The Museum of the Home in east London opens to the public this weekend following an £18.1m redevelopment.
The project has made the museum’s 300-year-old buildings far more accessible and has created 80% more exhibition space, including the new Home Galleries on the lower ground floor. Interpretation of the existing Rooms Through Time spaces has been refreshed.
There is a new entrance opposite Hoxton Station and a cafe named after Molly Harrison, a curator at the museum in the 1940s. There is also an improved reception area and better visitor facilities.
“We had rising visitor figures, which was a great problem to have, but there were huge bottlenecks in certain parts of the 18th-century buildings and it was really difficult to get wheelchairs and buggies in,” said Museum of the Home director Sonia Solicari. “So making the site more accessible was a key driver as was giving visitors more choice on their visitor journey. Also, we had our stores in the basement which were damp, got flooded and had low ceilings and that was not ideal.”
Other new facilities include a pavilion and studio for the museums learning programme.
One of the programmes that the Museum of the Home has been working on while it has been closed is a collaboration with the London Homeless Collective, a group of more than 25 charities that support people experiencing homelessness. The partnership has developed Behind the Door, a campaign to raise awareness and challenge perceptions of the issue while also raising money. The initiative has a particular focus on female and family homelessness.
“We have made a commitment to the social part of our work that we are starting to explore with partnerships such as Behind the Door, which is a really new way of working for us,” said Solicari.
“The partnership with the London Homeless Collective is a two-year project and it is us as a museum using our platform and our voice and also helping to raise money as well for a cause. So, hopefully there will tangible outcomes and it will deliver on our mission of living better together.”
Visitors to the revamped Museum of the Home will see a number of new art commissions, including an outdoor installation by the BLKBRD Collective. Bearers of Home comprises five double-sided banners that feature large-scale images that are designed to show “a more inclusive picture of what constitutes community and whose stories should be remembered”.
Other art projects include Holding the Baby, an exhibition of photographs by Polly Braden about people’s experiences of being single parents. The show will tour to Open Eye Gallery in Liverpool and the Arnolfini in Bristol.
The Museum of Home has been working hard to engage its local community following the recent controversy over the statue of Robert Geffrye. The statue was installed to acknowledge the English merchant’s donation to build the almshouses. But Geffrye made part of his money from his investment in transatlantic slavery.
A public consultation was conducted in partnership with Hackney Council and the overall response was in favour of removing the statue. But in July 2020 the board of trustees of the museum decided to keep the statue in its current position. Geffrye is not connected to the founding of the museum or its collections.
“Undoubtedly, the statue has had a huge impact with local audiences and there is an overwhelming sense within Hackney that it should be moved and I think people felt quite betrayed by the consultation,” said Solicari. “This has led us to think really carefully about consultations and managing expectations around consultation processes and listening exercises.”
A protest about the statue is planned by an organisation called Stand Up To Racism Hackney for the reopening of the museum on 12 June.