New Stories, New Audiences

AIM is currently applying for funding to develop a new project – New Stories, New Audiences – which challenges museum and heritage organisations to widen their impact by exploring neglected or lesser known stories from their local area, or the less well known aspects of their past and present.

AIM has been awarded a Development Phase grant by the National Lottery Heritage Fund to research and develop a new grant programme called New Stories New Audiences.

Museums continually need to reflect on the breadth of their work, the audiences they participate with, the groups that they do not currently attract. They need to stay relevant, strive to increase impact, strengthen and diversify Trustee bodies and volunteer groups. AIM believes that this is more important than ever, and has signed up to a statement of intent from UK museum and heritage organisations, calling for a step change in how the sector addresses racism. We are committed to demonstrating this intent in the work that we do and particularly through the New Stories, New Audiences project.

We want to use this opportunity to proactively support our members to use and develop their heritage and collections to ask questions, encourage debate and discussion and challenge practices that support racism. We have consciously worked to make the focus groups for the project as wide ranging and inclusive as possible, surveying all 770 organisations in our small museum membership category.

Since the ‘Open Up; museums for everyone’ resources were launched in 2018, AIM has identified that most museums and heritage organisations need resources and a project to act as a stepping-stone to wholesale organisational change. ‘New stories, new audiences’ is intended to address that gap.

The project will aim to complement other sector initiatives in encouraging museums to widen and diversify their audiences. It will target the smaller organisations that make up most of the AIM membership, who often require extra support to make change and actively encourage museums and heritage organisations to consider how they serve their local community, and how to improve and widen that role.

Equally, this project hopes to address the need highlighted in recent surveys that AIM member museums want to grow and diversify their audiences and their volunteers, but are unsure how to do this, and that they lack funding sources for small scale interpretation and access improvements.

The project’s focus will be on telling new stories and working with new groups to attract new visitors and develop new partnerships. This could be through existing or acquiring new collections, making some intangible heritage better known and understood, or a focus on a building or aspect of community life and heritage. Projects will be activity focused but may include elements of small capital work – e.g. access improvements, investment in displays.

In line with successful delivery in other grant programmes (e.g. ACE funded Prospering Boards) and to ensure the best possible outcomes and long term learning in organisations, AIM hopes to offer mentoring support from an experienced pool of consultants familiar with best practice and the context that AIM members operate in.

As part of the consultation for the project Headland Design Associates led two focus groups via to explore untapped potential in the form of untold stories, hidden collections and audiences not currently being reached.

The groups discussed bureaucratic processes, staff resources and clear guidelines as well as the practicalities of support and cashflow. Participants were invited to discuss potential projects which uncovered hidden or untold stories about servants, children, migration and exploitation.

Conducting focus groups via Zoom is a new dynamic born out of the current crisis, but participants commented that this format allowed a wide range of organisations from across Britain to get together and share ideas.

If you’d like to keep up-to-date on the progress of our application and the development of the New Stories, New Audiences project do contact Margaret Harrison, AIM’s Programmes Manager on