Archive for October, 2015

NEWS: Heritage Lottery Fund Launches Online Community Forum

Friday, October 9th, 2015


Funding can often feel like a mine field to anyone looking to apply to big grant giving organisations for the first time, but in a move to demystify their process, the Heritage Lottery Fund have launched a supportive online community forum. Following a successful pilot project earlier this year, HLF’s forum has become a space where anyone looking to connect with other organisations currently working on HLF funded projects can go to ask relevant questions about their own applications, sound out future project ideas or just engage in relevant sector debate and discussion.

By joining the community you and your organisation will be able to access numerous discussion forums including those linked to specific targeted programmes such as Landscape Partnerships, Parks for People and Young Roots; you’ll even be able to download useful content which has been shared within the community forum by other members.

To find out more about what HLF’s motivations were for establishing the community and what they hope it will achieve, I caught up with Amy Freeborn, the Online Communities Manager.

Emma Sumner:  What were your motivations for developing the online community?

Amy Freeborn:  “We wanted to create a friendly and informal platform for people to share expertise and experience, and ask and answer questions related to HLF-supported projects, regardless of physical location. The Online Community allows people to seek official guidance without having to call us up, and get first-hand project tips and advice from other grantees without having to be in the same room together.”

ES:  Who do you anticipate will use the community and who would you like to encourage to use it?

AF:  “The Online Community is for anyone interested in, currently applying for, or who has received, HLF funding, and those working in heritage and other relevant sectors. The Online Community operated in a pilot phase for around 18 months, open to those who had received funding in six selected grant programmes. In August we launched a general discussions area which is open to everyone, and the interest and engagement has been great so far. We still have some way to go to make it as vibrant and valuable as it can be, but we’re definitely getting there: the more people that use it, the more useful it will be for everyone.”

ES:  Do you think this community will help a wider range of organisations to access HLF funding?

AF:  “I think so, yes. Because not only can they sound out their idea (in principle) before making an application, but they can network with others who have been awarded funding for and are already running similar projects. By joining the Community they can get first hand advice on what has and hasn’t worked, and therefore be in a better position to submit a successful application, and then deliver a successful project.”

ES:  Do you have any further plans to develop the community portal in the future and if so what would you like to add/change?

AF:  “There are a few minor technical things on my ‘would be nice to do’ list, such as a search function so people can easily find threads from others in their region and/or grant programme, but our main priority right now is increasing user numbers and engagement.”

ES:  Ultimately, what would you like to see the community achieve?

AF:  “The ultimate aim is that it becomes the exceptional resource we know it can be, full of lively discussions about all aspects of developing and delivering fantastic heritage projects.”

An inclusive, safe space, the HLF Community will undoubtedly continue to develop itself as a valuable forum for the discussion and sharing of knowledge related to the work that HLF, their grantees and partners deliver.  So if you’re interested in sounding out a future project’s potential for HLF funding, all you need to do is register yourself, log on to the forum and join in the debate.

Emma Sumner, News Editor

To join HLF’s online community; Click Here

Or for further information on how the community forum can help you and your organisation contact Amy Freeborn –

IN PROFILE: The Museum of Wigan Life

Thursday, October 8th, 2015

Pies, piers, rugby league and Uncle Joes Mint Balls, where else could you be but Wigan. A town proud of its industrial and social heritage, many people may not know the key role Wigan played in England’s industrial revolution or the influence of the town’s clubs on the UK’s Northern Soul music scene. Following a £1.9 million Heritage Lottery Fund refurbishment in 2010, the award winning Museum of Wigan Life opened as a space for anyone, local or visiting, to find out more about the people and places, both past and present, which have all played a part in making Wigan the town it is today.

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Housed in Wigan’s first public library designed by Alfred Waterhouse (who also designed the Natural History Museum in London), since first opening in 1878, the building has played a central role in Wigan’s history and was the first public building to have electric lighting and was where George Orwell researched his book ‘The Road to Wigan Pier’ in 1936. The building’s ground floor now contains a lively array of displays depicting a carefully preserved history of any and every part of daily life in Wigan over the years including the town’s sports heritage and connections to rugby league, music and the town’s numerous legendary clubs and why it is so famous for pies.

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Like many other local authority collections, many people might be surprised to learn that Wigan has a noteworthy collection of Egyptian artefacts. After a stores move in 2013, staff had the opportunity to reassess the collection and following numerous research events, the current Ancient Egypt Rediscovered exhibition opened in July this year. A small compact exhibition the display explores the death rituals, daily life and religious beliefs to form a comprehensive snippet into the life of the Ancient Egyptians. Alongside interactive screens showing videos of the scanning and conservation processes that the objects went under before they were exhibited, the exhibition has also helped staff to demystify the work they do and communicate with their visitors in a new way.

Upstairs, Wigan’s Archive Service cares for the historical records of the Wigan Metropolitan Borough while making them available to the public. In a space which has changed very little since it first opened in 1878, the musty ‘old book’ smell enhances the feeling you’re entering a kind of time warp. Supported by a team of dedicated volunteers, the space preserves collections ranging from records for its people, places, businesses, churches, societies and all manner of other organisations. With anyone welcome to delve into their own family history, visitors using the archives range from local to international guests all of whom are keen to uncover their family roots.


Helping the Wigan Museums and Archives to regularly promote Wigan’s history is the ‘people’s history’ magazine for Wigan and Leigh, Past Forward. Published three times a year (in December, April and August) the magazine publishes stories, letters, photographs and opinions on local and family history matters. Available to buy from the museum’s shop at just £2.00 an issue or on subscription for the small price of £9.00 per year, it’s no surprise they have just over 200 regular subscribers.

For a town which played such a significant role in numerous eras of the UK’s social and industrial history but remains often overshadowed by is neighbouring cities of Manchester and Liverpool, the Museum of Wigan Life has come a long way in ensuring Wigan’s place is firmly held in our national history. With the help of a good stock of Uncle Joes Mint Balls in the shop and with numerous opportunities for visitors to get elbows deep in displays which carefully unpick the town’s central role, the Museum of Wigan Life is a space which will undoubtedly continue to grow in importance and popularity.

GUEST BLOG: I ♥ Museums

Monday, October 5th, 2015


You may have noticed little lime green and blue I ♥ Museums logos appearing on Twitter. The National Museum Directors’ Council (NMDC) – with the support of the other museum representative bodies – has embarked on a public campaign ahead of the Comprehensive Spending Review, budget consultations for local authorities and greater devolution of power to regions and cities, including the North West. We would very much like all museums in the North West to be a part of the campaign.

The UK museum sector is more vibrant, popular and internationally respected than it ever has been, but this position is now at risk. Investment in museums by central and local government has drastically reduced since 2010, and as the Chancellor announces that non-protected Departments have to model up to 40% budget cuts, this will continue. National museums sponsored by DCMS – including National Museums Liverpool, Imperial War Museum North and MOSI – have had cuts of c.30%, and local authorities have reduced their investment in museums by up to 60% in some cases. Many museums have managed this swift change with characteristic pragmatism and transformed themselves into cultural enterprises. Nevertheless, however successful those enterprises are, the additional income or new ways of working is unlikely to enable them meet the high fixed costs of the three things unique things about museums that enable them to have the impact they do: their collections, their buildings and skilled staff. The impact of further cuts may not always be seen immediately (or even within the life of this Parliament) but it will certainly be felt by those who need museums in the future.

NMDC has launched the I ♥ Museums campaign because it has never been more important for museums to demonstrate that the public love and trust museums, and why. Museums preserve, promote and protect one of the few irreplaceable public assets: the nation’s collective memory, knowledge and history. As museum professionals, we work in one of the few civic institutions that simultaneously serve a local, regional, national and international audience, and an online audience who may never cross the threshold. Museums uniquely serve a public past, a public present and a public yet to be born.


I grew up in the North West. I was one of thousands of schoolchildren who climbed the big spiral staircase to be awed by the mummies, dinosaurs and elephant’s head in Bolton Museum; as a student I immersed myself in the Worktown Collection to research leisure activities in 1930s Bolton; and now as an adult I escape Christmas shopping and head to the Art Gallery to look at the beautiful Thomas Moran Nearing Camp or discover something new, most recently the clothes designed by Constance Howarth. The Museum helped me learn as a child, it provided the basis for original research as a student and as an adult it contributes to my health and well-being (and me to the cultural enterprise, as a large Worktown print bought in the museum shop hangs in my living room). The idea that future Bolton residents may not have this sort of access to their own heritage is not just sad, but damaging to the social, cultural and economic vitality of the whole town.

Visiting a museum has never been such a popular pastime, and I am not merely basing this on the number of people who have been to The Whitworth since it re-opened. The DCMS Taking Part survey shows that 62% of children and 52% of adults in England visit a museum each year. NMDC wants to capitalise on this popularity and the affection people have for museums, and provide a platform for museums to demonstrate that they are loved and trusted institutions both nationally and within local communities, and are worth protecting even in the face of substantial cuts.


And if your museum isn’t one which receives direct public investment, then we still want to you to be involved in the campaign. All museums benefit from public investment in some form. Your museum may have received project funding from Arts Council England, or worked in partnership with a national museum. You might have had some capital funding from the local council or received some helpful advice from your museum development officer. Like a giant Jenga puzzle, the health of the whole museum sector depends on not significantly weakening any aspect of it.

The campaign website – – includes resources for museums to use online and onsite, as well as a way for the public to sign up and say why they love museums. People can upload their own photographs and tell us what museums mean to them. @ILoveMuseums and #ilovemuseums drives the social media element of the campaign and will be used to announce different stages and press moments in the campaign. There are digital resources to add to social media accounts, draft letters to send to local councillors and MPs, and details of how to order pin badges, ballot boxes and cards. From October there will be advocacy tools including briefings and a document, Museums Matter.

Museums can use the campaign locally, be as creative as they wish and organise their own I Love Museums campaign. NMDC will use it nationally to illustrate why museums matter across the UK. We hope museums of all sizes – from the biggest nationals to the smallest volunteer-run collection – will take part and unite behind the campaign.

Katie Childs, Policy and Projects Manager, National Museum Directors’ Council          

@ILoveMuseums                                  @nmdcnews

NEWS: Future Everything Launch ArtsAPI

Monday, October 5th, 2015


For anyone who has ever struggled to effectively communicate the strength and value held within their organisation’s network to potential funders or supporters, ArtAPI could be just what you need.  A free web application developed by the Manchester based award-winning innovation lab, FutureEverything, it is a newly developed web application specifically designed to help arts and culture organisations to show the value and impact generated by their networks.

A year-long project developed in collaboration with the University of Dundee (academic partner) and Swirrl (technology partner) and made possible through the support of the Digital R&D Fund for the Arts, the application aggregates, analyses and presents organisation’s network data in the form of an interactive visualisation.  This can then be explored and interrogated from both an individual and organisational perspective, offering insight into how well connected an organisation is to different sectors and to different cities and countries.

Developed from an understanding that numerous  arts and cultural organisations held a significant part of their value within the relationships they create and sustain, but don’t use the value in these relationships to its full potential, FutureEverything sought to develop ArtsAPI as a practical solution to help organisations within the sector to leverage other means of support.  As Swirrl’s CEO Bill Roberts explains:

“With ArtsAPI we’ve developed a new way of applying innovative data processing and analysis to help arts organisations better understand their networks and the value held in them. It will be really interesting to see how our research might help enable new insights and ways of working.”

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The business use of the insight provided by the application will differ depending on the organisation’s internal  structure and processes, but ArtsAPI also offers some ideas for different business models and can help organisations identify possible vulnerabilities, strengths and weaknesses in terms of their communication flow and maintaining a healthy and diverse network.  Joeli Brearley, Project Manager for ArtsAPI explains:

“From the outset we understood that ArtsAPI was a hugely ambitious project. Our starting point was a simple hypothesis: that arts organisations generate but do not articulate or evidence significant value through the relationships they create and sustain. By using email data we have developed a tool that can begin to offer new insight into those relationships thereby creating new opportunities for arts organisations. The current functionality of ArtsAPI offers arts organisations something new and unique that we believe will have significant value for its users. We also believe we have created a valuable foundation from which other researchers and developers can create new tools for the arts.”

ArtsAPI will help organisations to unlock the huge potential value hidden within their own data by changing its perceived value from that of a necessary tool for accountability, toward its use as an important everyday tool for longer term business development.

For those less technologically savvy, the ArtsAPI project will also offer a series of workshops, events, publications and training initiatives to help maximise the applications benefit to the sector. Through this training and support programme, ArtsAPI will look to increase confidence and skills and unlock its benefits to as many organisations as possible, whatever their current level of skill and understanding.

Emma Sumner, News Editor

If you are interested in finding out how ArtsAPI could benefit your organisation; Click Here

For a full ArtsAPI ‘how-to’ guide; Click Here