Market Town Museums’ Network: ‘Professional Oxygen’


The absolute beauty of this programme is that it provided a substantial sum of money which could be used flexibly. The support of Bright Culture and MDEM also meant that I did not have to worry about finance, administration or organisation. I could just get on with the job but with additional expertise available when needed. Small museums have the imagination, ideas and skills to deliver fantastic projects but often do not have the capacity or funds to turn them into a reality.

Sam Glasswell, Curator,   Bassetlaw Museum

When you start a project, you never quite know where it’s going to go and what it will actually achieve. At the end, all proposed outputs may be met, but have individuals and organisations really engaged with it? Has it had an impact on their work? All too often a project can come and then go, with just a few ripples on the surface of the pond, which soon returns to normal. However, occasionally a project really takes flight, achieves so much more than was initially anticipated and goes on to grow beyond its initial bounds.

Funded through an Arts Council Resilience grant and managed by Museums Development East Midlands (MDEM), the Market Town Museums’ Network (MTMN) brought together five museums in market towns in Nottinghamshire, Leicestershire and Northamptonshire: Mansfield Museum, Newark Town Hall Museum, Bassetlaw Museum, Manor House Museum, Kettering and Melton Carnegie Museum.  All five museums wanted to develop new approaches to engaging local audiences and to build a mutually supportive network to strengthen their on-going work.

And Bright Culture’s role? We were commissioned to facilitate this first phase of the network; to organise and lead Network meetings, plan events, book visits, advise and mentor members in developing their audience development plans and to keep the momentum going. The first phase of the Network has now finished, but MDEM is fully committed to supporting the next phase and looking towards a funding application to secure its longer term future.

a close up for five women in the snow.
A bit of unexpected snow in Yorkshire, wasn't going to stop our museum visits.
building with market stalls outside
Network member, Newark Town Hall Museum & Art Gallery

The work of the Network is fully outlined in the recently published case studies and also the MDEM film. However, in brief, our reflections on the project suggest that the key factors in its success have been:

Short Timescale: Challenging to deliver the range of project activities within the 15 month timescale, but it kept the momentum going.

Encouraging Experimentation: Experimentation in audience development activity was encouraged and the Network provided peer support for the members to do this.

Flexibility: An open and flexible approach to what activity would support audience development really enabled the museums to get the basics right and to use the grant in a way that worked for them.

Networking: Being part of a strong and close professional network has boosted members’ confidence and has provided a safe and valued space in which to discuss ideas and challenges, and access expertise.

Investing in People: We all know it, but investing in people works.  Prioritising professional development over the year has enabled Network members to invest in themselves and their staff; and reconfirmed why this is so important.

Museum Visits: Although only a small part of the project, the facilitated visits to other museums had a big impact, both for gaining inspiration and as a way of cementing peer relationships.


Looking to the future

We are looking forward to working with MDEM and the museums in developing the next phase of the Network. It will be opened out for other market town museums in the East Midlands to join, so please do get in touch if you are interested in being part of this project going forward.