May 29, 2020

Update from Co-Chairs, 29 May 2020

This week Nicola joined an ACE museum organisations’ meeting on Wednesday, and we both attended the Minister’s museums and galleries reopening task force yesterday. A few headlines:

  1. Both ACE and the Heritage Fund are looking beyond the current ’emergency’ programmes to a ‘stabilisation’ phase of funding, and in the case of ACE a third ‘reset’ phase. In the case of ACE, details will be published as part of the previously announced, but delayed delivery plan.
    DCMS are considering medium to longer term support for the sector, but will need to negotiate any offer with Treasury – we do not expect any announcement in the immediate future.
  2. Art Fund and ICOM have published surveys on the impact of COVID-19 on museums (in the UK and internationally, respectively).
  3. There has been ongoing discussion about what might be done differently following reopening. It is suggested that museums could or should work ‘hyper-locally’, in support particularly of their most immediate communities; while strengthening their digital offer. Both Heritage Fund and ACE are concerned that online offerings have been of mixed quality. The ArtFund perspective is that museums should have a go, and learn from mistakes.
  4. The call with the minister was focussed on the draft NMDC ‘Good practice guidelines for reopening museums.’ This is a four-page document with a lengthy appendix on practical steps; it places considerable emphasis on local context and museum-specific issues. The approach is to flag areas such as staff safety and wellbeing; public safety; the adaptation of buildings; financial viability; visitor expectations and transport systems, rather than set out detailed prescriptions. It is undergoing further revision and will be published by 13 June, hence three weeks ahead of the earliest legal reopening date, subject to confirmation, of 4 July. Some institutions we are aware of are anticipating early August reopening.
  5. The UMG committee meets on 4 June; the next update will follow that meeting.

Nicholas Thomas / Nicola Kalinsky
University Museums Group

May 26, 2020

Update from Co-Chairs, 26 May 2020

We attach the report, ‘Assessing the Impact of the Covid-19 Crisis on University Museums‘, resulting from the survey undertaken by the UMG committee at the end of April. We feel this report is a clear and powerful document, capturing both the immediate situation during the lock down period and flagging up key concerns for University Museums in the months and years ahead – some of these are common to the wider museum sector, but others relate specifically to our context within Higher Education. There are also strong messages about the opportunities present in recovery for university museums.

Thank you again to everyone who contributed to this exercise and particular thanks to Helen Mark, Data Manager for the Manchester Museum Partnership, University of Manchester, who prepared the report. The report will be posted on the UMG website and shared with our networks in ACE and DCMS. The next UMG committee meeting will consider how we continue to monitor the impact of Covid-19 on university museums and further advocacy steps.

Other news:

At you are likely to be aware, the government has established five COVID-19 ‘roadmap taskforces’ to provide sector-specific guidance towards reopening, including one convened by DCMS dedicated to Recreation and Leisure. The UMG Co-Chairs have joined a Museums and Galleries subgroup convened by Caroline Dinenage (Minister of State for Digital and Culture) tasked with ‘Identifying and resolving practical, sector-specific guidance-related issues’ and enabling communication and dissemination. However, as previously noted, NMDC had already moved to establish a remobilisation working group, and it is not expected that the Minister’s group will duplicate that work. On Friday, Kathryn Simpson (Acting Head of Strategy,

NMDC) circulated a statement, ‘An NMDC-led cross-sectoral working group is developing good practice guidance on museum reopening with DCMS’ support.

The approach is guided by the safety of visitors and staff, and financial sustainability. The guidance acknowledges the complexity of the sector, where each museum will be working within a unique set of circumstances and responding to local contexts. We hope the guidance will be ready to share in early June.’

It was clear from the discussions that museums are expected to reopen in a phased way, most likely from early to mid-July through to September or October.

We also joined the ACE-led Collections at Risk sector meeting on 21 May, which included further reports from ACE and the Heritage Fund regarding the take up of emergency funds. It has been noted that this has been low relative to other parts of the cultural sector, underscoring the sense that for museums and university museums, critical challenges may lie ahead – in the autumn and beyond.

Nicholas Thomas / Nicola Kalinsky
University Museums Group

May 14, 2020

Update from Co-Chairs, 14 May 2020

We can report on two fronts – reopening and the UMG survey.

(We assume that you are aware of the widely-reported extension of the Job Retention Scheme and the state of play with current funding schemes – links provided in earlier updates).

1 – Reopening

Government guidance for England now indicates that museums and galleries may reopen as part of Step 3 of the roadmap to lift restrictions, scheduled ‘no earlier than 4 July’.

The NMDC remobilisation working group anticipates publishing a short paper within the next week or so, followed by more detailed guidance. It is recognised that the physical conditions of museums differ widely; some historic buildings constrain visitor numbers, given social distancing, much more than others. Some museums cannot open without the support of volunteers in at-risk age groups; some staff may be unable to travel to work without using public transport; in some cases reopening with limited visitor numbers may not be financially viable. Staff, volunteers and visitors need to be safe and also feel safe.

Some museums are now working on plans to reopen in July; others are more focussed on subsequent months; timetables are of course subject to what is happening with the virus, with testing, etc. It is recognised that there will be a communications challenge, as some museums open earlier than others, and a risk that some may suffer from more prolonged closure. It will be important that university leaderships recognise that museums should open in relation to museums regionally and nationally, possibly prior to other university buildings reopening for students.

The Cabinet Office has established five roadmap taskforces; one of these, dedicated to the recreation and leisure sector, will be convened by DCMS; the taskforce will have a Museums and Galleries subgroup, which we have been invited to join. It meets for the first time next Monday.

The Association of Independent Museums is looking at providing detailed guidance specifically for smaller museums, which may also be helpful to some university museums.

2 – Our survey

Twenty-one museums responded to the UMG Covid-19 Impact survey, representing ten English universities and one Scottish, and with a combined audience of over 4 million visitors and 475 staff. Thank you very much to everyone who contributed. As well as vital quantitative information, there is a wealth of insightful narrative feedback, which aligns with the general sector experience but also highlights the specific context and concerns of university museums. All the quantitative data is presented in aggregate and the qualitative responses have been anonymised.

Headline themes point to the greater threat of the medium and long term impacts of Covid-19, with the likely contraction of HE and strong possibility that host universities may retrench, with activities perceived as ‘non-core’ being particularly vulnerable. That said, there is also a strong message about the opportunities present in recovery for university museums to demonstrate their pivotal contribution as an interface between HE and civic society, as specialists in delivering health and well-being, and our agility, with the support and resources, to benefit from the future focus on the digital.

The final report will be shared with DCMS and ACE next week, circulated via this list, and posted on the UMG website. Although the returns have provided ample material for this exercise, we still welcome further responses which can help inform continuing development of our advocacy message. We would particularly like to hear from non-RE funded museums.

Please feel free to feed back more informally, if that is more appropriate for you at this time.

Nicholas Thomas / Nicola Kalinsky
University Museums Group

April 29, 2020

Update from Co-Chairs, 29 April 2020

An update from the weekly DCMS meeting for museum organisations.

The launch of a new loan scheme for small and medium businesses, the ‘Bounce Back Loan Scheme’, was noted; the discussion which followed asked for clarity from Treasury that charities could apply, although it was felt that few charities in the museum sector would have the business confidence to take up these loans, with repayments required within 6 years. The scheme is not for public sector organisations.

The NLHF and ACE gave updates on their emergency funding schemes.  Next Monday the NLHF will announce a new strategic intervention package with grants of between £50,000 and £250,000 targeted at larger organisations. ACE are currently assessing the first round of applications for the non-NPO fund, the second round is still open but closes Friday this week. The portal for funding to support NPOs will open 12 May and close 19 May, so a short turnaround. As ever, full details on their respective websites (below).

NMDC/DCMS have set up a working group to consider the implications of coming out of lock down on the museum sector.  UMG committee member, Caroline Macdonald is participating on behalf of her organisation but she will also be able to report back to the committee, so we can share information as available.  The focus will be on the practicalities of adapting to a new situation and what will be needed in terms of supporting infrastructure. The need for clarity over guidelines was emphasised, and the importance of ensuring public confidence, or visitors will not return to museums.

Nicola Kalinsky
University Museums Group



April 28, 2020

UMG Survey in response to COVID-19 crisis

The DCMS Committee has launched an inquiry into the ‘Impact of Covid-19 on DCMS sectors’. It will consider both the immediate and long-term impact that Covid-19 and the related social and financial measures are having on the wide range of industries and organisations under the Committee’s remit.

To inform our collective response to this inquiry, UMG is gathering evidence from members via a Survey.

Why it matters:

  • Findings will inform UMG response to the DCMS call-out for evidence
  • They will shape a strong advocacy position and discussions with Research England.
  • They will provide a UK-wide summary of the challenge facing university museums, that you can use with your host institutions and funders.

In line with the DCMS call out, the consultation aims to:

  • Assess the immediate impacts of COVID-19 on university museum
  • Assess the efficacy of support provided to university museums to date
  • Consider the likely long-term impacts of COVID-19 on university museums
  • Ask how might the university museums sector evolve after COVID-19, and how can DCMS support such innovation to deal with future challenges?

Download the Survey here.

Completed surveys should be returned to by 4 May. We only need one return per institution.

April 20, 2020

Update from Co-Chairs, 15 April 2020

These notes draw primarily on an extended meeting for museum organisations hosted by ACE this morning, and the weekly DCMS museums meeting this afternoon, as well as other updates we have received. Discussion has continued to focus on the immediate crisis; we anticipate that over the next few weeks we should get some insight into expectations regarding work towards re-opening, and consideration of responses to future pressures.

1) Financial support – big picture Notwithstanding the range of major (ACE, Heritage Fund, etc.) and more specific schemes, Kate Bellamy (ACE) acknowledged that ‘there will not be enough funding to support every museum’. It is anticipated that support emergency funds and support schemes will be heavily oversubscribed, and that some of the government initiatives, the business loans scheme for example, may not be easily accessible to museums. For ACE/DCMS, the immediate priority is museums facing insolvency/failing in the next four to six weeks, but it is recognised that museums will be under considerable pressure beyond this time frame. The expectation is that institutions will change; some will have to rethink their operations; some organisations will no longer exist.

Museums seeking emergency funding can only receive funds from either HF or ACE, not both; if you are considering an application, do seek advice as to which funding source is most appropriate.

2) Impact on HE Universities UK published a submission to government concerning the impact of the COVID-19 emergency on universities on 10 April which can be accessed here.

3) Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme

Updated guidance was published on 10 April.

4) Work towards re-opening/recovery The sense is that it is still too early to consider timescales, but it was noted that France anticipates some relaxation of lockdown measures from mid-May, but no opening up for larger public events before July.

5) Sharing intelligence It is acknowledged that there has been a flood of information, not all of which is joined up or fully accessible. Available surveys include one undertaken by the Heritage Fund.

ArtFund will survey their network next week to ask what do museums need most at the moment, so they can align, plug gaps.

6) Accreditation/Recognition ACE has extended the accredited status of organisations by 12 months; the scheme will be re-opened from April 2021; there is an FAQs document accessible online:

Note for museums which have submitted accreditation applications: ‘You will not be required to submit a new return once the scheme reopens in April 2021.’

In Scotland, the Recognition scheme has similarly been paused.

7) Project grants Both the Heritage Fund and ACE have suspended standard project grants for six months. It is anticipated that when schemes reopen, new criteria will include contributions to the recovery process.

8) AIL/Export Licences/Cultural Gifts This all paused as no objects can be viewed, panels not currently operating. Envisaged that there will be a backlog after lockdown lifts.

9) Security of collections The National Trust reports cases of ‘hostile reconnaissance’ around some sites. We recommend to members that they assess any security vulnerability, and consider whether special arrangements, such as seeking additional patrols from university security officers, should be put in place.

10) Disposal of collections/collections at risk While there is no immediate proposal to change guidance, it is recognized that some museums may consider selling works in order to address financial problems. Colleagues are also asking: if museums are going to close, what will happen to their collections? It is possible that some university museums may be asked to receive such collections and/or support disposal processes.

11) Workforce and Volunteers Some organisations report that they are losing their volunteers, and that volunteers are suffering isolation. In some cases, online training may provide opportunities to sustain engagement.

12) Digital Acknowledgement of unevenness of digital offer across sector, underlining gaps in digital capacity. Need to be prepared for further/continuing periods of lockdown/remote working and to ensure that museums have resilience and support to work remotely. ArtFund flagged the Digital Skills Initiative.

13) ‘Collections care in lockdown’

This online discussion may be useful.

14) Art Fund/ACE-V&A Purchase Fund

These programmes remain open for applications.

Nicola Kalinsky / Nicholas Thomas
University Museums Group

April 9, 2020

Update from Co-Chairs, 9 April 2020

These notes draw on a DCMS cross-sector meeting yesterday (8 April) and a meeting between DCMS and ourselves today (9 April), as well as other updates and advice we have received.

  1. The DCMS museums team has been closely monitoring independent and other museums that may face insolvency within 8 weeks, while noting that there is currently uncertainty about the availability and timing of any relevant support for institutions at risk of financial failure.
  2. National museums and universities alike have been closely engaged in exploring scope to furlough staff and draw on support from the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme. It’s now clear that nearly all national museums will be going down this route. As of today we understand some universities have decided not to do so, or not to do so immediately. Others do plan to furlough staff, potentially including museum staff, and particularly but not necessarily exclusively those in front-of-house, commercial and technical roles. It should be noted that the approaches being considered would top up the 80% government contribution from other funds, so that the staff concerned would not see any change in their pay, nor would there be any implication that their employment would not continue as previously after furlough. Treasury however discourages topping-up, taking the view that reserves and trading income should be guarded in support of medium term sustainability.

We expect universities to make their approaches to furloughing clearer in the near future, and would appreciate any information you may be in a position to share over coming days and weeks.

  1. Both the Arts Council England and the Heritage Fund have announced emergency schemes; see links at bottom. The Heritage Fund is also looking at scope for grant holders to repurpose or seek increases to awards. DCMS is also in the early stages of discussion with a group of charities with interests in the cultural sector who it is hoped may provide support in the short to medium term, possibly through a joint scheme.
  2. As noted above, we had the chance today to provide DCMS with an update from the perspective of university museums. We drew attention (1) to loss of revenue issues; (2) to ongoing consideration within universities of furloughing, but (3) signalled that the biggest issue would probably be the knock-on consequences of a major hit to universities’ revenue, arising particularly from a likely collapse in international student recruitment for the academic year 2020-21. We indicated that while, over the past few years, university leaders have become more aware of the contributions their museums make, to research impact, teaching, student experience, civic engagement and international reach, there is nevertheless a sense that our institutions are ‘non-core’: by definition we are therefore vulnerable in any particularly challenging financial situation. It was noted that university finances have in any case come under considerable pressure recently, compounded by shortfalls likely to arise from reduced EU student numbers, uncertainty about access to European research funding, etc.

Our understanding is that while university senior management are modelling financial impacts, their projections are not yet being widely shared within institutions, nor are they yet providing guidance regarding steps that may be taken in response to acute difficulties, such as moratoria on replacing staff or redundancy schemes.

  1. DCMS colleagues are aware that university museums represent over a third of designated and recognized collections, and that there are many cities and towns in which our institutions are the major providers of the museum service. They are therefore keenly interested in knowing of any university museum which in due course may be threatened with cuts or possible closure.

They advised that institutions in such situations can share financial information in confidence.

We are equally anxious to have news from institutions, especially any news of any approach to university resources that may impact adversely on members. Please keep in touch with us; should you wish to contact the DCMS team directly, the relevant email address is:

Nicola Kalinsky / Nicholas Thomas
University Museums Group

March 30, 2020

Update from Co-Chairs, 30 March 2020

Notes from today’s DCMS-hosted museum sector meeting: 30 March 2020.

  1. The broad picture

Many heritage organisations, including independent museums, do not have the capacity to continue trading for more than a few months, notwithstanding the various support schemes announced by the government. University museums will be looking at the (more or less damaging) loss of revenue but are institutionally sheltered from near-term business failure. However, if numerous non-university museums fail financially, there are likely to be knock-on consequences for the funding and health of the wider sector that are difficult to assess at present.

  1. Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme

The details are still emerging, and there will be further guidance published very soon, but the expectation is that universities will not in general be furloughing employees, hence will not be likely to be eligible. Should any member be aware that their university or a university proposes to furlough staff (i.e. require them to take unpaid leave), please let us know.

  1. Building access

The Co-Chairs wrote to Universities UK on this matter on Friday 27 March. The last substantive paragraph, requesting support for the registration of collections staff among those performing essential work, appears now to be superceded: DCMS advise that ‘Anyone who has to travel to work, can travel to work’.

We are aware that a number of universities are in the process of generating letters which officially confirm that individual staff are required to go to work (for us, attend sites to undertake security and environmental checks). Although we are not aware that UK police are yet asking people going to work to produce proof of their need to do so, museum directors may wish to provide staff with letters now, to ensure that they do not encounter difficulties, given that it may take central university services some time to provide such documents.

  1. Construction

It was acknowledged that this has been an area of confusion. DCMS staff say that the government does not require construction projects to halt. If your institution is engaged in a major project, and there is uncertainty as to whether work will carry on or not, you may wish to seek guidance from the DCMS team (, which may help clarify the options for your university estates managers and contractors themselves. Of course, work may stop on some sites because contractors’ staff are self-isolating, etc., but in so far as we can understand the official position, it is that work may continue.

Nicola Kalinsky / Nicholas Thomas
University Museums Group

March 30, 2020

Update from Co-Chairs, 25 March 2020

The Co-Chairs have joined a DCMS museum representatives’ group that is currently running a short meeting every week (the other participants include ACE, NMDC, the MA, AIM, the Heritage Fund and the devolved administrations).

The headlines from the meeting were:

  1. Building access

Following the UMG Committee discussion referred to in yesterday’s update, many members have been concerned that university closures may preclude access to museum sites for the purposes of conducting security and environmental monitoring checks. DCMS is clear that visits by security or collections staff to ensure the safety of collections count as ‘essential’. This is equally so for library special collections. It was noted that for many institutions there is a legal duty to ensure preservation. If any members are finding that the leadership at your institution, or estates management staff, are seeking to shut down your access for these purposes, you may advise them that formal guidance from the Cabinet Office will be published in coming days which makes this position clear.

  1. Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme

While this is under the umbrella of support for ‘businesses’, all UK-wide employers with a PAYE scheme will be eligible, including public sector bodies and charities. The current guidance is at the link below; it will be further updated in coming days:

The scheme enables 80% support for the wages of staff who cannot undertake their duties and are on furlough (i.e. are not being paid). Where universities have made a commitment to retaining staff on full pay or sick pay, this scheme will not be relevant. Note also that the roles of staff who continue to be employed part-time cannot be supported through this scheme.

  1. Government loans

The Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme is unlikely to be relevant to any university museum, except possibly those that have establishing spinoff trading companies.

  1. Arts Council of England

[Update following meeting: late on Tuesday 24 March, ACE emailed award recipients and posted details of support packages on its website. Funding for NPOs will be rolled over for a year and the next investment round deferred].

  1. DCMS

The DCMS team emphasises that communication from us is really important to them, both regarding challenges and ‘good news’. ‘If there is any work that museums can highlight, we will make the case that museums are still doing great things… Please pass on news’. The team email is:

Nicholas Thomas
University Museums Group

March 23, 2020

Update from Co-Chairs, 23 March 2020

The great majority of UK university museums closed to the public last Tuesday, or otherwise last week – a step that most of us never imaged taking. We’re very much aware that this time has been enormously difficult from a professional angle for colleagues across the sector, as well as more personally, as some are going into self-isolation and others are deeply concerned about friends and family members who may be vulnerable or unwell.

A routine UMG committee meeting was scheduled for Thursday 19 March. With the support of Julia Cunningham, Nicola’s PA, we ran a dial-in meeting involving, in addition to ourselves, Janneke Geene (Treasurer; MMU), Jo McPhee (Secretary; Cambridge), Esme Ward (Manchester), Xa Sturgis (Oxford), Tannis Davidson (UCL), Harriet Warburton (Oxford), Carol Shiels (St George’s, London), Mungo Campbell (Glasgow) and Kat Nilsson (UCL) participated.

We set aside the standing agenda and shared notes regarding the COVID-19 emergency and its impact on our institutions. We noted among areas of particular concern for University museums:

  • As universities enforce estate closures, it may be challenging to maintain access to buildings and collections. While some universities readily recognize that laboratories with live animals require special arrangements, we confront what is at many institutions a longstanding issue, that museums are not quite on the radar of the university leadership or those responsible for estate management. Yet we do require access to sustain environmental monitoring, especially as we are entering the season in which pests are a greater threat; the usual seasonal threat may be exacerbated as spaces are darker, less occupied and less visited.
  • We are similarly concerned by threats to the security of buildings and collections. It is critical that security staffing and monitoring is maintained. The recent theft from Christ Church, Oxford, was noted. Some criminals may seek to take advantage of current circumstances.
  • The financial impact of closure will be considerable, particularly for those institutions which charge for special exhibition entry and/or generate critical revenue from retail, catering and venue hire.
  • We are mindful of the duty of care to staff, including those on temporary or flexible contracts. In principle, institutions seek to safeguard salaries; in practice, what is possible will depend on institutional policies (at the university level) and the capacity and willingness of institutions to fund positions (and whether they are eligible to draw on government support announced.
  • We need to think creatively about how to design work packages for those who will be working from home, and around scope for redeploying staff, such as visitor services staff, who cannot undertake their normal work during closure (but may be able to support our online engagement; or contribute to documentation projects).
  • We need to continue supporting and engaging our volunteers during the period of closure to the public.
  • We need to do whatever we can in support of the wellbeing of our staff – through informal contacts such as online coffee mornings or quick catch-ups by phone.
  • Where university museums are closely engaged in specific teaching programmes, consideration will need to be given to supporting students, in the absence of scope for hands-on, artefact-based work, which has become a particularly strength of the work of many institutions in recent years.
  • Given, similarly, the centrality of research support and impact in our advocacy, we will need to assess the consequences of the cancellation or postponement of exhibitions and programmes that are important to REF impact cases. It is as yet unclear whether any rescheduling of the REF census date or assessment process may be considered.
  • Across institutions, temporary exhibitions have or will be cancelled or rescheduled. In many cases significant funds and time have been invested in their preparation. In many instances there will be complex knock-on consequences (e.g. in the case of multi-venue touring exhibitions: one postponement may impact the schedules of multiple institutions). Similarly, many museums have loans out that were due to be couriered back to our museums in coming months. In some instances, extensions will need to be sought for time-limited indemnity arrangements.
  • Many museums have stated that they aim to remain ‘open’ online. Redeployed staff may be able to contribute to an enhanced digital presence. Institutions with larger teams are better placed to adapt and enhance their profile.
  • As with the broader emergency, we have little sense at present of the likely duration of closures. In due course, institutions will need to engage in longer-term planning, taking into consideration the impact of lost revenue.

In this gravely challenging context, the University Museums Group should support members as fully as our capacity permits.

  • We will support the sector through responsive communication, via the JISC list, the website and social media. Members should not hesitate to put out a call if they are in the need of guidance and support.
  • We will seek clarification from funders regarding the suspension of award requirements (along the lines ACE has already announced, for National Portfolio Organisations), and parallel mechanisms such as no-cost extensions for project grants. (E.g. the Director of the Pilgrim Trust has recently written to grant recipients indicating that they are receptive to requests to adapt project plans and timescales). Any member may write to the Secretary and Co-Chairs to suggest that we seek similar assurances from any agencies that have not already announced them.
  • The Co-Chairs have already communicated with Research England regarding HEMG funding, and received a holding reply.
  • Our support and communication will aim to be relevant to member institutions of all kinds, on different scales and with different vulnerabilities.
  • We will sustain engagement and communication with key organisations and stakeholders including NMDC, the MA, ACE and UUK.
  • As the emergency passes, we will support university museums seeking to contribute pro-actively, in re-establishing and reinvigorating research, the student experience and civic engagement, for example through support for smaller cultural organisations in our communities.
  • We will support the advocacy of museums within their universities.

The UMG Committee will meet again, virtually, in approximately a month and will provide a further update at that time. In the interim, we will circulate notes from sector meetings we have been invited to; members should feel free to use the JISC list to circulate questions among peers, or email the Secretary and Co-Chairs with questions that may be more focussed or confidential. We may not have answers ourselves but will aim to liaise with whichever colleagues may be best placed to provide advice, in order to share effective responses across the membership and our sector.

Nicholas Thomas and Nicola Kalinksy
University Museums Group

Rich potential for new international relationships, collaborations and strategic partnerships


Sedgwick Museum of Earth Sciences, University of Cambridge

Sedgwick Museum of Earth Sciences, University of Cambridge