. 

Budget

The museum is funded by the British Red Cross’s general funds and donations, alongside a grant from the National Lottery Heritage Fund, which supports an ongoing collections auditing project. The museum is open Monday to Friday and is free with an advance booking. 

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Sticky moments

“The opening of our 150th anniversary exhibition in 2020 – the year of our anniversary – had to be postponed until the end of 2021,” says Adam. “I focused on creating online content such as exhibitions, blogs, video recordings, social media and educational resources, so that people could still enjoy exploring our museum during this time.” 

Shrubland Park Hospital, 1918, by Marion Saumerez
Survival tips

“We have been focusing quite heavily on online content, which is a great way to reach wider audiences not based in London, or people who are not able to visit us in person,” says Adam. “Educational resources have also been really useful. We have been using historical posters and creating colouring activities for school groups and those are very popular.” 

Visitors

The museum does not yet have annual attendance figures, but Adam is pleased with the number of visitors so far, both online and in person. 

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Future plans

“With our newly opened museum exhibition space, we plan to continue working on bringing access to our collection and history to wider audiences,” says Adam. “We want to develop our exhibition programme and educational resources and will continue to link the work of the British Red Cross with the museum, to support the organisation to spread the power of kindness.” 

Pippa Kelly is a freelance writer 

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