NMDC Calls for Government Support for Museum Partnership Working Across the UK

Press Release
Date of issue: 12 January 2010

The findings of an NMDC project looking at how national and regional museums work together across the UK will be launched at the House of Commons on Tuesday 12 January 2010, introduced by the Culture Secretary, Rt Hon Ben Bradshaw MP.

The event will include a display of the 15th century Middleham Jewel, introduced by Val Gooding, Deputy Chair of the British Museum and Janet Barnes, Chief Executive of York Museums Trust. The jewel has been lent by the Yorkshire Museum to the British Museum as part of a long-term partnership.

The NMDC is calling on all major political parties to commit to sustained government support for national-regional museum partnership working. It is also calling for a commitment to the continuation of support and funding for the Renaissance in the Regions programme, to ensure that regional museums can continue to work with national partners to deliver excellent museum provision to people across the UK. 

Partnerships between national and regional museums give people right across the UK the opportunity to access the national collections and benefit from excellent museum provision, including a wider range of exhibitions, learning initiatives and community engagement projects. 

Working in partnership allows both national and regional museum partners to increase their audiences, develop innovative programmes, share expertise and develop their staff, as well as being a valuable way of maximising impact and resources. 

The National Museums Directors’ Conference undertook a survey of its members’ 2008-9 partnership activity to gain a better understanding of the way national and regional museums have been working together across the UK. The findings informed the development of a set of recommendations to improve and develop partnership working between national and regional museums.

Download a copy of the project summary report.

Key findings include:

  • Across 16 national museums the total number of projects undertaken with partners across the UK in 2008-9 was well over 1,600.
  • Loan activity is strong, with nearly 80% of survey respondents describing their loan service as good and sustainable.
  • There is good provision for learning, with three quarters of loans and exhibitions in 2008-9 supported by access to specialists in learning.

 Strengths of current partnership working include:

  • The large number of national-regional museum partnerships.
  • The importance of sustained government funding – in particular Renaissance in the Regions funding to build regional museum capacity, and Strategic Commissioning funding for museum education projects.
  • Cross-border relationships between UK home countries.
  • Increased strength in working with universities.

Threats and barriers to the future development of partnership working include:

  • Diminishing resources – reductions in government funding, earned income and grants.
  • Absence of UK-wide museum sector delivery strategy.
  • A lack of comprehensive data collection.

The Rt Hon Ben Bradshaw MP, Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport said:

“Partnerships between national and regional museums are a brilliant – and effective – way of sharing both individual items from collections and the expertise and experience that go with them.  And it’s the public that gets the biggest benefit.  The Government introduced direct funding for regional museums through the Renaissance Programme for the first time ever, and I am so proud of what this has achieved.  It’s very important that everyone builds on this and helps secure a bright future for museums and galleries all over the country.”

Dr. Michael Dixon, Chair of NMDC and Director of the Natural History Museum said:

“Our report shows that museum partnerships give added value: they bring people and communities together to create something that is bigger than the individual parts. Partnership working is the way to get the best out of our national and regional assets. It is such a good investment that it would be a mistake to withdraw support. We would like to see all the parties commit to maintaining funding for regional and national museums and support for museum partnerships.”

Alec Coles, Director of Tyne and Wear Archives and Museums and member of the NMDC partnerships project advisory group said:

“Over recent years, mature partnerships have been built between regional and national museums.  Regional partners are no longer supplicants but equal partners in creating and delivering real benefits to people the length and breadth of the country, not least access to the national collections.

None of this would have been possible without the commitment of national museum directors and their trustee boards, and the creativity and confidence of regional museums.  Central to this has been the Renaissance funding from Government now supporting museums in the regions and allowing them to develop and sustain these important relationships.”

Notes to editors

About the project

In summer 2009 NMDC undertook a mapping exercise of UK national-regional museum partnership activity. This included a high-level snapshot survey of NMDC members’ recent partnership activity, plus professional judgement from partnership leads at NMDC member museums and collation of existing evidence of partnership activity.  It was not a major new study or an in-depth statistical survey.  In order to ensure focussed and useful research and recommendations the research was limited to partnerships between national and regional museums and galleries only.

The mapping exercise included consideration of generic issues relating to partnership working, as well as the many different aspects of partnership activity including:

  • Public services – exhibitions and loans, digital access, learning, audience development.
  • Collections – scholarship and knowledge sharing, distributed national collections.
  • Professionalism – staff issues, Subject Specialist Networks, brand and profile-building.

It also considered patterns, formats and quantities of current partnership activity, value for money of working in partnership, and the context of local and national government priorities and the current economic climate.

A project advisory group chaired by Diane Lees, Director-General of the Imperial War Museum, and including representatives from national and regional museums, the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council and the Heritage Lottery Fund, met to discuss the findings of the mapping exercise and to develop a set of recommendations for national museums and other sector bodies to improve partnership working.  The 11 recommendations focus on 8 key areas:

  • Building collaborative partnerships
  • Working strategically
  • Sharing knowledge
  • Developing best practice
  • Making lending easier
  • Staff development
  • Joint advocacy
  • Recording partnership activity

About the NMDC

The National Museum Directors' Conference represents the leaders of the UK's national collections and major regional museums. These comprise the national museums in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, four leading regional museums, the British Library, National Library of Scotland, and the National Archives. Our members operate in over a 100 locations around the UK. While our members are funded by government, the NMDC is an independent, non-governmental organisation.

The NMDC was founded in 1929, in anticipation of a Royal Commission recommendation that the national collections should 'coordinate their work and discuss matters of mutual concern'. Today the NMDC provides its membership with a valuable forum for discussion and debate and an opportunity to share information and work collaboratively. The NMDC represents its members, the issues they care about and the museums sector to policy makers and opinion formers. We work to inform and shape the museums and cultural policy agendas across the UK.

The current Chair of NMDC is Dr Michael Dixon, Director of the Natural History Museum.

For more information visit our website: www.nationalmuseums.org.uk

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