Birmingham’s Hidden Spaces

Ever heard of Birmingham’s Hidden Spaces? No, me neither until this week. Thanks to an amble through Twitter I came across a brilliant compilation of photographs from heritage sites throughout Birmingham. So, naturally, I explored some more…

The old and the new: Birmingham’s New Street Station.

Founded in 2013, Birmingham’s Hidden Spaces is a joint venture between Associated Architects, the Birmingham Post, the Royal Institute of British Architects and Colmore Business District to uncover and celebrate Birmingham’s hidden built heritage. From hidden bank vaults to breweries, the project saw an amazing month-long series of events last summer and is just about to launch into what promises to be another exciting summer.

Here’s just a taste of what you can discover this summer with Hidden Spaces: theatres, cinemas, stations, cottages, follies, banks, tunnels and many more. You can drink beer whilst discovering J.R.R. Tolkin’s links to Birmingham, scale the heights of the Methodist Central Hall and delve into Edwardian society by visiting the Moseley Road Baths.

The project comes at an exciting time for Birmingham as over the past three years the city has seen a wave of new development including the development of a the largest library in Europe and new life being breathed into fascinating areas such as the Jewellery Quarter. This project not only celebrates what Birmingham has now become but looks back to give us an idea of where it all came from. Discover Birmingham’s Hidden Spaces yourself by visiting their website.

10 of the best museum shops

OK, so as a true museum fan I don’t visit museums solely for the shops but they are certainly a welcome treat after hours of gazing, reading and exploring all the museum has to offer. However, after reading The Guardian’s ’10 of the best museum shops around the world’ it got me thinking about my own top ten. So here’s a selection of some the most beautiful and creative museum shops:

1. London Tate Modern, London

Opened in 2000 in London’s iconic Bankside Power Station the Tate Modern is now at the heart of London’s modern art scene. Its shop has a wonderful selection of literature and art prints, as well as beautiful stationery (and other bits and bobs) embellished with the iconic Tate Modern silhouette.

Source: David Pearson/Alamy.

2. Victoria and Albert Museum, London

As a museum dedicated to art and design it is no surprise that the V&A’s shop is at once beautiful and inspirational. The selection of books, prints and art is a haven for many. Go on and treat yourself!

Source: David Pearson/Alamy

3. The Coffin Works, Birmingham

If you haven’t heard of The Coffin Works I can only implore you do go and find out what it’s all about! Housed in the historic Jewellery Quarter in Birmingham the Coffin Works was owned by the Newman Brothers who produced some of the world’s most famous and well-crafted coffin furniture.  You might expect the whole experience including the shop to be, well frankly, morbid but actually the museum interprets the story of the Coffin Works as a great local success story. The shop sells great gifts including chocolate skeletons, skull t-shirts and lovely mugs.

Source: @CoffinWorks (Twitter)

4. The National Museum of Scotland, Edinburgh

The National Museum of Scotland is impressive for its space alone. Designed by branding agency Small Back Room the retail space is built within the beautiful stone vault of the museum. The two shops sell a range of beautiful local products, great gifts for kids as well as a fantastic selection of books.

royal-museum-edinburgh-landscape-1-large (1).jpg
Source: Small Back Room

5. The Museum of Modern Art, Sydney

Situated close to the beautiful Sydney Harbour Bridge, MoMA plays host to a variety of international art. Hand crafted gifts fill the shelves of the shop including bone china bird feeders, life size geometric deer heads and art prints.

Source: The Guardian

6. The Jewish Museum, Berlin

Run by Munich-based company Cedon, which specialised in museum shops, The Jewish Museum Berlin has a wonderful range of literature and gifts including postcards and posters specifically designed for the museum. But perhaps its greatest strength is its impressive range of literature on Judaism in Germany, largely thanks to close collaboration with Rachel Salamander, a leading expert on Jewish Literature in the German language.


7. Derby Museum and Art Gallery, Derby

Small in size but big in its offering, the shop at the Derby Museum and Art Gallery has an eclectic and unique selection of gifts created by local artists and makers. Jewellery, ceramics and stationery are just a few examples.

Source: Derby Museums.

8. The British Museum, London

Did you know The British Museum has a range of rubber ducks for every exhibition it organises? Aside from its vast collection of bath birds the shop is not only within a beautiful space (the famous covered courtyard) but offers a great variety of unique products. Aside from the usual books and nic nacs the shop sells a wide range of sculptures, beautiful chess sets and silk scarves.

Source: Small Back Room.

9. Musee Marmottan, Paris

If you have any appreciation of Claude Monet the Musee Marottan in Paris is a must-see. Seeing Monet’s ‘Impression, Sunrise’ up close for the first time is an unforgettable experience. The shop does not fall into the trap of reproducing Monet’s masterpieces in every way imaginable (think tatty mouse mats and chip board coasters). Instead, much of the shop is taken up by art supplies. So you can leave the museum feeling inspired and, if you like, go away with supplies to create your own works of art!


10. Musee Rodin, Paris

Some of Rodin’s most famous works of art are displayed within the setting of beautiful gardens in the heart of Paris. Whilst it is impossible to recreate the beauty and feeling of the original, the shop sells beautiful sculptures as well as fascinating and informative literature on the controversial sculptor.


What are you favourite museum shops?


PR for the heritage sector

The heritage sector is always going to be short of a few pennies. With cuts showing no sign of slowing down and local funding taking a huge knock, Marketing and PR are key to keeping interest high and funding rolling in.

So I found myself a few weeks ago searching the internet in the hope of tracking down a useful and practical book on PR. So many bookshelves seem to be brimming with academic hardback books you could knock someone unconscious with. So I was relieved to stumble across Alex Singleton’s ‘The PR Masterclass: How to Develop a Public Relations Strategy‘. Swayed by the positive reviews on Amazon (who isn’t?!) I popped in it my basket and it popped through my letter box a few days later.

If you’re looking for tips on how to write the perfect press release, how to ace TV/radio appearances and how to deal with media enquiries, this book is a winner. Yes it’s swayed towards media relations rather than looking at other aspects of PR e.g. events management etc. but Singleton sets his attentions out from the beginning so I’ll leave this analysis to the book reviewers. Overall it provides real and practical advice without the academic waffle. A real breath of fresh air.

Here’s just a few of the things I learnt:

1. ‘Buy and read the publications that you want to get coverage in’ (pg. 3) – If you’re anything like me you probably don’t make as much time as you should to read the newspapers, magazines and other publications you want to approach. But the book reminded me that only by reading these publications are you going to gauge their tone and content.

2. Investigate how popular a publication is (pg. 6-7). There are many tools out there that will be able to tell you the circulation figures for offline and online publications. Offline – The International Federation of Audit Bureaux of Circulations or for the UK and Ireland. Online – visit This site will be able to tell you how well, or not so well, the online publication is performing compared to others.

3. Press releases don’t necessarily have to be short (pg. 70-71). Time and time again I’ve been told ‘keep your press release to a side of A4’ and so on. But actually Singleton argues that in most cases press releases should be long. Why? Because how will a stretched journalist turn a 300 word press release into a 500 word article? Give them everything they need, and more!

4. Create an online media centre on your website (pg. 100). Online media centres will attract more media attention whilst also answering many frequently asked questions. Consider including the following: i) press release archive ii) place for the press to sign up for future press releases and iii) photographs of key people (e.g. CEO, Senior Management etc.), events and key activities you’re getting up to.

5. Tips for appearing on TV (pg. 151): i) lean slightly forward as you’ll appear more engaged and ii) wear a solid colour rather than anything with stripes as this may cause a disturbance with the camera.

I don’t want to ruin the whole book for you but these are just a few examples of the great, and very practical, nuggets of wisdom Singleton sheds out by the bucket-load. Whilst PR takes time and time is money, it doesn’t necessarily have to cost anything. Striking up and building relationships with journalists, sending out press releases, engaging with local and national broadcasters is there for the taking!

A-Z of museums: Books (the guide kind!)

First off, apologies. Books may seem a bit lame but unfortunately there’s not a great host of words starting with ‘b’. So books it is. But in fact the more I thought about books, guide books specifically, the more it became apparent quite how important they are.

For anyone who’s written anything, from the smallest of greetings cards to the most lengthy of PhD dissertations, words can be tricky things. You know they’re up there in the crevices of your mind but putting them in some sort of meaningful and engaging manner can be a whole other ball game. So it is with writing copy. Copy, marketing jargon for ‘words’ printed on paper or online (often for marketing purposes e.g. leaflet or magazine), can be a pain! But with this guide we’ll look at how to write great copy and what else goes into creating a great guidebook:

  • First, consider who your audience is. The content and design will be dictated to by who you are writing for. After all a children’s adventure trail will be quite different to a high-brow academic guidebook.
  • Think about what you want to achieve in the book. Do you want to educate people about the history of your museum? Do you want to help people to navigate around? Perhaps it’s both and more! Have a brainstorm so that the guidebook covers everything you want it to.
  • Consider what you want to include. It may sound obvious but there are many guidebooks that don’t include the basics like when the museum was founded or the history of the building. These are just some of the things you may want to consider: a map, brief history of the place, introduction, foreword from a key figure e.g. CEO, chief curator etc., information about each room (in order), information on key figures e.g. architects, family who lived there, who acquired it etc., collection highlights, further information e.g. books to read, websites etc. and acknowledgements e.g. who funds you, who funded this guidebook etc.
  • Also think about how you want to present the guidebook:
    • Consider size and shape: square guidebooks are quite popular and they differentiate it from a normal book. Take these nice examples from the National Maritime Museum in Falmouth. However, landscape guidebooks are also popular like this lovely example from the V&A.
    • Consider images: you’ll need good quality images for your guidebook and they really can separate the wheat from the chaff. Usually, photographs that will work well in a printed publication are taken using a wide-angle lens as they let the photographer get up close to the subject which creates a shot with energy! They will need to be atleast 300 dots per inch (dpi) or ‘hi-resolution’ to be good enough for print publication.
    • Consider branding. Have you got brand guidelines? If so, use them! If not now might be the perfect time to put some together. Whilst they might sound like a pain these sorts of guidelines will make your life easier in the long run. – promise! Creativebloq have created a good template for brand guidelines but essentially you’ll want to cover the following:
      • Standard reference terms. For example, charities working with older people do not refer to older people as OAPs, aged or old. Instead their brand guidelines outline that they refer to them as ‘older’. Include standard reference terms for any frequently referred to terms e.g. The Georgians, 19th or Nineteenth century etc.
      • Logos. If you’ve got a logo (if not get one!) set out some guidelines about its use. What size should it be? Should it be in the top or the bottom of the page?
      • Font. Choose a branded font and stick to it. There should also be rules as to what size you use for titles, sub titles and the main body of text.
    • Whilst it can seem unimportant, presentation is the first thing a customer will notice when they decide whether they want to purchase your guidebook so take some time to think it through.
  • Decide on a price. Of course price will be determined by the sort of museum you are and the content of it. If it’s a huge glossy hardback book then you could sell it for over £20. However, most guidebooks are small in size and about 30 pages in length, give or take a few. In this case somewhere in the region of £3-£5 seems quite reasonable.
  • Consider when you’re going to publish it. Have you got a special anniversary coming up e.g. 20 years since you’ve opened, 100 years since a relevant period in history? If so it may be worth holding back and publishing it to coincide with this anniversary. Whilst the guidebook should be relevant for any time of the year, publishing it on a meaningful date could be a sneaky marketing tool to utilise!
  • Do your research. Look at what other museums and heritage organisations are doing. Do a bit of internet research or undercover shopping and see what you like about your competitors!

Finally, have fun! Putting together any publication is hard work. But it’ll be worth it when it comes back from the printers and you see it flying off the shelf. See it as a celebration of your museum and everything you’re working for!

A love for The North and Midlands: a response to George Osborne’s ‘Northern powerhouse’

Last year Chancellor George Osborne made a speech outlining the importance of the UK becoming less London-centric and creating a ‘Northern powerhouse’. Yes, agreed. However, in yesterday’s i paper it made the valid point that this could be at the expense of other Northern and Midlands cities. Whilst Manchester is getting over £500 million in investment, all very welcome of course, where is the investment in other cities like Liverpool, Blackburn and Sunderland? And what about the Midlands? Fascinating cities brimming with industry and history like Leicester, Derby and Nottingham seem to have missed the Chancellor’s radar. So whilst it’s thumbs up for the investment in Manchester this should not be at the expense of other Northern or Midland cities.

Just take a look at the history and heritage of those regions outside of London. First, Liverpool. Home of Liverpool FC, The Beatles, Pier Head and the Prices Dock, Liverpool is bursting with life and tales from the past. It is also a city of firsts: the world’s first commercial wet dock was built here in 1715 and along with Manchester it was the first city to have an intercity rail link. Liverpool’s history is also one of tragedy as it was at the heart of the Atlantic Slave Trade. However, today The International Slavery Museum calls Liverpool its home and tells the the important stories of historical and contemporary slavery. Whilst Liverpool’s past is both beautiful and tragic it is one that should be remembered and conserved.

Or how about Blackburn? Last year Blackburn was one of Heritage Open Days’ biggest events (Heritage Open Days occurs annually over 4 days in September whereby places and spaces of historical interest are open for free to the public). Many might write Blackburn off as an uninteresting Northern town with nothing to offer but I wholly disagree. As a former mill town it is a testament to the Industrial revolution and the irreversible impact industrialisation had on the country. Fascinatingly, Blackburn already had a thriving textile industry before it was industrialised as many Flemish immigrants settled in the town and established a strong woollen cottage industry. In fact James Hargreaves, the inventor of the spinning jenny, was a weaver in this very town. In addition to its industrial past Blackburn also houses beautiful Georgian pavilions which are now part of a conservation area and the majestic Jubilee Tower aka the Darwen Tower soars over the city.

The North and the Midlands have always been short changed by their seemingly sexier friend London. Yes London is great, yes London is amazing, but so are these oft-forgotten cities and towns throughout the whole country. The history and heritage of these great places is fascinating and should not be left to rot. So Mr Osborne when are you going to turn your gaze further afield than Manchester and towards these other great places?

An A-Z of museums. A: Accreditation

Coordinated by the Arts Council, The Accreditation Scheme ‘sets out nationally agreed standards for museums in the UK’. In other words, the scheme is a way of raising and consolidating standards in museums across the country. But what does Accreditation actually cover? And what sort of standards does it monitor?

In theory anyone and everyone can establish a museum. The world contains an enormous collection of museums from The Horse Museum in Nottinghamshire to the Sherlock Holmes Museum in London. There really is a museum for everything. However, in order for a museum to be accredited it must prove that it has met certain standards.

The standards are divided into three key concerns: 1) How they are run i.e. organisational health, 2) how they manage their collections and 3) the experience of their users. In explanation, in order to be accredited, museums should have a clear statement of purpose, an organised governing body, management structure and workforce, a clear collections policy and a good-quality user experience. The full document is available via the Arts Council website.

But why bother? The Accreditation process can be arduous, long winded and may involve a few late nights at the office. However, there are numerous benefits museums can access once they are accredited. The Arts Council summarises them as the 6 Ps: performance, profile, people, partnerships, planning and patronage. In simple English accreditation helps to raise the profile of the museum, drives improvement, enables the museum to apply for more funding as it has shown it meets national standards, formalises procedures and policies and encourages joint working.

So accreditation is certainly not to be scoffed at. If you’d like to find out or read more about the accreditation scheme and process then pop over to The Arts Council website. Here you’ll find a great selection of guidance on what accreditation actually is, how to apply for it and the key benefits.

An A-Z of Museums

Welcome to a brand spanking new series! Over the next few months I’ll be exploring the world of museums, big and small, local and national, through the A-Z of museums. I’ll be looking at issues as varied as collections to facilities, ethics to volunteers. If there’s anything you’d particularly like to read about just pop a comment below and I’ll have a look into it! I’d also love to hear your thoughts and comments about any/all(!) of the issues discussed here so don’t hold back!

a space for heritage lovers