About Independent Museums

National Maritime Museum, Cornwall
National Maritime Museum, Cornwall
Beamish Museum, 1940s Farm
Beamish Museum, 1940s Farm
Lyme Regis Museum
Lyme Regis Museum

Independent museums are long-standing, successful social enterprises, run on a business-like basis and playing valuable roles in their communities, contributing to a sense of place and making up an important part of the tourism economy.

Independent museums and galleries are more numerous than all other types of museum, making up more than half all museums in the UK with at least 1,600 independent museums and galleries in the UK.

The independent sector includes a wide range of types of museums with two thirds dealing with specialist subjects, with transport, military, industrial heritage, galleries and famous persons being the most numerous.

A third are more general in their collections ranging from major ‘civic’ museums, to numerous medium size museums in county towns (often with Designated collections) and over 300 small museums concerned with local and community history.

The Gordon Highlanders Museum

The impact of independent museums

  • Around 83% of eligible AIM member museums have Accredited Museum status.
  • Over 9 million people visit the UK’s independent museums each year and 100,000 volunteers give their time to support them. (DC Research, The Economic Impact of Independent Museums, 2009)
  • 51 independent museums hold Designated collections.
  • In England independents generate £1.17bn of income for the museum sector each year, more than any other type of museums (TBR. The Economic Impact of Museums in England, 2015).

Characteristics of Independent Museums

  • Approximately 100 independent museums in the UK have incomes over £1 million, representing 80% of the income of all independent museums. Approximately a quarter of these have incomes over £5 million.
  • However, the sector is dominated by hundreds of small museums. About two thirds of independent museums have incomes under £100,000 p.a. and a quarter have incomes under £10,000 p.a.
  • One third of AIM’s member museums are run entirely by volunteers.
  • Admission charges are an important part of how independent museums generate the income to be self-sufficient in preserving and sharing the heritage they care for.
  • Two thirds of independent museums charge for admission as do one third of local authority museums.
  • Half of independent museums receive no core funding or low levels (under 25%). Around a quarter of independent museums receive revenue funding from local authorities, though for half this is less than £50,000 p.a.
  • In 2005 approximately 27 local authority museums had moved to trust status. By 2014 this had grown to 38 and a further 6 had transferred to wider leisure or culture trusts.
  • An interesting video about how the independent sector started and how Beamish Museum (an AIM member) began can be viewed below.
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