Wessex Museums National Portfolio Launch

In June, the staff of the seven partnership museums gathered at STEAM – Museum of the Great Western Railway to celebrate the beginning of another exciting three years of being a National Portfolio Organisation, funded by Arts Council England (ACE). Joined by friends of museums, ACE, and local borough representatives, we marked the start of an exciting new chapter.

The funding will support the strength of the partnership, projects, exhibitions, but also help engage underserved audiences. During the celebration, Kristina Broughton (CEO) delivered an inspiring speech that sets the tone for the journey ahead, and celebrates how far the partnership has come. Read the speech below to see the direction we are heading. 


Good evening,

Five years ago, Wessex Museums partnership, and many of us here tonight, were at The Salisbury Museum celebrating the launch of our first National Portfolio Organisation programme. Aside from celebrating the relief of successfully navigating our first NPO application and funding agreement, it was the moment the partnership set-out to demonstrate the added value that we knew working through collaboration would bring to regional museums.

And so fast forward 5 years…and what an extraordinary 5 years it has been for Wessex Museums…we have a long list of achievements as a partnership, including:

  • Created 17 staff posts and freelance roles across the partnership to support delivery of our collaborative programme, including on-going support for 9 staff posts embedded in our partner museums.
  • Partnership Equity, Diversity & Inclusion and Environmental Responsibility frameworks
  • more than half a million collections records uploaded to our virtual collections,
  • engaged more than 15,000 people, in particular young people and those from underserved communities through our NPO funded learning and community engagement activity,
  • 9 partnership exhibitions,
  • 3 digital exhibitions,
  • 1 regional conference,
  • 1 website,
  • and the Wessex Museums Trust, the partnership’s independent charity, has levered in more than £150k in addition to the NPO funding to support our collaboration.

Together we also achieved a number of firsts including:

  • First online talks series,
  • First podcast series,
  • First successful Crowdfunder
  • Digital work placements and work placements specifically for disabled young people,
  • Pilot project in decolonising our museums’ collections

And I could go on…

These are successes and certainly things for this partnership to be proud of – they have helped to raise the profile of our museums and their outstanding collections, and enhanced the reputation of the work of the partnership across the sector and beyond.

But as with all successes, along the way there are many things that pushed us out of our comfort zone, that we got wrong, or had to change. But I believe that it is equally important to celebrate these so called ‘failures’, (and that is not a word in my vocabulary btw!) because they have helped to mature this partnership, made us more resilient and challenged us to continue to be bold, to innovate and take risks through our collaboration. And this is what Wessex Museums partnership is all about.

And at this point, I’d like to thank Arts Council England for supporting Wessex Museums to do just that. And that support goes all the way back to 2015 to what I call our navel gazing phase, but when ACE first recognised the potential in our unique museums’ partnership model. The Arts Council’s continued funding support over the past 8 years has enabled Wessex Museums to develop, grow and thrive. Thank you for three more years.

And of course, Wessex Museums does not exist without the partner museums, whose belief, trust and dedication to this partnership, even when I’ve been nagging them for data and organising yet another partnership working group meeting, has been absolutely critical to its success. Thank you all.

This belief, dedication and trust for Wessex Museums is again highlighted this evening where we find ourselves perhaps a little further north than where we expected to find ourselves, but nevertheless delighted to be here in Swindon! And it is all because back on a cold January day in 2022 in the library of Wiltshire Museum, Frances chatted me up. The result was that Wessex Museums happily adopted three new museums into the family from here in Swindon – STEAM, Lydiard House and Swindon Museum & Art Gallery.

I think I speak for all the Wessex partners when I say that the opportunity presented back on that cold January day for Swindon Museums to join the Wessex Museums partnership, was a complete no brainer.

In Swindon we have three outstanding museums who, like our other partner museums, are perfectly placed to tell the stories of this region through their world class collections, and therefore have a unique role in placemaking for Wessex.

As museums of similar sizes, we understand each other, share similar challenges and opportunities, and this adds strength to the the collegiate peer network that exists within this partnership.

With the Swindon Museums, Wessex Museums partnership now has a greater range of complementary strengths to draw upon to the benefit of all partners. We are certainly stronger together.

And perhaps most importantly, Wessex Museums’ reach is now both wider and more diverse than ever before, extending into more diverse populations and areas of historically low cultural engagement, and also geographically covering more than 2000 sq miles, most of which I think I covered travelling here tonight from Bridport! Wessex Museums’ mission is to support our museums to connect, inspire and add value to peoples’ lives, and we are so excited that the impact of our work will now extend to the people of Swindon.

Tonight, we celebrate the start of Wessex Museums second National Portfolio Organisation programme and this new chapter for our now bigger and better partnership. But there’s more…Whilst this is the partnership’s second NPO programme, it is the first that will be fully governed and managed through our independent charity – the Wessex Museums Trust. And earlier this year, the Wessex Museums Trust, with the support of our wonderful Board of Trustees and the Council, externalised completely from Bournemouth Christchurch and Poole Council, achieving a long-held ambition of the partnership and helping to secure the charity’s independence and sustainability for the future. It is my honour and pleasure to be the Trust’s first CEO.

As I highlighted a moment ago, Arts Council’s generous funding support through the National Portfolio Programme has enabled Wessex Museums to learn from experience, and build and improve on our partnership programmes year on year.

And this new NPO programme that we will deliver through collaboration over the next three years exemplifies the growth of our partnership. Built around four themes, where we believe our partnership can add most value to our museums and the communities they serve: placemaking, hidden voices, wellbeing and play, and sustainable communities.

It is driven by co-creation and collaboration, by equity, diversity and inclusion, and by giving agency to all of the communities that our museums serve. You will see this touching all aspects of our work as a partnership, both behind the scenes, for example through our

peer-to-peer networks, partnership policy development work, and virtual collections; as well as more front facing for example through our co-curated partnership exhibitions, connecting with communities and work placement programmes.

So, do enjoy your wine this evening everyone, because we have a lot of work to do together over the next three years!

By placing communities at the centre of our collaborative programme, Wessex Museums’ will make a strong contribution to the Arts Council’s strategy, Let’s Create, and in the process support our purpose to ensure the relevance and resilience of our partner museums. As a result, and in another 3-years time, I have no doubt that Wessex Museums will continue to be a partnership of museums thriving through collaboration.

Thank you for coming, please eat and drink, and enjoy the rest of your evening here at STEAM.

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