SHARE Museums East launch Next Steps Grants

SHARE has launched Next Steps Grants to support museums, whether planning to reopen to the public or choosing to remain closed, thanks to support from the Art Fund. 

The grants are available to:

  • Support effective reopening
  • Develop sustainable and resilient museums
  • Meet audience needs

Maximum grant available: £5,000

Eligibility: You must be a museum in the East of England within the ACE Accreditation scheme (including provisional and officially Working Towards) which is not also an ACE National Portfolio Organisation or a National museum. You will also be expected to have the support of your county MDO and to have utilised SHARE’s free specialist helplines before planning your application. 

Deadline: Midday, 31 July 2020 

For full eligibility criteria, guidance and an application form, please see the Next Steps section on the SHARE website. Do keep me posted if you are thinking of applying!

Spotlight on…Brightlingsea Museum

We talk to the Curator of Brightlingsea Museum, Margaret Stone, about their ambitious relocation project, installing displays in lockdown and the new voices and objects they have been able to include.

Image shows the new interior of Brightlingsea Museum, with interpretation panels and a small boat.

For anyone who hasn’t visited Brightlingsea Museum before – what’s it all about?

It’s about the story of Brightlingsea’s heritage – something that has been strongly influenced by its position at the mouth of the River Colne, close to the North Sea but with a sheltered harbour. This probably led to the town becoming a Limb of the Cinque Port of Sandwich, a special and unique association as we are the only member of this ancient organisation north of the Thames.

With easy access to the sea and surrounding creeks these were excellent conditions for centuries of oyster dredging and fishing, especially stowboating – catching sprats in specially adapted nets.

The sheltered harbour was to play its part in the defence of our country, from the times of Henry VIII and again during both World Wars when Brightlingsea was a busy Naval Base – even our mud was to provide ideal conditions to train British and Anzac Engineers for action on the Western Front in the Great War.

Interwoven with all of this activity is a long history of shipbuilding and the heyday of huge sailing and steam yachts in the hundred years leading up to the second World War when Brightlingsea fishermen used their skills to crew some of the fastest yachts of their day – including in the America’s Cup.

You’ve recently undergone a huge transformation project – how did this come about?

The Museum first opened in 1989, renting space in a Victorian building that had been a Reading Room since the late 1890s.  The museum soon became popular, visitor numbers increased and so did the collections of objects and images.  The building was difficult to access – steep steps and stairs.  The construction of the building made it difficult to heat and maintain a suitable environment, and it just was not big enough.

Sadly in 2013 Claude Dove, our founding Chairman died, but to our amazement he left a substantial bequest to the museum.  The local Police Station came on the market in 2015, which we were able to purchase and then make alterations and add an extension.

How has lockdown affected your plans?

When lockdown was ordered we were just starting the process of installing exhibitions ready to have a week of opening events in mid-May.  As lockdown eased, we carefully started working again, but progress has been slow, consequently we are many weeks behind schedule, and do not envisage being ready to open until at least late August. 

All plans of a grand opening are of course out of the question, and we are even having to consider whether the many interactives we had so enthusiastically planned will be suitable in the current ‘Coronavirus climate’.  However, we will be looking at having a celebration event next year.

How is the new space taking shape?

After building and refurbishment of our newly acquired premises was completed, we and our many supporters were so impressed with the amazing space for the exhibitions, a real wow factor!  With some stunning plans for our new exhibition (with thanks to our design team from Maltings Partnership), the carpenter moved in creating structures. ‘Losing’ that great space I thought the wow factor would also be lost, but the reverse was the case.  Now with most of the images and text in place we can see how our visitors will be led on a journey of discovery about Brightlingsea.

Employment of our professional designers, Maltings Partnership, which has resulted in the provision of exciting and informative displays, interactives and audio/visual effects would not have been possible without the support of the National Lottery Heritage Fund, Essex County Council’s Community Initiative Fund and many other organisations.

Is there anything you would do differently if you did this relocation project again?

I did learn early on that we take ideas and suggestions from a wide range of people, but when it comes to decisions we keep this to a small tight group, with a balanced view of the museum’s themes – not with a passionate interest in one particular area.  Although subject enthusiasts are vital for research and checking material.

Our design team have been so good to work with.  However, if I were to do this again when fine-tuning plans, I would want to know more about preparation work that we (all volunteers) would need to do.  Fortunately we have some really skilled volunteers on hand to help with some of the more practical tasks – preparing walls for vinyls, painting and even light engineering, if we had needed to bring in contractors our budgets would have been under pressure.

What have you enjoyed the most about the process?

Enthusiasm! Whether, from those actively involved with the project, visitors on occasional open days, people who stop us in the street wanting to know how it’s going, local fishermen bringing in special treasures or telling us about their experiences, the interest and enthusiasm is almost tangible.

Have you been able to display a particular object or collection that you couldn’t previously?

Where do I start? We have so much on display that has not been seen before – letters, autograph books, tools in such an amazing and imaginative display about shipyard skills.  Voices and projections, and a wonderful isometric drawing of the Waterside in 1892 – we just did not have the space for it in our old premises.

We have a temporary exhibition space, but to make sure there is always something for visitors to see we have an A – Z of Brightlingsea on the walls. This gave us a wonderful opportunity to involve a large number of volunteers as we asked for their suggestions. We were able to include some of the town’s heritage that perhaps does not come under ’maritime’ – some interesting residents from the past, the Live Animal export demonstrations in 1995, some of the birds visiting the creeks and salt marsh and even Joan Collins. Want to know how? Then you will have to visit us!

When we have a temporary exhibition the A – Z is covered so we are looking at another way we can have this available.

Visitors can expect to be fascinated, amused, surprised and even sad.  They will discover, watch, listen, and empathise. They will want to come back!

What are your hopes for Brightlingsea Museum for 2021 and beyond?

It is essential that the museum is seen as a vital part of the community. We will do this by having a range of activities and opportunities, not just for individuals and families, but also other organisations, to encourage a sense of ownership. It is their museum – not ours!

We also see the museum as a quality visitor attraction not just for Brightlingsea, but the wider area, and we will not only be encouraging visitors to the museum but to also explore the town. We have already started working with our Town Council and businesses in the town and are hoping to build an ethos of co-operation between us that will ultimately benefit the town as a whole.

All these ambitions are only possible if we continue to develop our service to the wider community – providing regular temporary exhibitions, resources for study (both formal and informal) and activities for a range of interests and needs for all ages and we are receptive to suggestions. Always keeping our budgets in mind – if we must be financially viable.

You can find out more about Brightlingsea Museum on their website or follow them on Twitter.

Arts Council Project Grants reopen on 22 July

Arts Council are shortly resuming their Project Grant scheme which will open for applications on 22 July.

They have made some improvements to make the fund more responsive to the needs of smaller independent organisations and individual practitioners during Covid-19.

The programme has been prioritised for reopening to help fund independent organisations, creative practitioners and freelancers as quickly as possible.

Updated guidance for the programme will be published by mid-July. 

Do let me know if you are thinking of applying, and if I can support with the application. I can also put you in touch with Liam Wiseman, relationship manager for the South East at Arts Council, for a discussion about your potential application.

Snapping the Stiletto 2 – now recruiting!

Following the success of the Essex based Snapping the Stiletto project, another round of funding has enabled a second phase. ‘Snapping the Stiletto’ was a two year project exploring how Essex women’s lives have changed since 1918. The next phase will amplify and surface BAME and LGBTQ+ women’s stories and collections through community activities. 

The project is currently recruiting for two fixed term positions – please do share with anyone who may be interested.

Closing date: 7 July. The roles will be based at Essex County Council. More information, including how you can get involved in Snapping the Stiletto 2, will be available soon. 

Are you planning to reopen your museum this year? We need your help…

SHARE Museums East needs to know how many museums in our region are planning to reopen this year. Fill in this super-quick, one-question survey to help us plan what grants and support are needed. Click here to answer the questions.

*Please note – there was a glitch with the survey reported to us early on, and we have since corrected it. Please try again if you didn’t complete it before.

In case you missed it, there is news about the upcoming guidance on reopening museums, as well as details of some new grant schemes, in our most recent newsletter. Click here for more information.

Art Fund launches new grants to support museums

The Art Fund has launched Respond and Reimagine grants to support organisations during this time of crisis. Full details are here on the Art Fund website.

The overall aim of the grants is to help support organisations deliver projects or activity that will provide a positive change in offering new or improved ways of working during and as part of the longer-term response to the COVID-19 crisis. Grants given will be between £10k-£50k. There is a detailed guidance document which should answer most questions. If you are planning on applying, please contact, detailing how much you plan to apply for and which funding round you plan to apply to. 

You do not have to be an Accredited museum to be eligible to apply, but you will need to demonstrate you usually operate to best practice standards and provide some evidence for this.

There are three funding rounds:

  • Round 1: apply by Monday 6 July 2020, decisions confirmed by 31 July 2020
  • Round 2: apply by Monday 17 August 2020, decisions confirmed by 21 September 2020
  • Round 3: apply by Monday 12 October 2020, decisions confirmed by 9 November 2020

I’d be grateful if you could please let me know if you are applying, and I am happy to look over applications and discuss plans with people individually. You can contact me at

Association of Independent Museums

Just a quick note to flag the Association of Independent Museums (AIM) Virtual Conference, Roads to Recovery, taking place next week on Thursday 18 and Friday 19 June in case you haven’t already been notified:

It’s free, open to all, and taking place on Zoom. The sessions are all split individually so you can pick and choose and dip in and out – you do need to register for your chosen sessions in advance though.  

The conference is based around recovery from Covid-10 – what the new normal might look like and how museums might need to adapt and change. It includes a session on independent museums and reopening, legal issues and also has a session on personal resilience. When you sign up there’s an option to submit questions in advance for the speakers to address.

Beth Wilkey will be attending some of the sessions and can be contacted at if you have any questions.

With apologies for cross posting.

A Message from Beth Wilkey, the new Essex MDO

Dear all,

I hope you are keeping safe and well. My name is Beth and I am the new Museum Development Officer for Essex. My role is hosted by Colchester + Ipswich Museums and funded by SHARE Museums East and Museums Essex until March 2023. I’ll be working with museums across Essex providing support, information and advice.

With the current situation I am based at home but I am looking forward to meeting you all in person and making site visits when the time comes.

It would be really helpful to find out more about how we can best support you and what help you might need from SHARE Museums East at the moment.

We also need to find out about your current position in light of the lockdown i.e. implications from income loss, funding support you’ve applied for, reopening plans and any risk to your organisation. I’m very happy to schedule Zoom/Teams meetings or phone calls with individual museums over the coming days/weeks to discuss this and you can also update me with this information via email of course.

I’m really looking forward to working with you all and providing support through this difficult time and after. Please do not hesitate to get in touch about anything big or small and hopefully I’ll talk to you soon.

Best wishes,

Beth Wilkey
Essex Museum Development Officer
Colchester + Ipswich Museums


New MDO starts on 1 June

I am very pleased to be able to confirm that the new Essex Museum Development Officer Beth Wilkey will be taking up her post next Monday, 1 June. I am sure that you will all do what you can to make Beth feel welcome. It is not an easy time to be starting a new job, particularly in the museums sector. Beth’s initial work programme is very much based on her introducing herself to Essex museums and getting up to speed with the overall picture in the county. She will be contacting Essex Museums during the course of next week, but if for some reason you don’t hear from her please do let me know at and I will put you in touch with her.