Happy Museum Press Release

The groundbreaking Happy Museum announces a third round of awards as part of a wider programme funded by Arts Council England’s Renaissance Strategic support fund and CyMAL, Wales. 10 museums and galleries from England and Wales have been selected to show how museums can support the transition to a high well-being, sustainable society –  bringing the total of Happy Museum Commissions to 22.

Launched in April 2011, the Happy Museum Project is a pioneering programme that looks at how museums in the UK can build links between sustainability and well-being to leave a legacy of long-term cultural change within their organisations and communities.

An initial first round of six awards in 2011, followed by another six in 2012, demonstrated that the Happy Museum Manifesto was in step with the increasing number of academics, economists, psychologists and ecologists in identifying the vital linkage between sustainability and wellbeing.  The practical work of the Happy Museum commissions helps to shed light on how thinking of these two issues in conjunction might offer the key to providing a better future.

This third phase of Happy Museum commissions is launched with awards of over £100,000 and explores how museums build deeper dialogues with their local communities; engaging young people in understanding science, climate change and sustainability; strengthening community resilience through combining comedy and heritage; a community co-designing and ‘fitting-out’ the ground floor of a Silk Mill; inspiring children with creative play and craft; making an abbey a place that encourages environmental good practice and wellbeing and promoting social enterprise through traditional crafts.


The awards will go to:

  • Slough Museum, Community Conversations
  • Torquay Museum, Young Sustainability Champions
  • Woodhorn Charitable Trust, Stand Up for Woodhorn – Making a Case for Comedy in Museums
  • The Royal West of England Academy, Shaping a Happy Academy
  • WAVE: The Museums, Galleries and Archives of Wolverhampton, Craftplay: Discovering the World through Creativity in the Early Years
  • Derby Museums, Re-Making the Museum
  • Kirkstall Abbey, The Kirkstall Abbey Happy Project
  • Abergavenny Museum, Weaving WellBEEing
  • Narberth Museum, Unlocking the Potential at the Bond
  • Ceredigion Museum, Reaping the Knowledge
  • Gwynedd Museum and Art Gallery, Bangor (GMAG)


Tony Butler, Director of The Museum of East Anglian Life and Director of the Happy Museum, who has recently been invited to speak about the Happy Museum in Italy and Denmark says: 

We are delighted the Arts Council and CyMAL have recognised the innovative work of the Happy Museum Project.  We are now extending the opportunity to another 10 more museums to explore how they can show that high well-being does not have to cost the earth. Research in this area has taken significant steps forward of late.  New funds from the Arts Council have allowed us to combine the work of Mandy Barnett looking at the Happy Museum’s Story of Change with Daniel Fujiwara from London School of Economics who is working with us on statistical analysis and measuring wellbeing to create a valuation of engagement with museums. Museums have a real opportunity to imagine a positive future where we might consume less, be more mindful of our relationship with a natural environment, and create a kinder, gentler but no less interesting world.”


Maurice Davies, Head of Policy and Communication at The Museums Association and Editor of Museums Change Lives says:

The Happy Museum Project is encouraging museums to discover how far they can go in having an impact on communities, individuals and he environment. It exemplifies many of the points in Museums Change Lives, the Museums Association’s latest policy initiative. The quality of applications for this third round demonstrated an increasing understanding in museums of the principles of the Happy Museum and the potential for linking wellbeing and sustainability.”


Hedley Swain, Director of Museums, Arts Council England, says:

“These new Happy Museum commissions join the growing community of practice testing how museums can be sustainable, innovative and resilient, responding positively and imaginatively to pressing economic and environmental challenges.  Arts Council England is delighted to join with CyMAL to support The Happy Museum’s bold experiment in how cultural organisations can extend their roles and responsibilities into their local and national communities.

Minister for Culture and Sport, John Griffiths, said:

I’m delighted that three Welsh museums have been awarded Happy Museums commissions. The well being of the people and economy of Wales is inextricably linked to its heritage and environment. The Happy Museum projects put forward by Welsh museums are imaginative and will actively engage with local communities to improve personal wellbeing and environmental sustainability.”



The commissions were chosen by a panel that included Tony Butler, Director The Happy Museum; Nick Winterbotham, Consultant, and Mandy Barnett MBAssociates.

The 22 commissioned projects will form a community of practice at the core of a wider programme.  Commissioned Projects will be supported by a co-ordinated programme of mentoring and bespoke thinking days using emerging leaders from the existing commissions (building on their existing learning and sense of agency) as well as engagement with the wider museum and cultural sector through open workshops and events bringing together key and emergent thinkers to further test the intellectual underpinnings of the project.

Arts Council Funding for the Happy Museum Project comes from the Renaissance Strategic support fund 2012-14. HMP also received an award from CyMAL, Wales 2013/14.

Information about the new commissions as they progress, along with information about the first and second round of commissions, the original Happy Museum paper and the revised Happy Museum Manifesto Principles are available on the website www.happymuseumproject.org


Further Details of Happy Museum Awards:

Slough Museum, Community Conversations (£9,800)

‘Community Conversations’ aims to make Slough’s community stronger, happier, and more sustainable through intergenerational conversations, utilising the Museum’s trusted position to be the facilitator of, and the Museum’s collection to be the catalyst for, this important dialogue. Increased community conversations will build and develop connections, understanding, learning, and relationships across Slough’s community. These conversations will lead to greater cohesion across generations and communities, and will bring people together to work towards an economically, environmentally and socially sustainable future for Slough. The project will work in close partnership with young people at Aik Saath, a local charity that empowers and supports young people to lead and deliver change in their community.


Torquay Museum, Young Sustainability Champions (£19,978)

Torquay Museum, founded by the Torquay Natural History Society in 1844, houses extensive biological and Natural History collections of considerable scientific interest from the local area and beyond. The focus is on science and environmental education, and engaging people of all ages in understanding science, climate change and sustainability. This Project will develop a cohort of young community sustainability champions who will inspire youth-led projects aimed at increasing understanding of the agenda and delivering carbon reduction with in communities, local authorities, businesses, schools and the home environment.


Woodhorn Charitable Trust, Stand Up for Woodhorn – Making a Case for Comedy in Museums (£13,500)

The links between laughter and wellbeing are well established.  Laughter releases endorphins, increases oxygen to the blood, promotes relaxation and boosts the immune system, while its physiological effects help counteract the effects of depression, stress, anxiety, sleeplessness and the need for medication. With this in mind, Woodhorn will commission a ‘Comedian in Residence’ to explore the part comedy can play in facilitating meaningful connections between people and their heritage, art and environment. Ashington in South East Northumberland where Woodhorn is based has experienced the loss of its traditional industries, particularly coal mining, and with that has come high levels of worklessness, severe heath inequalities and other social impacts.  The north–east is famed for its distinct, dry humour, which endures in the face of adversity. There is also a strong affiliation between local people, their history and heritage and the wider environment.  The idea of attempting to strengthen community resilience through combining comedy, heritage and environment therefore has great potential.


The Royal West of England Academy, Shaping a Happy Academy (£11,000)

Founded over 150 years ago, the Royal West of England Academy (RWA) is one of Britain’s four Academies of Art, housed in a magnificent Grade 2* listed purpose-built Art Gallery.  A much-loved institution at the historic heart of Bristol, there is immense potential for the RWA to be a flagship for the use of great art to promote well-being.  Meanwhile, Bristol is the first city to create and embrace a Happy City ethos.  At the core of this project is the development of a new strategic and capital plan for the museum, working with existing stakeholders and new partnerships and embracing Happy Museum principles.  The project will help ensure that environmental sustainability is factored into all planned development work and that both the project itself and the resulting plans will ensure that RWA is a sustainable, thriving and happy institution into the future.


WAVE: The Museums, Galleries and Archives of Wolverhampton, Craftplay: Discovering the World through Creativity in the Early Years (£14,000)

WAVE and Craftspace will work together at Bilston Craft Gallery to deliver a programme of creative engagement sessions with early years’ children and their carers working with craft makers to explore creative play and the natural environment – investigating the part craft plays in developing a sustainable future. By taking the world around us as a teacher and actively interacting with it we seek to inspire children with an appreciation of the environment and its systems, and enrich their self-belief through creating things themselves by hand. There is an acute need to support basic wellbeing in the area immediately around Bilston Craft Gallery which has high concentrations of children living in poverty and high levels of deprivation.  The sessions will provide a rich, inspiring and fun learning environment where curiosity, confidence and social development can be nurtured.


Derby Museums, Re-Making the Museum (£20,000)

‘Re-making the Museum’ at Derby Museums is a ground-breaking approach to developing museums. This project will engage Derby’s communities (including staff, partners and volunteers), in  co-designing and ‘fitting-out’ the ground floor of the Silk Mill – a former industrial museum that was mothballed in 2011 as a result of financial pressures and the need for a new approach.  Communities will become actively engaged in co-producing the Silk Mill as designers and makers – inspiring and empowering citizens to become active co-creators of their cultures and societies.  Together they will make all of the furniture and the fittings for the “new” Silk Mill.  They hope this approach will encourage people into a mindset that says ‘Anything is possible!’ It will help unlock the maker, creator and innovator in each of us, enabling us all to understand that this can be the key to future happiness and wellbeing – tapping into the success of the American Maker Movement that is already impacting on how U.S. museums are shaping their offer.


Kirkstall Abbey, The Kirkstall Abbey Happy Project (£12,000)

As custodians of a site of national significance, Kirkstall Abbey are an important resource and focus for the local community, inspired by the monks that lived and worshipped there and the natural environment around the abbey.  This project aims to build on this legacy to create conditions and inspiration for wellbeing and be part of a bigger shift towards more sustainable environmental practices that will have positive impacts on the Abbey and the wider community.  Incorporating permaculture principals, sustainable practices, art and spirituality, this focused programme of workshops will include opportunities for meditation, food growing, sculpture, music and movement.


Abergavenny Museum, Weaving WellBEEing (£5,000)

Through this project Abergavenny Museum will help visitors to make connections between locally-made objects, craft skills and the environment. By having a greater understanding of the materials, skills and the time involved to make things, visitors will be encouraged to leave the museum challenging our unsustainable throwaway society, appreciating our place within the natural environment. Weaving and the art of beekeeping will be the focus of the project tapping into current but underdeveloped collections and strong local traditions.  The museum will invite communities in Abergavenny to connect with the collection and each other, be actively involved, take notice of their surrounding environment, encourage themselves and others to keep learning and give something back.


Ceredigion Museum, Reaping the Knowledge (£6,325)

The project builds on the museum’s sense of place in the community and its understanding and respect for the heritage of Ceredigion, particularly in the promotion of past techniques in land management and how they can be utilized in current farming and woodland practices. This project will promote social enterprise through traditional crafts through collaboration between the Museum and Tircoed, an organization that works to improve the quality of life for rural communities in Wales.  The museum works with the local farming community to collect information about the agricultural tools and methods that would have been used to make objects in the collection.   This will feed into a series of workshops both at the museum and in the woodlands utilising woodland resources as a tool to develop the personal, social and vocational skills of marginalised young people. It will work with Tircoed’s commercial arm, Wisewood Wales to build on their product range of wood crafts that could be sold through museum shop. The project will culminate in a one-day symposium ‘Harvesting the knowledge’ May 2014.


Gwynedd Museum and Art Gallery, Bangor (GMAG),

What’s Your Story? Using Technology as a Catalyst for Engagement and Ownership of Our Cultural Heritage

GMAG will partner with the Wales Centre for Behavioral Change in order to build upon a current theme in museum studies – the ways in which “museums can facilitate, and not just impart meaning” (Petrov, 2012). What’s Your Story? will use digital technologies to enable visitors to create their own audio heritage tours and to research the effect of these technologies on wellbeing. WCBC will create or adapt these technologies and test them with visitors at GMAG. The project hopes to impact the following: (1) The Agency of visitors over the exhibits; (2) Ownership and contribution to our national heritage; (3) Viewing artefacts from different perspectives; (4) Reciprocation and engagement; (5) Creating value through a visit to the museum.



The new commissions join existing Happy Museum Commissions: Manchester Museum (The Playful Museum); Lightbox in Woking, Surrey (Landscapes of The Mind); The Cinema Museum, London (Creative Community Curators); London Transport Museum (The Conversation Hub); Godalming Museum (Collecting Connections) and The Story Museum, Oxford (Happy From the Beginning); Beaney House of Art and Knowledge, Canterbury, (The Paper Apothecary); Reading Museum,  (Nag, Nag, Nag to Reveal Our Hidden History); Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, (Sounds in the Garden); Chiltern Open Air Museum, (Green Ways from Yesterday); Garden Museum, London, (Flowers For Love and Money); Imperial War Museum North, Manchester, (Participating With Objects)