Case studies

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The following case studies are taken from West Midlands Museum Development publications.


The Pen Museum took part in a range of activities: Secret Shopper, Access Audit, Call to Adventure and Volunteer Awards, along with training days.  The organisation has just one part-time member of staff, along with volunteers, and both the member of staff and volunteers took part in the programme.

The member of staff is new to the organisation and had identified a range of issues to be addressed – at the heart of which is the importance of visitor numbers and therefore improving these was key to overall development of the museum.

The involvement in the activities all contributed to the focus on visitor experience and numbers and the development of a long term strategy:

  • The museum had already identified their core demographic (retired 50-60 year olds) and the Secret Shopper activity helped them to understand how to reach younger audiences, including that young people do not see the relevance of the museum.  The museum plans to tackle these misconceptions, which has informed plans to develop marketing materials.
  • The Mental Health Access Audit has led to changes in the website, so that visitors feel more prepared, as well as changes in how people can be shown through the museum
  • A range of training and activities has contributed to improvements in marketing, with a new leaflet, updates on the website and a volunteer leading on social media
  • One of the volunteers participated in Call to Adventure focusing on improving the education offer to schools.  The volunteer is now a Trustee and the museum is undertaking outreach sessions at the Birmingham Children’s Library to reach younger visitors.

The activities have been “extremely important” to the museum: “it has been vital, and made me think of things I wouldn’t have thought of otherwise”.  Staff and volunteers were impressed by the training, and particularly noted that the follow up resources were very helpful.  The training was seen as “inspiring … not death by powerpoint”, and both the range of training on offer and style of trainers was praised.

Source: WMMD Evaluation Report 2018-19


Staff at the Rugby Art Gallery and Museum took part in a range of activities across all West Midland Museum Development programme strands including: Diversity Champions, Call to Adventure, Secret Museums, Mental Health Access Audit, Expert Eye, and events including the conference, Project Management and Volunteers in the Workplace.

The museum had identified a number of key issues prior to involvement in these activities including the fact that the audiences and collections don’t represent the demographic of the borough, particularly West Indian and South Asian communities and the growing Polish and Portuguese communities.

The involvement in the activities had an impact across the organisation:

  • The Diversity Champions programme helped them to develop their ideas on reaching and reflecting the local communities, providing greater context to their planning.  This has fed into an Arts Council England application and their forward planning, with an Equality Action Plan now being integrated into service planning.
  • The museum had identified their Social History Collection as an area to address, wanting to broaden the stories that the museum tells.  The Expert Eye programme focused on the Pharma Collection within this wider collection and provided the expertise to know what was safe to show, and how to present the collection.  This helped enormously, particularly in relation to risk management, identifying items that needed to be disposed of (such as controlled drugs), or treated.  As a result, the next exhibition will be this collection, which has not been accessible before, and staff said that Expert Eye was “crucial for sharing experience”, and that a relatively small amount of input “made a massive difference”.
  • The Access Audit identified improvements to be made to the website and signage in the visitors’ centre.  The museum will require investment for these changes, but this work has identified specific tasks and helped to provide a strong case for support for the work.

The activities have helped the museum to address identified issues around collections and audiences in the short term and has informed the forward planning for the next five years.  In addition, the Diversity Champions activity has informed the development of the Arts Council England bid, which if successful, will inform delivery in the coming years.

Source: WMMD Evaluation Report 2018-19


Participation in the Expert Eye programme led the Worcester City Art Gallery to be involved in the BBC Civilisations Festival and impacted across different areas of the organisation’s work.

The organisation had identified that their ethnographic collection was under-utilised and that documentation on many pieces had been lost.  They received support from museum ethnographic collections consultant, Len Pole, who worked with staff to help identify objects within the collection, their origin and significance including symbolic meanings.

Incredibly on the first box opened, Len identified a rare piece of Tahitian bark cloth whose origin and significance was later confirmed by the British Museum.  Following Len’s work, the museum made a successful bid to the Art Fund with BBC Civilisations Festival which helped to redisplay the piece and support a family event including bhangra dancers, mehndi, saree dressing workshops and Maori crafts.

Involvement in the Expert Eye programme not only helped inform staff and managers about their collection, highlighting its importance and potential, it also:

  • Informed staff on where to look for further information about items in the collection and who to approach regarding conservation of items
  • Prompted staff to have a discussion on cultural appropriation
  • Led to re-writing of panels, including explanations of ethical considerations
  • Engaged more diverse audiences and visitors, with plans for further multicultural events in the future
  • Will improve resources for schools, with a loan box for schools on world cultures in the pipeline

Source: WMMD Evaluation Report 2017-18


Brampton Museum and Art Gallery received a Ready to Borrow grant of just over £12,000 to prepare for loans from the V&A, funding high security cases, security screws and anti-snatch alarms.

The support meant that they were able to borrow five prints and a watercolour from the V&A for the Phillip Astley exhibition and were in a strong position to secure trust funding to cover the costs of borrowing the pieces, and be part of a larger National Lottery Heritage Fund bid.

This has not only helped them to reach audiences that they would not normally access but means that the organisation is now in the position of being able to borrow from national museums.

The museum said that the Ready to Borrow process was ideal in terms of upskilling staff and achieving the goal of borrowing from the V&A, but found the overall process of borrowing was more costly in terms of funds and staff time than originally anticipated.

Source: WMMD Evaluation Report 2017-18


In the second year of the programme, ACE Grants for the Arts funding was secured for the We Are All Stories project, supporting six collaborations between artists and museums.

The Black and White House worked with The Fetch Theatre and About Face, a professional company for adults with learning difficulties.  The museum was initially contacted by The Fetch Theatre, and recognised the opportunity to engage with a different audience and to “encourage people to think that this is a space for them”

The partnership created five different one to one theatre pieces which were performed in different locations in the museum.  Each organisation contributed to the collaboration of the stories, and museum staff developed background sheets for audience members to look at following each performance.  The innovative and intimate pieces included telling the story of prehistoric Herefordshire on someone’s hand, wearing the Black and White House on your shoulders, and a piece about the munitions factory in the county.

The work succeeded in reaching new audiences including local families (existing visitors to the museum tended to be tourists rather than the local community) and more diverse families.  The organisation learned a lot about both reaching more diverse audiences and sharing the collections in a new way.  They also gained experience of working with Arts Council England, and creating performances built around specific collections.

The partners also benefited from this work, and continue to do so.  One to one theatre had not been performed by About Face before, and this helped the actors and the organisation to develop new approaches.  Feedback from the work showed that it helped change perceptions of disability and succeeded in breaking down the barrier between performer and audience.

Since the original project, the pieces have continued to be performed.  The work was taken to Hereford library and museum, helping to bring the two spaces together and using the larger space to reach more people.  The piece about the local munitions factory was also performed when the Poppies: Weeping Window came to Herefordshire, and About Face will continue to perform the pieces locally as part of their repertoire, generating interest in the Black and White House Museum.

“This was a fantastic opportunity, we have not done anything quite like this before.”  Project Commissioner (Museums, Libraries & Archives), Herefordshire Council

Source: WMMD Evaluation Report 2017-18


Shrewsbury Museum and Art Gallery took part in the Diversity Champions programme as a means of increasing audience diversity.  The organisation had an appreciation of the barriers to access including entry fees and opening times (which could not be changed), and sought to find ways of working around these to engage wider audiences.

The organisation set a range of objectives including planning activities based on a cultural calendar and embedding EDI into the organisational strategy, with clear targets such as the number of exhibitions per annum focused on diverse communities – ensuring that equality, diversity and inclusion is embedded into organisational plans for the next five years.

A range of activities have already been planned or undertaken to diversify audiences including joint working with MIND, a special needs school, and a project based on LGBT History Month.  This programme of events has enabled the organisation to reach different groups and more outreach is planned.  There is a clear understanding in the organisation that this will not immediately impact on the diversity of day to day visitors, but will ensure that their work is reached by wider audiences in a range of settings.

Source: WMMD Evaluation Report 2017-18


The Blogger in Residence programme matched writers with museums over the summer of 2017.  The programme worked with Writing West Midlands which provides network and professional opportunities for emerging poets, scriptwriters and writers of fiction

Royal Birmingham Society of Artists (RBSA) was matched with Louise Palfreyman, who focused on the organisation’s Art Blog.  The project resulted in:

  • Improvements to the blog in terms of visual appearance, usability, accessibility, and range of content
  • Increased number and diversity of audiences and artists through the blog and targeted tweets
  • Improving staff knowledge on using social media platforms

“The experience so far has been very informative and productive.  We have been really impressed with the amount and range of progress made during the project.  The achievements above would not have been possible without this project.  We are keen not to lose momentum after the completion of the project and are now working with Louise on how to manage and delegate tasks more effectively across staff and volunteers to ensure that we can maintain this level of increased activity throughout our social media platforms.”

Source: WMMD Evaluation Report 2017-18


The ‘Moving On’ Project has supported Staffordshire Archives and Heritage Service through a period of major transition.  The programme was designed to make their collections accessible to wider audiences across Staffordshire while the County Museum Collection moved to a new store.  The project was funded with £102,000 from the ACE Resilience Programme.

Two major touring exhibitions were developed. ‘Puppets on Parade’ and ‘Through the Eyes of Child’ visited museum venues across Staffordshire and will continue to tour throughout 2019.

The entire collection of nationally important carriages was photographed by Art UK, digitised and made available online.  The new website features 360° photography of each vehicle and a best practice guide for interpreting carriage collections.

In addition, the Resilience Funding supported the development of pilot projects to engage new audiences with the collections.  Intergenerational events took place with older people living with dementia and nursery aged children, new activities were developed working with rural schools, a ‘pop-up’ museum was created alongside attendance at public events such as fetes and country shows.  These have successfully broadened the reach of the Service which is now better prepared to meet the opportunities that awaits it.

Source: Annual Survey of Museums 2017-18


Leamington Spa Art Gallery & Museum received a grant of £14,800 from Arts Council to work with Birmingham based artist Stuart Whipps on The Lights of Leamington, a project connecting the museum and art collections with newly commissioned work.

From the 1950s until 1961 a festival called The Lights of Leamington drew 300,000 visitors to the town.  Thousands of coloured electric lights turned the town’s Jephson Gardens into a wonderland.

The eclectic exhibition, selected and curated by Whipps, brought the theme up to date showing the diverse ways light runs through the collection at Leamington Spa Art Gallery & Museum.  Light emitting objects linked to Leamington’s history, such as lamps used in medical spa treatments were displayed alongside paintings and photographs depicting or utilising light. The exhibition also included new photographic work by Whipps which was created in response to works in the collection.  The works were displayed as he found them in the stores; with the museum classification and storage systems creating quirky juxtapositions of objects and artworks.

The exhibition opened in January 2018 for three months.  The museum also showed pictures of the festival from its collection and a memory book encouraged people to record their memories and read those of other visitors.  At the end of the project Whipps donated two of the artworks, based on degraded negatives found in the museum stores, to the collection.

Source: Annual Survey of Museums 2017-18


In 2019, Worcester Heritage & Amenity Trust will be celebrating their 15th year running the sustainable independent museum, Tudor House. Through hard work and ambition, they have grown to welcome nearly 20,000 visitors through the door each year. 

By keeping a careful eye on costs, constantly searching for the better deal (“never accept the first quote!”), the museum has always managed to make a small surplus.  This surplus has contributed to a pot that is now large enough to carry out planned building and renovation work (with match-funding from the Rowlands Trust) in 2019.  During 2017-18, the income was raised via donations, gift and coffee shop sales, and a varied events programme.  School visits have remained steady and all of the front of house operations are staffed by volunteers.  The team very much work to their strengths.

A successful collaborative partnership with Worcester Municipal Charities means that the Trust receives a grant every year to employ a full-time manager, and there are plans to extend the staffing next year.  The team take their work seriously (but not too seriously!).  In 2017, the museum was shortlisted for the national Family Friendly Museum Award.  In the past two years, they have won in their nominated categories at the WMMD Volunteer Awards.  The board and team at Tudor House always look beyond the reaches of their own building and consistently punch above their weight in terms of what they achieve and what they have planned for the future.

Source: Annual Survey of Museums 2017-18


Winterbourne House and Garden is a rare surviving example of an early twentieth century suburban villa and garden, located in Edgbaston.  The villa was built in 1903 for industrialists John and Margaret Nettlefold, and houses an important collection of archival material and objects relating to the family, Edwardian objects.  It has a Grade II listed garden and aspires to be one of the most significant Arts and Crafts heritage sites in Birmingham.

Winterbourne is owned by the University of Birmingham, consistently voted in the top 10 attractions in Birmingham, and has over 60,000 visitors each year.

In 2015, the process of gaining Museum Accreditation began, aiming to enhance Winterbourne’s profile, diversify funding streams and raise standards of collection care and documentation.  The application was submitted at the end of 2015, then delayed for further documentation regarding collections and upgrading procedures when the Collections Officer left.  In December 2016, the application was submitted with revisions based upon the response to the original application, with considerable progress having been made in auditing, documenting and cataloguing the collections.

Winterbourne was awarded Museum Accreditation in February 2017, the only University Botanic Garden in the UK to be awarded Museum Accreditation.  The new status enables them to bid to the West Midlands Museum Development ‘Ready to Borrow’ scheme in order to upgrade their exhibition facilities.  Over the next few years they aim to mount a series of exhibitions featuring material borrowed from National Museums, to improve the permanent displays and to widen and deepen their collections, thereby attracting new audiences.

Source: WMMD Evaluation Report 2016-17


The Almonry is a fourteenth century building, once home to the Almoner of the Benedictine Abbey founded at Evesham in the eighth century.  Today, the Almonry, two churches, bell tower and cloister arch are all that remain of what was reportedly the third largest abbey in England.  The Almonry houses an eclectic collection that spans the prehistoric to the 20th Century, with an emphasis on how Evesham has developed and grown during this time.

The Almonry took part in the Expert Eye programme, with activities focusing on the museum’s archaeology collection.  Support was provided by Museums Worcestershire, with their Archaeology Curator reviewing the whole collection, and spending a day with two members of staff helping them to understand the collection, its history and relation to other collections, and highlighting important objects.  Following this, a full report was presented to museum staff and Evesham Town Council.

This work has changed how the collection will be used in the future:

  • Audience engagement: staff are undertaking further research to present the work more creatively, showing the context and human stories
  • Partnerships: the museum is now part of a Palaeolithic project based on the strength of the collection
  • Exhibitions: their work has informed future exhibitions, including the potential to loan objects from other regional and national museums, including the British Museum

Source: WMMD Evaluation Report 2016-17


Compton Verney Art Gallery and Park was awarded a small grant in 2016.  Compton Verney, an eighteenth century country mansion and parkland designed by Capability Brown.

The grant of £2,965 was awarded towards their In-Light project of workshops and activities, culminating in a light procession in November 2016.  The funding enabled the museum to work with three youth centres, reaching 120 young people, most of whom had not engaged with the site before, or had not been to an exhibition before.

The museum had not anticipated just how engaged the young people would be with the exhibition tour, with young people saying, “I enjoyed looking at the art – Picasso is the first exhibition I have been to”.   A new project is being designed for autumn 2017, building on the partnerships with the youth centres.

The museum said that the funding not only helped them to build new relationships with youth centres but showed how important and visually interesting their work is.

Source: WMMD Evaluation Report 2016-17


The Lapworth Museum of Geology at the University of Birmingham re-opened its doors in June 2016 following a National Lottery Heritage Funded £2.7 million redevelopment project.  Since then visitors have been able to enjoy a state-of-the-art museum with new interactive displays and innovative interpretation showcasing Lapworth’s exceptional collection of minerals, rocks and fossils.

The 18-month project has helped increase visitor numbers and has raised the profile of the museum enabling new cultural partnerships to develop, including hosting ‘Raising Horizons’, a touring exhibition of photographic works by Leonora Saunders in partnership with Trowelblazers, which examines women’s history in the fields of archaeology, palaeontology and geology.

The museum was recognised for its redevelopment work and was shortlisted as a finalist in the Arts Fund’s ‘Museum of the Year 2017’ awards.

Source: Annual Survey of Museums 2016-17


Newman Brothers at Coffin Works created a new tour of its factory for visitors on the autistic spectrum.  The tours, which were the idea of volunteer Adam Sutcliffe-Brown, were developed with support from museum staff using his own knowledge and experience of autism.  The Relaxed Tours are planned for smaller groups of visitors and have also been made suitable for people with a learning disability or sensory and communications disorder.

Specially trained tour guides use Picture Exchange Communication Systems to help communicate with everyone on the tour, which run at the end of each day to enable flexibility and to suit participant’s needs.

The tours are planned with less background noise and make machinery demonstration an optional rather than standard part of the tour, ensuring that visitors experience the museum in a more relaxed and peaceful environment.  The museum also provides a quiet room where visitors can have some space if they need to during the tour.  Following the success of the tours, Adam went on to win the Special Award for Young Volunteer, as well as the overall Excellence Award at the WMMD’s Volunteer Awards 2016.

Source: Annual Survey of Museums 2016-17


As part of a group of six small museums across England, Leominster Museum completed its 18-month partnership with the Creative Museums project in April 2017.  Developed and run by Battersea Arts Centre, and funded by the Arts Council’s Museum Resilience Fund, the museum participated in this programme of experimentation using a process called ‘Scratch’.

The Scratch programme encourages cultural organisations to share their ideas with audiences at an early stage by asking for their suggestions and feedback, helping to shape ideas and inspire inclusivity and participation amongst the arts and its audiences.

Leominster Museum used the Scratch framework to explore new opportunities for more creative and innovative audience engagement, dynamic programming as well as fresh business prospects, and representatives from the museum were asked to speak at both the Creative Museums conference and the AIM conference about the success of the project.

Source: Annual Survey of Museums 2016-17

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