November 3, 2021

Packed Lunch: Networking session

Health and Wellbeing Practice at University Museums

Wednesday 24 November 2021

In the unprecedented times we’re living in and working through, the ability of culture, collections, histories and heritage to enhance the quality of life and improve health and wellbeing has never been more needed.

This event will explore the innovative ways university museums have been using their collections and resources to respond to issues of health and wellbeing over the last 18 months. Featuring a programme of short presentations from university museum colleagues, this session will share examples of projects taking place across our sector and consider whether university museums are playing a unique role in developing this practice.


The Networking Session will be followed by the Annual General Meeting of the University Museums Group.

June 21, 2021

Covid-19: Beyond the Crisis?

Covid 19: Beyond the Crisis?‘ results from the survey undertaken by the UMG committee in April 2021.

As with our report published a year ago, this is a powerful document. The report clearly articulates the continuing impacts of the Covid crisis on our sector and our members’ concerns, especially over funding, capital works, research and teaching, but it also highlights the hugely creative and committed contribution being made as we enter the recovery period, pointing to a distinctive role for university museums, which calls out for recognition, development and investment.

Thank you again to everyone who responded to this survey and helped make the report rich with information and narrative. Particular thanks are owed to our Oxford colleagues, Dr Hattie Warburton, Dr Emma Webster and Sara Harman, for compiling the report.

November 16, 2020

Annual Forum: COVID-19 and Beyond

Thursday 19 November
Online via Zoom

Since March there has been much discussion of the impact of the pandemic on the university sector, and issues ranging from safe teaching and student welfare to future funding have been in the news almost daily.

We have invited colleagues from five UK universities to speak to the challenges facing higher education and comment on what University museums can offer in this unprecedented context. Members of the panel will also share aspects of their experience of work during closure, re-opening museums and (sadly) closing them again.

We look forward to hearing from

  • Julie Sanders, Deputy Vice-Chancellor, University of Newcastle
  • Mungo Campbell, Deputy Director, The Hunterian, University of Glasgow
  • Tannis Davidson, Curator, Grant Museum, University College, London
  • Ghislaine Wood, Acting Director, Sainsbury Centre, University of East Anglia
  • Esme Ward, Director, Manchester Museum, University of Manchester


The Forum will be immediately followed by the Annual General Meeting of the University Museums Group. Download the AGM agenda and papers.



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

Students engage with the public and demonstrate research impact


Sedgwick Museum of Earth Sciences, University of Cambridge

Sedgwick Museum of Earth Sciences, University of Cambridge