AIM Hallmarks – Rochdale Pioneers Museum

‘Earning through Learning’ Creating a higher space for the learning loft

The Co-operative Heritage Trust (CHT) runs the Museum on the site where 28 working class people from Rochdale created a democratic society for the benefit of members in one of the worst periods of industrial deprivation of the 19th Century. The Society shop has been a museum since 1931 and continues to welcome visitors from around the world. It is a unique part of Rochdale’s heritage and remains a resource for the local community as well as those in the movement.

The team knew the space had earning potential and after reading a grant case study in AIM magazine, saw how the Highland Life Museum used the grant to buy a caterpod to solve a problem and generate income. Using a case study to start the process made the project realistic to plan and link to the Hallmarks we aim for as AIM members.

Co-operative Heritage Trust applied and were awarded the grant at the start of 2019. Due to some concerns around health and safety on a small site as well as value for money; CHT commissioned a local Quantity Surveyor review of the proposed works prior to accepting the chosen quotation in order to start the work in April 2019. It was difficult to operate partial closure in a small building, so the site remained open and income generating bookings were kept. CHT tried to buy all services as locally as possible for economic sustainability.

One unanticipated delay to install was the impact of the expected Brexit in March 2019. Glass ordered had to be shipped from Italy and was delayed due to a backlog; this caused the team to use a planned ‘second window’ of works in June. It is important to build contingency into plans and due to the health and safety implications of glass lifting, only the ground floor could be open to the public during this time.

The team expected an increase in bookings, community use and planned delivery following the improvements. This has been realised and is set to increase in 2020. Community and schools use has increased, in addition to corporate hires, which have more than doubled in the initial period. A higher turnover of the space will mean that attention must be paid to cleaning and maintenance time and costs. The success of the project has supported a closer relationship between volunteers, community groups, partners, staff and trustees as well as more flexible approaches to working at the site.

As a result of governance changes in October 2019, staff now report directly to board and requests for resources to capitalise on income and audience development have been agreed for 2020 and beyond. Investment in physical resources has allowed a more ambitious approach to other objectives of the Trust.

Kate Woodward, Visitor Experience Co-ordinator (based at Rochdale Pioneers Museum): “The work in the learning loft has created a professional space which can now be used flexibly for activities or corporate hire. It has increased our income generation from this space and diversified the way we as well as visitors can use the room.”