Big Darw activity at Newark Town Hall Museum

Museum Development East Midlands (MDEM) is an organisation, which focuses specifically on developing and supporting museums across the 5 counties in the East Midlands. We seek to encourage ambition and support resilience in museums across the region. Funded primarily by Arts council England, we are the designated provider of museums development support and we run a wealth of training, development and grant programmes. As such we have a deep understanding of the needs and priorities of the museums we work with and also of the health of the museum sector each financial year.

In Derbyshire, the types of museums you can find are incredibly varied. There are 27 in the nationally recognised Museum Accreditation scheme. It ranges from big showstoppers such as Chatsworth House, to civic museums such as Buxton and Derby, to small independents such as Wirksworth Heritage Centre, to completely volunteer run organisations such as Castleton Museum.

We know from our annual survey of museums that the current contribution to the Derbyshire economy and cultural offer by museums is impressive. In 2016/17 the figures showed the following:

  • 688,588 visits to Derbyshire museums in 2016/17
  • Visits helped contribute an estimated £7,349,933 to the Derbyshire economy
  • 22,371 participants were engaged by museums through formal learning and outreach
  • 27,561 participants were engaged by museums through informal activities and events
  • 1,879 volunteers contributed 129,400 hours to museums, which was worth just over £900,000
  • 231 people were in paid employment in museums in Derbyshire in 2016/17
Museum Development East Midlands Data Survey
Big Darw activity at Newark Town Hall Museum

These figures show a vibrant museum sector, which is actively contributing cultural capital and financial benefit to Derbyshire and beyond.

However, in a sector focusing firmly on the past, it is important to continually challenge practice and strive for relevance. Our role at MDEM is to mediate this and ensure the right support is available to museums to ask themselves challenging questions, to continually grow and improve.

We recently undertook an audit of museum’s priority areas for development, using our Business Diagnostic Tool ( / ) This allows museums to highlight their areas of strength but also critique current practice.

In Derbyshire Audience Development was the number one priority for museums. When you drill down into this vast area, key focuses are digital literacy and engagement, and increased community outreach and participation. The need for more brand and marketing skills was also highlighted. The second highest priority area was Financial Planning. In particular looking at fundraising models and ensuring long term financial stability in a sector where public funding has been decreasing for several years.

This is indicative of a museum sector which increasingly needs and wants to look at incorporating high-level business skills. Approaches to this have been through more diverse recruitment, and partnership working in the locality. Board recruitment is a particular focus, ensuring that at governance level the right skills are available to manage the whole organisation, not just focusing on the history and collection.

Overall, the picture is strong when looking at information on Derbyshire Museums. They are varied and vibrant and capture the history and heritage of this diverse county. On the horizon is the increasing need for evolution, including adopting a more business-like approach. MDEM is here to support museums throughout this transition and to ensure the continual great work undertaken by the sector is appreciated and applauded both locally and beyond.

If you’d like to learn more about what MDEM offers to museums, including grants, training and advice, then please visit our website: @MusDevEM

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About the author

Sarah Hartshorne Museum Development Officer for the East Midlands,

Sarah Hartshorne
Museum Development Officer

Sarah is the Museum Development Officer for the East Midlands, working with 116 museums to develop ambitious and sustainable futures. In particular Sarah manages the training programme, focusing on workforce development in all areas of museum delivery. Previously she has worked at the National Trust, English Heritage and Civic Voice, the national charity for Civic Societies, specialising in volunteer management. As a Museum Mentor Sarah works closely with the small independent sector, supporting museums through the Accreditation process. Sarah is a Trustee for the Broxtowe Women’s Project and actively champions wider access and gender equality for all.

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