Social impact work is thriving, finds Museums Survey

Jonathan Knott, 31.01.2018
47% of museums work with disability groups and 46% with health and wellbeing providers
Work that aims to make a positive social impact is a strong and increasing focus for museums, according to the latest survey of the sector by the Museums Association (MA).

The Museums in the UK 2018 report, which is published today, is based on the MA’s Museums Survey, which ran online from September to November last year. 435 museums responded, answering a wide range of questions about their work in 2016-17, from operations and finances to volunteering and Brexit.

In response to a question about their work with different stakeholders, 77% of museums said they worked with schools, 74% with local community groups, 59% with friends or supporters associations, and 55% with youth groups.

There were also many museums working with groups that are traditionally less associated with the sector. Almost half said they had worked with disability groups (47%) and health and wellbeing providers (46%) in the past year.

And significant proportions also said they had worked with black, Asian and ethnic minority communities (23%), environmental groups or campaigns (18%), LGBTQ+ groups (19%), refugees or asylum seekers (15%) and gender equality groups (12%).

The report noted that “the percentage of museums saying they work with many of these groups has increased significantly since last year’s Museums Survey”.

The largest increases were for museums working with disability groups (rising from 13% to 47%), LGBTQ+ groups (8% to 19%) and environmental groups (8% to 18%).

Museums made clear that this type of work would be a major focus in future. One independent former local authority museum in the West Midlands said that it saw a key opportunity for the year ahead as “expanding community activities and supporting projects that tackle social exclusion”.

And an independent museum in south England said: “Our ambition to ensure that the gallery is relevant to members of our local community and supports social regeneration requires us to operate in new and different ways. The transformation of people and places is core to our vision."

Sharon Heal, the MA’s director, said: “It’s really great to see that more museums are engaging with the themes of Museums Change Lives and making a positive contribution to society.

“The MA will use the information in this survey to make the case for museums and the vital role that we can play in enhancing health and wellbeing, creating better places for us for us to live and work and providing space for debate and reflection over the course of 2018.”

Overall, the survey revealed a sector that appeared broadly healthy, with two thirds of museums (66%) saying that visitor figures had either increased or remained stable, and 73% reporting that their overall funds had either increased or stayed the same.

But it also confirmed that museums funded by local authorities continue to face real difficulties. 39% of local authority museums and 54% of independent museums formerly run by local authorities reported reduced overall funds. Large proportions of these types of museum (51% and 58% respectively) also experienced a decrease in their regular public income.
Brexit was another key area of concern. Although some museums hoped that a weaker pound would boost tourism, there were more expressing concerns about Brexit's potential to disrupt workforces, remove funding sources and make visits to the UK from EU countries more difficult.

Links and downloads

Museums in the UK 2018 report

News analysis: Future looks bright but funding is still a challenge