The MA's president Maggie Appleton (L) presents the MCL Best Project Award to Rachel Cockett (centre) and Charlotte Holmes (R) from Birmingham Museums Trust

Birmingham Museums Trust wins MCL Best Project award

Geraldine Kendall Adams,
Ceremony to celebrate social impact work takes place at MA conference
Birmingham Museums Trust has been named the winner of the inaugural Museums Change Lives (MCL) Best Project Award for its ground-breaking community engagement initiative, Collecting Birmingham. 

The museum received the award at a ceremony at Ulster Museum last night as part of the Museums Association’s annual conference in Belfast. The other two shortlisted projects were Prejudice and Pride by the National Trust, and Tracing our Tales by the Foundling Museum.  

Collecting Birmingham was a three-year project that enabled the people of Birmingham to take an active role in collecting, documenting and archiving museum objects that told personal stories of living, working and growing up in the city.  The community-led programme saw more than 2200 local people work with museum staff to collect 1500 new objects for the museum, telling the story of Birmingham’s diverse communities.

Ellen McAdam, the director of Birmingham Museums Trust, said: “Collecting Birmingham will have a long-lasting impact on the Trust and the city’s collection, and we are thrilled it has been recognised by the Museums Association at the Museums Change Lives Awards.

“Collecting Birmingham has enabled us to forge new relationships and strengthen existing partnerships to ensure the collection better reflects the diverse people of the city and tell their stories of growing up, living and working here in Birmingham. It’s been a transformative project for us and leaves a great legacy to build on as we plan for the future of Birmingham Museums Trust.”

Taigh Chearsabhagh Museum in North Uist on the Outer Hebrides won the award for Best Small Museum Project for an intergenerational project that helped local primary school pupils to imagine life on the island in 2048. The shortlist also included Glenside Hospital Museum in Bristol and Shire Hall Historic Courthouse Museum in Dorchester. 

The Radical Changemaker Award, which recognises the achievements of an individual in social impact work, went to Dan Vo, the coordinator of the volunteer-led LGBTQ Tours at the Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A). Vo has volunteered at the V&A since 2012 and has run the tours since 2015, quickly winning fans from across the world. His tours have been taken by more than 3,500 people and he is now helping to introduce similar tours in other museums around the country. 

The other two shortlisted nominees were Roz Currie of Islington Museum and Henry McGhie of Manchester Museum.  

The Northern Ireland MCL Award, a distinction that will rotate each year to recognise best practice in the nation or region hosting the MA conference, went to National Museums Northern Ireland this year in recognition of its work with deprived communities, including visits to young offenders programmes and bringing inspiring items from its collections to deprived areas of Belfast.

Lastly, the Exceptional Achievement Award 2018 went to National Museums Liverpool for its pioneering House of Memories programme that uses museum collections to engage with people with dementia and their carers. The programme, which is funded by the NHS, is widely recognised for the improvements it brings to the wellbeing of those involved and has recently been adopted by other museums as far afield as Minnesota in the USA.

The MA's director Sharon Heal said: "We are delighted to be launching these awards in Belfast. We know that more and more museums are making a difference working with their communities but often this work goes under the radar. These awards are an opportunity to develop and share best practice and to celebrate the unsung heroes of the sector."

The MA's president Maggie Appleton said: "I’m so happy that we’re able to celebrate the achievement of our five winners here in Belfast. They represent the very best of the UK’s museums because they are helping an ever greater number of people to play an active part in their cultural, historic and scientific heritage.”