IOW Museums Partnership: CC4D Case Study


What is your project called?

Hidden Heroes.

When did it take place?

April 2017 – March 2018.

How much did it cost?


Did you receive any external funding?

Fully funded by Arts Council England.

What key area of Diversity did your Project focus on?

Diversifying our public programmes/events, exhibitions or collections to be more representative of under-represented groups and diversifying our audiences through targeted programming to be more representatives of under-represented groups.

Please describe the aims of the Project.

Hidden Heroes was the audience engagement element of a wider partnership project between museums and other cultural organisations.  The Hidden Heroes project aimed to:

  • Engage more local people
  • Embed collaboration and learning between staff/volunteers in cultural organisations
  • Use new methods of interpretation to celebrate exciting human stories related to the Isle of Wight

Who did you work with?

  • Mixed audiences of typical and non-typical museum visitors across the island (no specific breakdown on the audiences by protected characteristic)
  • Primary school children in deprived areas

What work did you do together?

Three non-museum organisations (a local media company, a children’s publisher and a local arts organisation) led on the project to enable the museums to reach out to non-typical audiences. The project centered around the stories of seven Hidden Heroes who were selected to engender a sense of local pride, stimulate debate and engage different sections of the community.  The Hidden Heroes included the following:

  • William Fox (1813 – 1881)  – The ‘dragon hunter from Brighstone’: an influential amateur fossil hunter who discovered (and had named after him) more dinosaur species than any other person in England.
  • King Arwald (c. 686)  –  The last pagan, king of the IW who died defending it from the Anglo-Saxons; making it the last place to be converted to Christianity in England.
  • Isabella de Fortibus (1237 – 93)  –  The last private owner of the IW known as ‘The Lady of the Isle’, fiercely independent, and the richest, non-royal, heiress in England.
  • Julia Margaret Cameron (1815 – 79)  –  The trail-blazing Victorian photographer responsible for turning photography into an art form and pioneering the first close-up portraits.
  • Marion ‘Joe’ Carstairs (1900 – 93)  –  ‘The fastest woman on the water’: an openly gay, highly eccentric, tattooed, female powerboat racer who lived on the Isle of Wight in the 1920s.
  • John Ackroyd (1937 – today) –  The engineer and inventor who designed the first electric car, Richard Branson’s 1990’s hot air balloons and Thrust 2 – which held the world land speed record between 1983 and 1997 and was built in a shed in Fishbourne.
  • Andy Stanford Clark (1966 – today) – IBM’s ‘Master Inventor’ and internet technology superstar. Inventor of the communication protocol that powers Facebook Messenger and pioneer of the ‘Internet of Things’.

The campaign was rolled out to schools through a series of primary school workshops held in underprivileged council wards across the Island.  Children were encouraged to respond to the stories and develop their own interpretations which were then published in a book.

“One of the most inspiring things was to meet some of the Hidden Heroes in real life – children loved the fact some were still alive!” (Philip Bell, Beachy Books)

The campaign was also rolled out to the general public through a widespread marketing campaign that encouraged people to suggest their own Hidden Heroes.  These stories, from all walks of life, were included on the accompanying project website.

There was also a Hidden Heroes themed, pop-up museum installed in a small bus and staffed by 2 eccentric actor-curators that toured 10 locations and gave a wide range of people an immersive experience of those stories.

“I am happy…after speaking to 800+ people / teaching / informing… at the sheer amount of positive descriptive / anecdotal evidence HH has gathered, it has clearly been a stimulating project.” (Mhairi Macaulay, Ventnor Exchange)

What did you achieve?

  • Raised profile of rich variety of hidden histories offered by Island museums – by Autumn 2018 over 300,000 people had been exposed to the HH campaign.
  • Hidden Heroes touring outreach events engaged with over 9,000 people.
  • 270 school children took part in Hidden Heroes workshops.
  • An effective and engaging online and social media presence giving people a voice in sharing their own Hidden Heroes of the Island. The impact of HH on the Island was such that one of the HH was given the Freedom of Ryde following a local HH-inspired campaign.
  • Public debates where guest speakers from the community could argue the case for an alternative set of Island HH.

What are the long term impacts of your work?

The impact for the museums has been significant.

“The HH project utterly re-energized the Classic Boat Museum and made us re-evaluate everything we do…Trustees and volunteers broadened their horizons and our volunteer team…benefitted enormously from working with professionals from partner museums…” (Classic Boat Museum)

The opportunity to work with other arts organisations and media specialists gave the museums an opportunity to engage with hard-to-reach audiences through social media and live performance. A final exhibition matched objects from each of the museums’ collections with new artist commissions.

The museums involved benefited from these new approaches to interpretation and could see how it boosted their engagement with local communities. Some reported a 21% rise in visitor numbers.

“Great to work with engagement consultants and artists who have fresh and exciting ideas…” (Corina Westwood, IWC Heritage Service)

The museums are continuing to explore their Hidden Histories and make the most of connections made during the Hidden Heroes project eg Classic Boat museum have hosted a grant workshop on LGBTQ+ funding as a direct result of their involvement.

“It was exciting to work with new audiences. From stand-up at Ventnor Fringe to meeting the Heritage Facebook group in person – new links have been made” (Richard Smout, IWC Heritage Service)

The Hidden Heroes website and schools resources are available for Islanders to continue to use and be inspired by.

The museum and arts partners continue to work together as part of the Island Collection a strategic delivery body for arts and culture on the Island.

Have you embedded this work into your organisation’s practice?

See above.

What lessons have you learnt?

There was difficulty reconciling the project’s ambitious scope with its limited timeframe. The measurement of audience impact couldn’t be done within the timeframe. Baseline statistics were gathered at the beginning of the project but with different opening seasons, the next like-for-like comparison came after the project end.
There was a degree of underestimation of the level of in-house resourcing required.
“This has not been your ‘everyday’ project – it has required perhaps unexpectedly large input of time and energy…the outcomes have been positive but the importance of adequate backfilling / central resource may be a lesson to be learned for the future.” (Virgil Philpott, Carisbrooke Castle Museum)
A learning point for us was that when working in partnership ensure good communication all the way through.

What tips would you give other organisations interested in this kind of work?

  • Working in partnership enabled small museums to make a significant impact.
  • Using 3 local arts organisations to work with the museums was a fantastic way to engage new audiences.

“The combination of 3 engagement teams was inspired, creating a spread of skills and ideas that couldn’t have been imagined by a single team.” (Simon Perry, OntheWight)

  • Enable the community to get involved and take ownership in different ways
    eg giving people virtual and physical platforms for sharing their own HH . A theatre company also used the HH banner to tell the story of the defence of Cowes in 1942 by a Polish destroyer.
  • Make use of Museum Development support, advice and resources at the planning stage and over the course of a project. They were a crucial ‘hidden’ resource (eg for brokering off-island relationships, evaluation facilitation, bursary for a fact-funding visit).

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