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The South East Museum Development Programme bid to ACE has been submitted

The South East Museum Development Team is pleased to say that the regional bid to the Arts Council England for funding covering the 2015-18 period, has now been submitted.

Thank you to everyone who was involved in the process, especially colleagues from across the region's museums who contributed to various consultation and discussions about the future of museum development.  Back in January 2014, the planning process started and ideas were shared (see our 2015-18 Vision page for more details).  We will not hear if our bid has been successful or not until 26th September, at which time, detailed activity plans will be drawn up in collaboration with the Major Partner Museums, Bridge organisations and other potential partners.  In the meantime, we'd like to share with you an outline of the work we have proposed for the 2015-18 period, based on the feedback from you and from our ongoing work with the wider museum, heritage and arts community:

Our purpose is to be a trusted source of professional support for our region's museums, helping them to evolve and flourish. Our mission is to raise ambition, drive excellence and strengthen sector resilience. Underpinning all our work, we aim to challenge museums to be more imaginative and creative, and to develop a clearer understanding of their purpose.

By 2018, we believe museums will have transformed themselves and be working in ways that are more sustainable. In particular, our programme will help museums:

  • have active collections
  • offer great experiences
  • become more enterprising and business-like
  • develop strong leadership

Over the next three years, we will direct our efforts towards supporting collaborative, peer-to-peer models of delivery – and to supporting the significant culture change required to make this sustainable for the future.  This will be a more strategic programme than in the past, focused on brokering partnerships and supporting networks, rather than creating, imposing or running projects directly.  Our mission is to raise ambition, drive excellence and strengthen sector resilience. We will challenge museums to be more imaginative and creative, and to develop a clearer understanding of their purpose. In particular, we will focus our work around four key themes, agreed as priorities by the sector at the regional consultation meeting in January 2014:

1.      Active collections
2.      Great experiences
3.      Better business
4.      Strong leadership

Goal 1
The South East region is rich in museums, caring for and sharing heritage, art and culture of local, regional, national and international significance with millions of residents and tourists each year.  Independent and volunteer run organisations make up the largest proportion of these museums, followed by local authority run services, but the region also has a significant concentration of regimental and armed services and National Trust run museums. 

The theme for Goal 1 is ‘Active Collections’. Collections are the life blood of museums. Without caring for their collections effectively, the rest of the work a museum does cannot happen. We want to support museums to make their collections an ‘active’ strength, from basic care and management, through to digitisation, income generation and audience development.

Demand for collections-based support, training, audits and reviews is at a high, specifically around Accreditation. Over the past year, 166 SE museums were provided with targeted support to raise standards of collections management and care, and make collections more accessible. This need for support is matched by the effort needed to promote creative and imaginative use of these collections. It’s not what you have, but what you do with it that counts. Many of the region’s museums need to develop their skills and confidence in helping communities connect and engage with their collections.

Goal 2
The audiences for SE museums are as varied as the museums themselves, ranging from small volunteer run museums serving a local rural catchment, through to major attractions. All SE museums face a challenge in ensuring they understand their audiences, and reflect and attract an increasingly diverse demographic, particularly those least engaged with culture. As a development team we face a challenge in understanding this complex regional picture, and where the disconnects between museums and their potential audiences are most acute.  The SE database is helping us build a picture of how the region’s museums are responding to these issues, and where to target our efforts.

Our shared focus under Goal 2 will be on helping museums offer great experiences and make a positive difference to people by stimulating learning, enjoyment and inspiration.

In this fast moving world, museums have to embrace change. This means having the confidence to work in different ways, with different partners; to update displays and interpretation, and to create content that is right for this time and this place, whilst looking to engage new and more diverse audiences.  As a team we will help museums better understand how they are used, who uses them and who doesn’t, and why. There is room for improvement at all museums, large and small, so this is very much a collaborative effort.

Goal 3
There is no ignoring the fact that many museums are facing acute financial challenges.  Reductions in public funding continue to undermine and threaten the quality and breadth of offer, not just from local authority run services, but from independent museums in receipt of financial or in-kind support from their local authorities. Our last bid highlighted that uncertainty around funding and the need to secure long term sustainability were universal and primary concerns for museums. These pressures are forcing changes in governance models, increasing reliance on volunteers, increasing competition for funding and the drive to diversify income streams, and placing strong emphasis on the need to develop business and entrepreneurial skills.  

For goal 3 our shared focus is on better business - helping South East museums become more business-minded and enterprising.

The pressures museums are under mean that, in order to safeguard their primary purpose of caring for and sharing collections, they need to become fundamentally much more business-like. In practice, for many this involves developing new skills and ways of working: adopting a professional approach to financial management; developing an entrepreneurial mind-set that actively seeks out and exploits income generation and/or cost reduction opportunities; cultivating supporters to provide philanthropic support; and embracing environmental sustainability.  Local Authority museums in particular need to be equipped to understand the challenges of moving out of public sector control.

Goal 4
Regardless of the strength of its collections, location or public appeal, a museum’s potential is only realised through the skills, creativity and sheer graft of its workforce, both paid and voluntary.  The 112 museums that completed the 2012-13 Annual Return together employ 1,044 staff. Given that this is less than half the number of museums in the region, it’s likely that the paid workforce numbers around 2,000.  Those same 112 museums record a total of 5,675 volunteers. Again, extrapolating from this it is likely that SE museums are currently supported by more than 10,000 volunteers, outnumbering paid staff by approximately 5:1. Recent surveys, both regionally and nationally, flag skills gaps in entrepreneurialism, commerce, fundraising, digital media and communications. But, over and above these specifics, it is clear that in the current challenging climate, effective leadership is vital to the museum sector’s ability to adapt and survive.

Our shared focus for goal 3 will be on helping the South East’s museums become ‘Better led.’ This theme recognises the primary importance of effective leadership at an organisational and sector level. Over the next three years, we aim to improve the effectiveness of both museum and sector leadership through a defined programme of targeted interventions. We also aim to achieve a substantial shift in the way we provide museum development support, focusing less on expert-led training and consultancy approaches, and more on brokering partnerships, facilitating networks, and enabling collaborative, peer-to-peer and self-help models of delivery. Our ambition is to make museum development sustainable for the future, and to support the significant culture change this requires.

Goal 5
The learning offer for children and young people differs enormously in museums across the South East. Many large and medium sized museums have paid staff delivering comprehensive informal and formal learning programmes, while smaller museums deliver informal sessions with volunteers. But the formal learning landscape is changing dramatically, with an increasing diversity in types of schools and a new national curriculum being introduced in 2015. Museums need support to adapt, and to build embedded relationships with schools.  This application has described the increasing emphasis we are placing on developing museums by brokering partnerships and supporting collaborations, and through facilitated peer to peer support. This way of working is particularly pertinent to the impact we believe we can make on Goal 5.  There are many existing and new sources of learning support available to museums, notably in the form of the Bridge organisations. We have an important role to play in helping museums access this support. 

We will keep you informed of the outcome as soon as we receive any news from ACE.  Fingers crossed.