AIM high – useful facts from the AIM conference

Last month the MDNW team was at the Association of Independent Museums conference that was, as ever, packed full of useful information. This year’s theme was how to be a great destination. Here’s our round up – firstly of practical tips, facts and news we think you might find helpful, and secondly some links to case studies, if you’re looking for a bit of inspiration.

News from AIM
Earlier this year AIM carried out a survey of its members and non-members. The top three things AIM members want from the organisation are:

  1. Advocacy
  2. Access to like-minded people
  3. Funding

AIM economic impact toolkit
The very useful AIM economic impact toolkit is having an update this year. The new toolkit will be able to be used at various levels with different degrees of sophistication and complexity, based on need or the audience. There will also be a new option to incorporate your own data if you have it available. The current toolkit is still available on the AIM website here.

AIM Hallmarks Awards
AIM have launched their AIM Hallmarks Awards for this year (slight cheat, announced just after the conference!). Museums can apply for grants of up to £12,000, available in two strands – main grants of £4,000 to £12,000 for Accredited museums to implement the key ideas of AIM Hallmarks, and small grants of £3,000 to £6,000 for Accredited museums with up to 20,000 visitors per year. For further information see here.

Mapping museums project
Fiona Candlin, Professor of Museology at Birkbeck College, has worked on a large-scale research project, ‘Mapping Museums: The history and geography of the UK independent sector 1960-2020’. Her research has shown that independent museums are now leading the way, accounting for about 80% of the sector, up from 900 independent museums in 1960 to 3,300 now.


Funding opportunities
Arts Council England’s National Lottery Project Grants
Formerly Grants for the Arts, the programme now has a much broader remit to fund arts and heritage projects. ACE are particularly looking for projects that respond to priorities highlighted in the Mendoza review. Accredited museums can apply for between £1,000 and £100,000. Grants are distributed on a rolling programme; applications for £15,000 or less are assessed within six weeks of submission, applications for more than £15,000 take 12 weeks. Projects must have long-term public benefit; in addition to exhibitions and events the grants can also help museums with organisational development work. For full details see National Lottery Project Grants.

National Lottery Heritage Fund
The NLHF’s new strategic funding framework was launched earlier this year. This is a major devolution of decision-making across the whole of the UK which is at the heart of new plans to distribute more than £1billion of National Lottery money to the UK’s heritage over the next five years. Headlines are:

  • One single programme with three levels of funding; much simpler form for small grants
  • Up to £250,000 available in a single-round application
  • The Fund remains focused on outcomes; wellbeing has been added as an outcome
  • EVERY applicant now must address the inclusion outcome ‘a wider range of people will be involved in heritage’. The Fund will expect to see projects that go beyond legislation in terms of accessibility and more projects that deliver for under-represented communities

For more details see here.


 Charity Finance Group membership
At last year’s conference AIM launched a new three-year partnership with the Charity Finance Group (CFG). Through funding from Arts Council England, AIM purchased bulk membership of CFG for all AIM members to support them to develop better financial management and governance. The aim of CFG is to inspire a financially confident, dynamic and trustworthy charity sector and provides a wealth of resources around gift aid, tax, pension and HR issues. For more information see here.

All AIM members are automatically entitled to membership, but are not automatically enrolled as members (due to GDPR). If you haven’t yet signed up you can do so here. You can also register by phone, and don’t worry if you can’t find your AIM membership number!

CFG run a wide range of workshops of interest to museums, details are here. If you can’t make their training in person, they also do podcasts on topics such as ‘risk and your charity’.


 Arts Council England’s new 10-year strategy
In December this year Arts Council England will publish its next 10-year strategy. The strategy, which will shape how it delivers its development, advocacy and investment approach for the next decade, will come into effect in April 2020, taking over from its current strategy, Great Art and Culture for Everyone.

The draft strategy has now been published and an online consultation on the draft is open until 23rd September 2019. ACE are also holding consultation workshops to discuss your response to the draft strategy and their ideas and plans for how they will deliver it. The North West workshop is at Manchester Central on 18thJuly, 1pm-4.30pm. Book your place at here.

The draft strategy, and related documents, are here.


 Governance and safeguarding
The Charity Commission has updated its guidance on safeguarding and serious incident reporting, including examples of what is and isn’t a serious incident. Information is here.

There is also new guidance for charities connected to non-charities here.


 Finance – tax and reliefs
Making Tax Digital
If you are a VAT-registered business with a taxable turnover above the VAT threshold you are now required to use the Making Tax Digital service to keep records digitally and use software to submit your VAT returns. Further information is here.

To help members feel prepared to make all the changes required for Making Tax Digital, CFG has provided two free webinars on the topic. One with a representative from HMRC to run through how to comply with MTD, and another with members of the finance team of Cancer Research UK, where they explain in detail what steps they took to meet the requirements. If you are a member of CFG and would like to be sent a recording of these webinars email to request a recording.

Gift aid
Gift aid benefit threshold rule revisions came into force in April 2019 – check that you’re still compliant. HMRC has published a free step-by-step online guide to help charities complete their Gift Aid donations schedule, download it here.

 Museums & Galleries Exhibition Tax Relief
This new tax relief was introduced on 1stApril 2017 and can be claimed on expenditure from that date. It applies to the costs of creating new exhibitions, whether permanent, temporary or touring, and to encourage the creation of new and diverse exhibitions.

It is for museums and galleries, but also applies to libraries and archives if they put on exhibitions; outdoor sculpture parks and historic houses with collections are also eligible.

There is eligibility criteria for which types of museums can apply, but for qualifying museums tax relief can be claimed for the producing phase (planning and preparing) of permanent, temporary and touring exhibitions, and in cases where the exhibition runs for less than a year relief can also be claimed on the deinstalling/closing phase.

For further information see Museum & Gallery Exhibitions Tax Relief.

Small trading tax exemption limits
The small trading threshold has increased – this is the amount you can trade before having to set up a separate trading company. Further information is here.


The Fundraising Regulator’s revised Code of Fundraising Practice comes into force in October 2019.

The changes are designed to make it easier for fundraisers, charities and third-party organisations to understand the standards expected of them when fundraising. The new code is also easier for the public to navigate, so that they know what to expect from ethical fundraising.

This case study about the Friends of Blencathra’s well-intentioned attempts to raise funds to purchase a mountain highlights what can go wrong, with tips on how to get it right.

(With thanks to Julian Smith, Partner, Farrer & Co, Caron Bradshaw, Chief Executive of Charity Finance Group, Kirsty Murray, Corporate Tax Director, and Scott Craig, VAT Partner, Scott Moncrieff for the legal, charity and tax updates)


Disability Collaborative Network (DCN)
The ‘purple pound’ i.e. the spending power of the approximately seven million people of working age with a disability, is estimated to be worth about £249billion to the economy but lack of investment in high streets is creating barriers for visitors with disabilities before they get to a museum. Wider initiatives are taking place, such as Historic England’s Streets for All; in 2017 Chester was crowned the most accessible city in Europe.

What can museums do to address these barriers? Think about the following:

  • Good signage, including on your website and the journey to the museum
  • Availability of disabled car parking bays (even if not your car park). Check are they long stay or short stay
  • Access routes
  • Availability of toilets. Can you have a changing places toilet? If not is there one near by?

Get involved with national campaigns e.g. ‘Don’t want our cash’ or Purple Tuesday 12th November 2019.

DCN (and other agencies) can help with audits and strategies. They have just launched their newsletter.


 And to some inspiring case studies from the conference…

Carl Bell from The Whitaker in Rossendale held the audience spellbound as he talked about The Whitaker Group’s experience in taking over a former local authority museum and transforming its offer and role – they didn’t need to build a community feeling as the museum was already the heart of the community. Start with assets and possibilities, don’t start with limits and blockers. Carl’s take away quote was, “If life is a train journey then heritage and culture are the beautiful stations we stop at”.

Iain Standen and Hilary MacGowan from Bletchley Park showed how they turned a quaint and quirky site into a great destination of 250,000+ visitors per year by turning around the organisation and the offer. Their jokey top tips for a good visitor attraction – a warm smile, a place to sit down and rest, good toilets, a good experience, an ‘oh well, fancy that!’ experience. And their serious tips – have a compelling narrative, vision, strategies and plans, visitor-focused offer, great people, luck (you need some but you can also make it).

Charlotte Smith from Chester Zoo talked about how a clear sense of mission and vision runs through everything they do. All the zoo’s activity is divided into two – work is either ‘mission delivery’ e.g. learning or ‘mission enabling’ e.g. commercial operations. She used their Play campaign to show how they used an organisational approach to learning about visitor needs, with a cross-departmental team working with play experts to create 200 playful interventions, including a skipping lane. They used play to then engage visitors in the zoo’s core mission of protecting wildlife. Her key message was that you need to be authentic – visitors will see through you if you’re not.

Open Up resources were originally piloted by larger museums, but Charlotte Morgan from the smaller Cynon Valley Museum used the principles of Open Up to develop the museum’s audiences not in a strategic, structured way, but a measured approach based around saying ‘yes, and…’ to work with and diversify audiences. Tonia Collett from Tudor House Museum also adapted the Open Up resources to find out who the museum’s visitors were, where from and why they visited, and carried out an achievable action plan to attract new audiences.

Zara Matthews showed how small changes made a big difference at Melton Carnegie Museum in Leicestershire. They made practical changes such as attending local fairs and markets to change the perception that the museum didn’t want to be part of the local community, and using these as an opportunity to find out what people would like the museum to be. There were also the more nuanced changes – changing attitudes and behaviours in taking and supporting the whole staff through a period of change, and also trusting your own judgement in what you’re doing.

We’re delighted that next year’s AIM conference will be coming to the North West so save the date – 18-20th June 2020, Port Sunlight village. We’ll hopefully see lots of you there!




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