Sheffield’s museums make history as they unite for new era

06 Aug 2020

2021 is set to see a major milestone in the history of the city’s museums as Sheffield Industrial Museums Trust and Museums Sheffield announce they are to join together to form one of the city’s biggest cultural organisations.

From spring next year, this new unified charitable Trust will be responsible for running six of the city’s leading museums, galleries and historic sites: Abbeydale Industrial Hamlet, Kelham Island Museum, Shepherd Wheel, Graves Gallery, Millennium Gallery and Weston Park Museum.

The new charity will see the city’s historic and cultural collections, which span industrial and social history through to natural science and visual art, reunited after 25 years to tell a compelling and comprehensive story of Sheffield and its people.  

Over the past three years Sheffield Industrial Museums Trust and Museums Sheffield, supported by Arts Council England, have been working together on a range of projects and initiatives. These have included sharing collections for exhibition and display, the development of new volunteering opportunities, a programme of sessions for people living with dementia and their carers, joint learning activities and more.

Discussions on how the two independent charities might collaborate more closely began in earnest last year and saw work commence on identifying the opportunities that bringing the two Trusts together could represent. Following an assessment process on the benefits that working together could bring to the people of Sheffield, both trusts agreed to reunite the historic collections that they care for. The collections were previously managed together by Sheffield City Council prior to the formation of Sheffield Industrial Museums Trust and Museums Sheffield in the 1990s.

Fiona Elliot, Interim Director of Sheffield Industrial Museums Trust, says: “Museums play a vital role in society; they help us learn where we’ve come from, recognise who we are today and imagine what our shared future might look like. Sheffield is no exception – by uniting the museums, we hope the people of Sheffield and visitors to the city will have an even greater chance to find inspiration in the innovation and heritage that the museums celebrate and the new stories they will be able to tell together.“ 

While the museums have been closed during lockdown work has continued to explore how the new Trust might best serve the people of Sheffield and visitors to the city alike. Over the coming months the two Trusts will develop a detailed business plan for the new organisation that puts Sheffield right at its heart. Kim Streets, Chief Executive of Museums Sheffield, says:

“Reuniting Sheffield’s collections will mean that we’re able to tell the story of our lives at work, at home and at play as one. It will also give us even greater opportunity to ensure that the experiences of our communities right across the city are reflected throughout the museums’ exhibits and displays. Beyond Sheffield’s own collections, as a larger organisation we’ll be even better placed to bring world-class cultural experiences to the city and make them available to everyone.”

The new Trust will come into effect on from 1 April 2021. An interim Board of Trustees is already in place, led by Chair, Neil MacDonald. This new era for the city’s museums comes as arts organisations across the region and beyond face a hugely challenging landscape following the impact of Covid-19 on the UK’s arts and heritage sector. Neil MacDonald says:

“The Trustees of both organisations agreed that a new united Trust will greatly strengthen the city’s museums and galleries. In light of the significant impact Covid-19 has had on cultural organisations across the country, this is more important now than ever. In joining together, we’ll be able to provide the best possible experience for our visitors, as well as be able to make the most compelling case to our funders and supporters.”

The formation of the new Trust has been welcomed by Sheffield City Council, the primary funder of both organisations. The funding each Trust receives from both the City Council and Arts Council England is complemented by an extensive programme of income generation through retail, hospitality, corporate hire and independent fundraising.

Councillor Mary Lea, Cabinet Member for Culture, Parks and Leisure says: “Museums Sheffield and Sheffield Industrial Museums Trust are custodians of the Sheffield Collection –the artefacts, art, and objects which are owned by the City Council on behalf of the people of Sheffield. We warmly support the creation of the new united Museums Trust for the city, which brings together this whole sweep of industry, society and the arts, to preserve and interpret the past and to inspire and inform the future. We will continue to work closely with the new Trust and to support this important new development in the city’s rich and diverse cultural life.”

Sheffield’s new unified museums service will be among the largest in the country and represent some of the city’s flagship cultural venues. Pete Massey, Director North, Arts Council England says:

“Sheffield has an extraordinary heritage so it’s brilliant to hear that Sheffield Industrial Museums Trust and Museums Sheffield are uniting to form a single entity which will be able to raise the profile of the city and its historic collections both nationally and internationally. I look forward to seeing how the partnership develops and to experiencing some of the new ways that they will share the historic and cultural collections with their visitors.” 

Both Sheffield Industrial Museums Trust and Museums Sheffield are currently working on plans for reopening in August following the easing of lockdown restrictions last month. Kelham Island Museum will be reopening for visitors from Monday 10 August, while the Millennium Gallery and Weston Park Museum will reopen on Monday 17 Augusts, with Graves Gallery expected to follow shortly after.