Written evidence to the DCMS Select Committee on the impact of Covid-19

Advocating for museums in Cornwall is an important part of our role. Read our submission to the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee’s inquiry, Impact of Covid-19 on DCMS sectors.

May 22nd 2020

Cornwall Museums Partnership is an independent charitable incorporated organisation, formed in 2015 to provide leadership for Cornwall’s museums; to support them, represent them and give them a voice. Our purpose is to create positive social change with museums.
There are over 70 museums in Cornwall, 34 of which are Accredited, more than any comparable region in the country. Most are independently run and have little or no public subsidy.

Our submission has been compiled in consultation with museum directors, staff and volunteers from across Cornwall.

What has been the immediate impact of Covid-19 on the sector?

All museums in Cornwall were closed to the public from 21st March onwards, some had already closed during that week. Some, which are not entirely reliant on trading income, continue to operate remotely offering a range of online activities and support for local communities, for instance Falmouth Art Gallery is delivering art packs to families identified as ‘at risk’ in their community. Whilst there has been an increase in digital activity, museums in Cornwall have, by and large, ceased all regular public facing activity. Staff and volunteers are continuing to complete essential checks of their buildings and collections. At the time of writing, only a very small number of staff are working on site. Staff working from home have quickly developed systems to work remotely, although poor IT equipment is hampering some. Remote access to collections’ information is impossible for most museums here due to a lack of IT infrastructure; this undermines museums’ ability to share their collections online.

Lockdown came at the start of the tourist season for Cornwall. Winter is a quieter time for museums here, most of the small volunteer led museums close and the larger ones are reliant on the income earned during spring and summer to see them through the year. The prospect of closure from March into the summer is being described as the equivalent of ‘3 winters in a row’. Some museums in Cornwall earn 80% of their income in the summer months. The cumulative losses of spring and summer trading will be profound. Perversely, those museums who had successfully diversified their income streams (e.g. through shops and cafes) and were less reliant on public funding, are those which are most at risk from the loss of income incurred by closure. Many museums’ biggest concern is whether they will be able to generate sufficient funds to see them through the winter of 2020/21. The costs of caring for collections and museum buildings have not diminished. Museum directors have described feeling ‘overwhelmed’ and there has been a tangible impact on the health and wellbeing of staff, both those who are continuing to work and those who have been furloughed. Over 2000 volunteers were active in museums prior to COVID-19. In large part, museum volunteering, and the benefits this brings to wellbeing for many (mainly older) people in Cornwall, has come to a halt.

The museums sector is supported by a range of freelancers, from film makers to artists, evaluators and project managers. We have been contacted by people who have lost all their work as a result of COVID-19. The cultural and commercial creative sectors in Cornwall, like elsewhere, are closely interlinked. The ceasing of museum activity is already having a detrimental effect on small and micro businesses who are part of the cultural sector supply chain.

Several museums and freelancers were planning to submit projects for funding to Arts Council England and the National Lottery Heritage Fund. The closure of project grants and diversion of funds to emergency funding streams is also having an impact on museums who cannot progress initiatives designed to improve their longer-term sustainability and in which they have already invested significant time and money.

How effectively has the support provided by DCMS, other Government departments and arms-length bodies addressed the sector’s needs?

The museums sector in Cornwall is diverse; it is made up of over 70 independent organisations with a range of governance and business models. Eligibility for government and arms-length bodies’ support is mixed. Cornwall Museums Partnership has been playing a vital role in supporting museums to navigate the multiple options, some of which have not been straightforward to access:

• Job retention scheme – larger and smaller independent museums, have accessed this scheme. Some have furloughed the majority of their staff for example Geevor Tin Mine and National Maritime Museum Cornwall.

• Grants for hospitality and leisure businesses – we are aware of a handful of museums including Geevor Tin Mine, Museum of Cornish Life and Wheal Martyn, which have received £25,000 each via this scheme.

• Small business grants – eligibility is mixed, with museums who have received charity rate relief or which occupy certain types of property, e.g. MOD land, being told they are ineligible.

• Government backed bounce back loans – we have not come across any museums who have an appetite to take on debt at this time.

• Arts Council England emergency funding – we are aware of 3 museums in Cornwall who have accessed this. Others have not applied because they feel the scheme is only for those who cannot survive until September, they are concerned that support is not available for the critical period beyond September.

• We know of 2 museums who have applied to the National Lottery Heritage Fund’s emergency funding and who have been successful.

For the vast majority of Cornwall’s 70+ museums there has been limited or no financial support available. We know of one museum which has made a successful claim to its insurers.

Cornwall Museums Partnership is facilitating a Museums Reopening Forum comprising museum directors from across the sector who are starting to explore the feasibility of reopening following government guidance that museums may be able to open to the public on the 4 July.


In summary:

• It looks unlikely that any museums in Cornwall will reopen to the public on the 4 July.

• A limited number are currently exploring a form of reduced opening from the second half of July onwards. There are significant practical challenges involved in designing systems to keep staff and the public safe and comply with social distancing in museum buildings; many are small, ‘quirky’, historic buildings with physical limitations. Social distancing in an underground tin mine, for example, is impossible. The infrastructure for timed ticketing is limited or non-existent in most museums.

• Some museums are exploring a cap on visitor numbers, one-way systems, limited access, Perspex screens for staff, take away food options only, no retail, reduced numbers of staff etc.

• Managing social distancing is likely to require more staffing than normal for museums; yet operating at reduced capacity means that they can afford fewer. For example, timed tickets will only work effectively if museums have additional staff at busy times to have staff outside their buildings turning away those that turn up on spec.

• The absence of the volunteer workforce who often fill customer facing roles e.g. room stewards and are now shielding, is a particular challenge which means that some museums may not be able to reopen at all this summer.

• Others have concluded that a ‘socially distanced’ museum experience is so far removed from their values that it is not something they want to offer and they will remain closed, seeking to deliver their charitable purpose in other ways.

• Most museums in Cornwall have strong relationships with their communities. They are concerned to avoid taking any steps which alienate local people, by re-opening too soon and being seen to be actively attracting tourists when communities here are fearful of an influx of holiday makers and a resultant spike in COVID-19 cases.

• Museums are taking a collective approach to reopening and are keen to issue a consistent message to the public. They are however very wary of any ‘kitemark’ schemes, as a ‘one size fits all’ approach may be impossible to achieve given the very individualised nature of each site. The unintended consequence of such a scheme risks labelling smaller cultural venues as ‘unsafe’ when they have been able to put appropriate measures in place to protect staff and the public, albeit those which are adapted to their specific sites.


What will the likely long-term impacts of Covid-19 be on the sector, and what support is needed to deal with those?

The museums sector in Cornwall was financially vulnerable before COVID-19. Many years of underinvestment have resulted in buildings in poor repair, low wages and stretched staff teams. These museums are practiced in doing a lot with a little.

Longer term, we are concerned about the following impacts:

• Reduced ability of museums to fundraise: the fundraising environment for museums was tough prior to COVID-19; now we expect things to get much worse. The usual sources of support are already affected through the reallocation of grant funding to emergency support; we expect other sources of income such as donations and legacies to be severely reduced and charitable giving to focus heavily on health-related causes. This will have a significant impact on the ability of museums to operate.

• We are concerned that local authorities will be faced with very difficult funding choices in the coming months and that they will look to significantly cut their investment in culture. This will have a potentially devastating effect on local authority funded museums who already exist on low levels of investment (and who have not been eligible for any emergency support). Years of budget reductions mean that there is no ‘fat’ in the system. Cuts will mean reduced opening or closures.

• Museums in Cornwall are reliant on over 2000 volunteers, most of whom are over 65. We are concerned that this critical element of the workforce may not return this year (or ever). A lack of volunteers will make re-opening impossible for some museums. The loss of skills and knowledge will take time to rebuild.

• Depending on the financial position of museums at the end of the summer, we expect that with the removal of the furlough scheme some museums may be pushed to insolvency. If this happens their collections and historic sites could be lost for ever.

• Without additional support those that continue to operate look likely to be forced to make redundancies from already small and over stretched teams resulting in lost skills and knowledge, decreased standards, less ability to recover and further decline.

• Culture and heritage will play a critical role in the recovery of communities post-COVID, both in terms of health and wellbeing, and economic activity. Museums help communities understand themselves, they boost local pride and community cohesion – they are amongst the most trusted of civic institutions. They help people understand their place’s distinctiveness; a valuable commodity on which commercial businesses, not just those in the tourism sector, trade. Without museums a whole host of community programmes serving some of the most disadvantaged and vulnerable in society, from young people who are leaving care to residents of care homes, will stop.

We are asking for the following:

• Investment in museums in Cornwall which supports them through the winter of 2020/21.

• Continued support for employment costs.

• A review of the 2 metre rule to conform with WHO guidelines and/or international practice (e.g. museums in Germany who are operating a 1.5m distancing policy) which would facilitate more practical social distancing measures in museums.

• Protection of the proposed MEND fund. Many regional museum buildings were already in serious disrepair prior to COVID-19. Both Royal Cornwall Museum and the Isles of Scilly Museum had already closed before coronavirus because their buildings required urgent repairs.

• Enabling staff from charities who have been furloughed to volunteer for their own museum where it is a charity.

• Dedicated support to promote museums to the public during the autumn/winter ‘shoulder’ season.

• Avoidance of any safety ‘kitemark’ schemes.

• Support to encourage new volunteers for museums.


What lessons can be learnt from how DCMS, arms-length bodies and the sector have dealt with Covid-19?

Emergency support from lottery distributors has been welcomed. However better coordination between them to avoid additional work for applicants would be helpful. Some organisations have had to apply to two funders knowing they can only accept an offer from one.

A flexible approach which enables regional decision making is critical. There are several distinctive factors at play in Cornwall which are not necessarily replicated in cities or London, for example the extreme seasonality of tourism, a more elderly and vulnerable resident population than the national average, a reliance on older volunteers and local communities who are fearful of a resumption of tourism.

Systems or approaches which are designed for large organisations, with large buildings and big staff teams, will not work here. Support from DCMS should enable equitable access to museums for those across the country, not just those who reside in big cities.

We have welcomed the opportunity to explain these distinctive regional conditions to funders like Arts Council England and the Heritage Fund. This information is hard to convey in standardised surveys. One museum director said: ‘I can’t fault the support we have had at Officer level from NLHF’. Museums have particularly valued the efforts staff at both Arts Council England and NLHF have made to support them.

How might the sector evolve after Covid-19, and how can DCMS support such innovation to deal with future challenges?

1.  Lockdown and the restrictions on public movement give us cause to reflect on what is available to us locally. The vast majority of museums in Cornwall are community museums. Their concern for and service to their communities is what is driving much of the decision making about their future operation. Yet in our sector these museums are often seen as the ‘poor relations’. It is time to review the policy and strategy towards local museums and rebalance the hyper-concentration of investment in metropolitan centres which undermines regional efforts to create sustainable communities. COVID-19 must be the moment we prioritise museums who serve their communities and rebalance investment against the things that matter: people, communities and the planet. COVID-19 must not be the moment where we throw already impoverished regional museums to the dogs. It must be the trigger for new policy which re-balances investment and recognises the critical role that regional museums can play in the recovery of their communities.

2.  Since lockdown museums across the UK have rushed to put content online. This has been mixed in quality and not necessarily informed by audience needs. At CMP we have been supporting museums in the smart use of tech for the last 5 years. We believe that online experiences should be designed specifically with the ‘online space’ in mind. There is an opportunity for DCMS to incentivise innovation here, particularly working with smaller organisations who may be able to work in more agile ways than larger institutions. Existing innovation funding needs to be made accessible to museums of all sizes.

At CMP we are exploring the applications of immersive technology and AI for museums and will be launching the Museums and Immersive Network in June 2020.

3.  We have known for years that like other aspects of the creative industries the museums sector is not diverse. The reliance on older volunteers is a structural weakness which has been thrown into sharp focus by COVID-19. At CMP we have been delivering a range of schemes to provide opportunities for a wider range of people to enter the sector. By 2022 museums in Cornwall will have provided 25 apprenticeships and 15 paid trainee curator roles. It is now more crucial than ever that inclusive routes into the profession are delivered and that all museums are supported to provide these.

#RDNetwork: Homelessness in Rural Communities

During 2020 the Cornwall Museums Partnership Twitter page will be handing the reigns over each month to local organisations, who will be guest hosting our Rural Diversity Networking hour; #RDNetwork. 

In February, St. Petrocs kindly took over our Twitter page to discuss homelessness within rural communities. Please continue reading to hear all about their experience of our #RDNetwork Twitter Takeover…

We were invited to take part in the Rural Diversity Network Twitter Takeover on 24th February. What a different place the world was then! We were staggered by the level of engagement in the event which opened links from the length and breadth of the country. Those links and the interactions which took place are as relevant now though as they were then. In fact, never has there been a time in which collaboration has been so important.

We are incredibly grateful to be asked to take part and hope that we can continue to engage in such supportive relationships. We also hope that communicating some of our own experiences may be of some use to others.

The questions we asked were: –

  1. What do you think the arts & culture can offer people experiencing homelessness?
  2. Are there any local examples of museums working with people who have experienced homelessness, or any other out of County examples that could be applied in Cornwall?
  3. We really want to know what role should museums and galleries play in tackling homelessness?
  4. What kinds of activities would you like to see museums engaged in to tackle homelessness?

As an organisation which gives support to homeless people throughout Cornwall, museums have proved to be an asset to the work we do. Support for those sleeping rough, and for residents in our supported accommodation has been forthcoming both from an organisational perspective, and on a client by client basis, which assists individuals to progress in their interests and their progression towards a stable and settled life. It is only when people have ambition to pursue personal or professional interests that they can start to focus positively on their future. Museums can do this for many of our clients, and we are fascinated by the way that looking at the past can help people develop their futures. CMP makes that relationship stronger.

Jess Rawlings from St Petrocs took over the Cornwall Museums Partnership Twitter profile for St Petrocs.

‘’We had an incredible response on the night of our takeover, it was a fierce hour of tweets, at points I was struggling to keep up with the notifications! The whole thread was absolutely bursting with positivity, kindness, knowledge, and fantastic examples of things that have been happening both in the past and planned for the future across the Country. It was a really fast way of discovering relevant information, new opportunities and making connections and I am so grateful that we were invited to be a part of it’’


On the night we had organisations such as the Museum of Homelessness, who offered great insights and suggestions.

Other organisations were taking part, such as the Falmouth Art Gallery, Penlee House Gallery and Museum and the Curator of the Workhouse, Courthouse & Prison & Police Museums also joined the conversations across the hour.

Not only were great suggestions shared but also offers of support for future work.

We would like to thank everyone who joined the conversation and made it a truly informative evening, and most importantly thank you to the Cornwall Museums Partnership for inviting us to host the hour.

-St. Petrocs

St. Petrocs’ ambition is to end street homelessness in Cornwall. They provide accommodation, support, advice, training and resettlement services to single homeless people in Cornwall and strive to provide the best quality of service possible to those people, aged 16–65, who find themselves homeless and for whom no provision is made within the community, either statutory or otherwise.

#RDNetwork: Tackling Health and Wellbeing in Isolated Communities

During 2020 the Cornwall Museums Partnership Twitter page will be handing the reigns over each month to local organisations, who will be guest hosting our Rural Diversity Networking hour; #RDNetwork. 

In April, Nerys Watts, Director of External Affairs for Brunel’s SS Great Britain, kindly took over our Twitter page to discuss health, wellbeing and rural isolation. Please continue reading to hear all about Nerys’ experience of our #RDNetwork Twitter Takeover…

It was a great privilege to host such a rich and thoughtful discussion for Cornwall Museums Partnerships’ #RDNetwork on wellbeing and rural isolation, and the role that museums and galleries can play in addressing these issues. Always extremely important, it felt particularly significant to look at them during a time when we are experiencing a global pandemic and lockdown, with the different physical and mental effects the situation is having on us all.

This is first and foremost a crisis about people’s health, but it is having a widespread and significant impact on museums and galleries, who are currently facing unprecedented and profound challenges. For most, the vast majority of their income has ceased and they are now working particularly hard and creatively at various ways in which to carry out their mission, whilst continuing to serve and support their communities.

The questions we asked during the #RDNetwork were;

1. Has your health and wellbeing been impacted in isolation? If so, how?
2. What have we learnt from lockdown regarding the needs of isolated people and communities?
3. What impact can museums and galleries have on wellbeing?
4. How could museums and galleries help tackle isolation during or after COVID-19.

On a personal level it is clear that people are trying hard to adapt to a very changed way of life, but that it can feel very different for each person. We have gone through significant change in a very short space of time; tiredness, snacking, lack of concentration, uncertainty, and mourning missed opportunities and cancelled plans are all common.

However, what is also clear is how people are finding ways to alter routines, sourcing different means to stay connected, appreciating details that busy lives often meant were overlooked, and allowing themselves to become more flexible. Although people are finding different ways to cope this can still remain an extremely stressful time for most.

When we looked at what lockdown meant particularly for isolated people and communities, an interesting perspective was shared about the impact of the current measures leading to these people suffering ‘double isolation’ – services that were already challenging to access at normal times are now impacted further. With obtaining provisions for basic needs being even more difficult, this also has a knock-on effect on time or energy to then engage with other activities.

Recognizing how important it is to find ways to connect and reach out to people, especially at this time, is at the heart of how museums and galleries are supporting wellbeing now. Although challenging, this period of lockdown is also seen as an opportunity to try new things and experiment. Penlee House Gallery & Museum has launched ‘Penlee Inspired Online 2020’ to produce an online exhibition created by people inspired by their collections, and Museum of Cornish Life is ensuring they are having conversations with their audiences to be guided by their needs. Similarly, Wheal Martyn has been keeping in touch with all of their volunteers, and particularly looking out for their most vulnerable volunteers, including shopping for them. It is evident that museums are there to support their communities when they are most needed.

Whilst we need to deal with the now, and continue to do what we can to engage and connect with our communities and audiences at the moment, we also need to look ahead and position ourselves as a sector for the longer term challenges ahead. Everything points to us heading towards an economic recession, and a recession which many countries will be entering in the worst possible shape, with traditional levers already exhausted. As with other recessions, it will again be necessary for us to make the case for why culture and heritage is important to our lives when things move forward. Our heritage, our museums and galleries provide a vital role within our society on many levels. We will need to make the case again for the significant economic impact culture has of course, but also how it adds richness, builds curiosity and connections, self-esteem and confidence, and brings enjoyment to people’s lives. The benefits we can provide to support people’s wellbeing are a critical part of our value, and particularly now.

This crisis will also have a long-term impact on society. It is unlikely that we will be ‘going back to normal’. Behaviours are likely to have changed. Many people will have faced loss; family or friends, or loss of income. They may feel anxious about visiting public spaces or have lost confidence in doing things they haven’t done in a while. It is likely to prompt a reappraisal of what we – individually and collectively – value. To support wellbeing we need to ensure that we are relevant in a different environment, to build on our connections with communities and look at this area as a long term and genuine priority. Collaborating, listening and understanding what it is we can do to continue to make a difference.

We should be ambitious. Going forward we should exploit the power of digital – a key area where there will be new opportunities, with the current crisis accelerating digital engagement – but it’s more than this. To meaningfully impact wellbeing we need to think beyond ad hoc outreach interventions. These are far less impactful than a long-term and consistent approach done in partnership with others, co-creating what we do with communities and other organisations. It’s less about interventions and more about collaborations, and models which empower and build engagement. This may sound daunting, but NEF Five ways to wellbeing provides useful framework to plan how this could look, and working with the right people will develop thinking further.

We need to think carefully about which communities to target, and how we can meaningfully connect them to the physical space of the museum where engagement has most benefit for health and wellbeing, and what barriers may prevent this. Honest and reflective and ongoing review about the impact and effectiveness of what we’re doing is important, and also that we share that learning. UCL Museum Wellbeing Measures Toolkit is an excellent way to evaluate the impact of work to improve wellbeing – it’s flexible and free to use for non-commercial purposes. It’s work which needs to be properly embedded to be most effective.

A lot of fantastic work is already underway, and there are lots of great examples of how museums and heritage can impact health and wellbeing, including ‘Mind, Body, Spirit’ by Jocelyn Dodd/Ceri Jones; Museums as Spaces for Wellbeing National Alliance for Museums, Health and Wellbeing; The Happy Museum Project and the Wellbeing Guidance from National Lottery Heritage Fund. The support that’s being given to communities now is valued, and it will be remembered. Building on that for whatever comes next will be a challenge, but it’s one we will meet together.

I want to particularly thank my colleague at SS Great Britain Trust, Lexi Burrows, who is both passionate and knowledgeable in the area of museums and wellbeing. The resources she shared with me and our discussions on this topic have been invaluable.

-Nerys Watts

Newfound Connections – Part Five

The Trainee Curators programme was set up to diversify the cultural workforce in Cornish museums and historical sites by offering more accessible opportunities to young people. In turn, diversifying the museums audiences and using their collections more widely.

In our new mini-blog-series, we share with you a behind the scenes look at what our Trainee Curators are getting up to now they are having to work from home, due to COVID-19. You can also keep up to date with them on their Twitter Page where they share regular updates and posts.

Next up is Lizzy Broughton of Falmouth Art Gallery…

With most of the world at a standstill due to COVID-19, my fellow Trainee Curators and I have been working from home for some time. I guess I should be used to it by now, but there are days when I don’t feel used to it at all. Mostly I feel I’m not doing enough and my productivity is questionable. I’m seeing so many people running marathons from their homes, learning new languages, taking up a new hobby, and I’m here mostly keeping myself sane with Animal Crossing and baking cookies.

Unlike the other Trainee Curators, I have not been as strict with keeping up a regular 9-5 Monday to Friday; with my mental health being pretty strained at the moment, managing my mental health has become my new full-time job. I do miss walking up to the gallery every morning and being in an environment where I am constantly surrounded by wonderful artworks and inspiration. I also miss popping into the pub after work and having a laugh with friends, you don’t realise how great it is to actually see people in person and have a chat until you’re forced to do it through screens and phone calls.

The work I have been doing from home has been interesting though. Before the lockdown I was taking regular trips up to Kresen Kernow to make scans of letters to and from various artists with links to Cornwall. When the Royal Cornwall Museum in Truro closed its doors earlier this year, we at Falmouth Art Gallery took on the management of the Cornwall Schools Art Collection, and the letters I scanned were all correspondence to go with this art collection. At home I have been cropping and organising around 900 of these letters – including many from Barbara Hepworth! I had an interesting time reading how different artists expressed themselves and responded to the collection. These artworks were donated to, or bought at a reduced price, for Cornwall Council to send out to schools in the county for children to view and enhance their education in art.

We were planning to have an exhibition at Falmouth Art Gallery for this collection in September to raise awareness of it, so schools might make use of it more often, as it is an incredible resource to be offered to the schools in our county. This exhibition is still set to happen and has not been scrapped, so watch this space! I am helping to plan this exhibition and doing tonnes of research for it in my time spent working at home, so it would be wonderful to see it all up on display post-lockdown.

Art has become more than just a hobby for many people during lockdown – it has become a way to vent their emotions and struggle with this turbulent time, and one thing I hope remains once lockdown is lifted, is peoples newfound connections with art and their new interaction with it.

Art is more important now than ever for helping to keep the country sane and motivated for the future.


-Lizzy Broughton

Falmouth Art Gallery


More about the fascinating School Art Collection can be found here https://www.poolschoolgallery.org/schools-art-collection/

CMP is proud to support the ongoing work by Pool School Gallery, which puts art at the centre of everyday life for the communities of Camborne, Pool, Illogan, Redruth & the Mining Villages. Young people from Pool Academy are supported to design and deliver a programme of workshops and exhibitions. This experimental, ground-breaking and ambitious gallery has been working with the Schools Art Collection and its students since it opened in 2017.