Case study | Developing a temporary exhibition on a tight budget - Museums Association

Case study | Developing a temporary exhibition on a tight budget

Lucy Ashby shares Littlehampton Museum's approach to its Romans exhibition
Temporary Exhibition
Lucy Ashby
The Romans exhibition at Littlehampton Museum

Littlehampton Museum is a small museum located in the seaside town of Littlehampton in West Sussex. Funded by Littlehampton Town Council, we welcomed about 7,700 visitors in 2022.

We put on three or four exhibitions a year in our temporary exhibition gallery, which are a mixture of art and collection-based displays. These exhibitions are usually produced in-house by the museum team.

Our big summer exhibition for 2023 is Romans, which runs from June until the end of October.

With a budget of £550, our objective was to create a family-friendly, informative and interactive exhibition exploring life in the area 2,000 years ago. We wanted to tell the story of a local site, Angmering Roman Villa, and to showcase key items from our Roman archive.

We have one full-time and two part-time members of staff, and seven regular volunteers. During this period, we also had a student placement from Bournemouth University. The town council’s amenity team are also able to help us with construction work and large-scale painting.

The planning for Romans began in January; as we are a small team, exhibition work has to be fitted around the other tasks. We are used to tight schedules but try to allow as much time as possible to prepare.


Tasks are allocated according to skill set. For example, the curator and the placement student have backgrounds in archaeology, so they wrote and researched the text for the display.

One of the part time museum officers specialises in design, so was able to design all aspects of the exhibition without the associated costs that would come from an outside firm.

The council’s amenity team also worked with us on bespoke construction elements (a highlight being our handling shelves), which required us only paying for the cost of materials.

We closed the gallery for two weeks to change over exhibitions. During this period, it was all hands on deck, with members all of the team, and any willing volunteers, working together to create the final display.

Top Tips for developing exhibitions on limited budgets

Look and feel of exhibitions

One of our main challenges on a small budget is changing the look and feel of the gallery for each new exhibition. Some simple tricks we have learnt are:

  • Changing the colour of the gallery can dramatically alter the feel of the room. If you have a large space and a full repaint is out of budget, smaller areas can be zoned using paint colours to great effect. For Romans, we used paint both to create background panels for vinyl lettering and to produce a Roman room for our children’s area at the back of the gallery.
  • We did not have the budget for false walls or bespoke display cases, so simply changing the positioning of our smaller cases altered the look and flow around the space for free.
  • We have a spotlight track around the gallery, so we can change the mood/focus of the room easily by directing/turning on/off lights where required. For a theatre exhibition last year, we used PVC coloured light filters, which were effective and budget friendly.
Examples of how colour was used in the exhibition, including the children’s area (left)
Reduce and reuse

We reuse past exhibition material wherever possible. For example, old exhibition panels are cut up and used for mounting new labels, and the stage for Romans was built for a previous exhibition. New items produced, such as the handling shelves, were also made with a view to reuse in the future.


Our enthusiastic volunteer team assisted with proof reading, documentation and installation.

Asking for help

We had family members making togas out of second-hand bed sheets, and advising on image manipulation when our software was not sufficient.

Go local

When using outside suppliers, we use local companies whenever possible. This has environmental benefits and also means we do not need to pay delivery fees as work is either delivered free of charge or can be collected.

Shop around

We are making the switch from foamboard to recycled cardboard for our display panels and discovered a local supplier who could produce these for about half the price as one we had used previously.

Have fun

Despite tight schedules and limited budgets, finding creative solutions and working together to produce engaging exhibitions is one of our favourite parts of the job.

 Lucy Ashby is the museum officer at Littlehampton Museum

Comments (2)

  1. Hannah Miller says:

    Clear and practical advice which demystify the process and decisions you had to make. Thank you.

  2. Daniel Low-Beer says:

    Very good advice and amazing to see what is still possible with your budget

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