Army Museums into the Future

There are over 140 army museums and collections in the UK, which does not include air or naval forces. Some are vast, with enormous items on show such as the Tank Museum, and some are really quite small, perhaps forming part of a larger museum. None of them are insignificant. 

Land and Heritage collections work with Army Museums Ogliby TrustIn April 2018 Land and Heritage published an Army Museums National Scoping Report, which looked at the significance, condition and financial resilience of all 140 plus museums. Matt and Clare were commissioned in July 2017 by the Army Museums Ogilby Trust to undertake this, which formed part of their larger resilience project ‘Army Museums into the Future’. As an interpretation and collections specialist Clare was able to make a thorough assessment of just how well the army museums care for their treasures, and what support they might need going forward. 

The UK army museums scoping project made contact with a wide and diverse selection of army museums, and the results have returned some very useful, positive information. The Army Museums Ogibly Trust website has an entry for all of the 142 individual museums and collections surveyed, and acts as a portal for researchers and visitors to locate an army collection, and find out more information. This facility is due to be launched by the Trust shortly.

The project has highlighted some very positive trends, and some truly amazing numbers, for example: 

  • 60% of those surveyed are attached to a larger museum or organisation 
  • Volunteers give over 10,500 hours per month to army museums 
  • 79% report healthy visitor growth 

Naturally there were some areas of concern, including collections at risk and volunteers in need of desperate moral and specialist support: 

  • 9 museums or collections are at immediate financial risk
  • 20 expect to be at financial risk within 5 years 
  • There is a significant skills deficit within the sector 
  • 63 museums or collections have significant documentation and cataloguing backlogs 

Land and Heritage have made a series of 19 recommendations, separated into thematic elements, and combining the strengths found within the sector with the areas in need of support. These prioritised recommendations allow AMOT to channel their support where it is most needed, as requested by the museums. 

It was important to AMOT that there were positive actions too, so Land and Heritage designed a concise series of ‘toolkits’ providing refence support to museums staff and volunteers in the areas found to be most at need. These toolkits are to be published on the AMOT website for general use by the museums, and will be widely accessible to other institutions. 

Matt and Clare particularly enjoyed collating images of the ‘starred’ items, which are those most prized within a collection. Some were huge, some were of great cultural significance like sections of the Berlin wall, and some were exceptionally touching, including a POW prayer book made from cigarette papers, held at the Army Chaplaincy Museum. 

POW prayer book made from cigarette papers, held at the Army Chaplaincy Museum

The team at Land and Heritage enjoy working with diverse and complicated collections, whether plants, fine art, military hardware or oral histories. In our latest project we are providing a conservation plan to the Black Country Living Museum in Dudley, so if you want to find out more about our work go here