AIM Hallmarks Awards – Useful Case Studies

Port Sunlight
Port Sunlight

The AIM Hallmarks Grants will support museums Accredited Museums in England, with grants totalling £55,000 each year for the next four years. The grants are funded through Arts Council England, through AIM’s National Portfolio Organisation funding.

To find out more about these awards – and how to apply – please visit:

AIM Hallmarks Awards

If you are thinking of applying, we recommend that you read the following case studies from previous AIM grant recipients to understand the type of project that we typically fund.

Port Sunlight Museum

Port Sunlight Museum

Port Sunlight Museum

Grant awarded: £11,000

Area of work relating to one or more of the AIM Hallmarks:  Awareness and Networks

Port Sunlight Museum is building new relationships with neighbouring attractions to boost its offer to groups. The museum had commissioned market research into its group offer in 2016, concerned that the venue was losing its position in a market it had come to rely on over the years for up to a third of its visitors.

The museum is part of Port Sunlight Village Trust, a private landlord and independent charity responsible for the preservation and promotion of the village. The village itself was built by industrialist William Lever to house workers at the 19th-century Lever Brothers soap factory, the foundation of the Unilever empire. At the time of the research, the Trust was in the middle of an internal review and staffing restructure, part of a planned shift to become a more commercially focussed organisation. It was also looking to form the disparate elements of the Port Sunlight story into a more cohesive picture for visitors. In fact, the research revealed that the museum wasn’t necessarily losing traction in that valuable groups market but that there was an opportunity to expand further into that market and cement the site’s position by rethinking its offer to create something much more significant.

“We reflected that perhaps our museum in its current form wasn’t enough in itself to attract more groups,” says Kath Lynch, Director of Heritage. “A lot of the elements of the Port Sunlight story are not managed by us but what we wanted to try to present was something broader and to create access to these places that people can’t ordinarily go. We wanted to make our offer seem much bigger and help us realise our ambition of being a proper visitor destination, rather than a series of attractions.”

The other elements of a new offer will all be grounded in an aspect of Port Sunlight’s heritage. They include venues such as Thornton Manor, family seat of Port Sunlight founder William Lever, and now a wedding and event space; Unilever itself, where the public can access the original offices; the existing garden centre in Port Sunlight village, housed in the village’s original nurseries; and the Port Sunlight River Park, formerly the site of the largest dock in the world, right on the Mersey.

Further afield, Kath believes planned industrial worker villages like Saltaire and Bournville, as well as Bolton, Lever’s home city, could also be part of the mix.

The grant is enabling Port Sunlight to build on existing connections with these and other organisations, such as hotels and restaurants, to develop packages to appeal to different audiences including general groups, special interest parties, and younger people.

Kath says: “We are thinking broadly about what Port Sunlight means, which sites or services are especially relevant, then talking to the people concerned. So we’ve had a conversation with the Blue Badge Guides, for example, about what approach would help them. And it’s not just about creating access to venues, it’s about what sort of entertainment you lay on while they are there.”

The project is in its early stages, but the key output is the development of a business model which would recognise the needs of all the partners, such as understanding their access issues and what they can offer with Port Sunlight selling those offers as a package.

Kath says: “The idea is that we would develop a commission-based model which would enable us to process bookings, do the marketing required, that sort of thing.

“We have long wanted to work with Thornton Manor, for example, but had struggled to identify a suitable project. They are obviously very commercial and we are not but have wanted to be, so this project has created that platform for us to explore working together and besides this project, there may be smaller ways in which we could join forces.”

For other venues, which lack the resources to promote themselves, Kath thinks people will recognise the business advantages of a collaboration with Port Sunlight.

“Probably it will be the commercial benefit that will appeal to everyone. We could take care of the marketing for group visits for them, for example. The idea is that by collaborating we create something that is much greater than the sum of its parts. But what I want to do is create packages which are right for our customers.”

 The Canal and River Trust

The Canal and River Trust

The Canal and River Trust

Grant awarded: £6,000

Area of work relating to one or more of the AIM Hallmarks:  Using The AIM Hallmarks in organisational planning

In 2015, the Canal and River Trust museums were emerging from a long period without a clear direction and when under-investment had been a sustained problem. Gaining provisional accreditation was a step forward but the Trust, which runs the museums at Ellesmere Port and Gloucester, needed to be clear on the vision and future direction for the museums in order to be able to write a forward plan that met the needs of full accreditation standards.

They applied to AIM for a grant under the Hallmarks programme for external assistance with examining and clarifying their vision and writing the forward plan. They were given a grant to work with Cultural Consulting Network, using the AIM Hallmarks as a framework for discussion. After initial discussion it soon became clear that their needs were wider than ticking the boxes for accreditation and that a focus on the Purpose Hallmark could give much needed clarity to the organisation: ‘know, articulate and embrace your purpose’. For many years, through change of ownership and governance, the museums had lost the early vision which had guided development as different priorities came to bear.

“We realised that we had to do some deeper development work and formulate a more strategic view of what our focus and aims were,” says Margaret Harrison, the Trust’s Collections Manager. “The team from Cultural Consulting Network worked with us over several months. They met with the museum management team, museum staff and volunteers. They held meetings with wider teams with the Trust, particularly fundraising and senior management, including the Director of Customer Care and the Chief Executive. They also carried our research and consulted with other independent museums and local organisations.”

Part of the challenge for both museums was that “nobody had properly identified the real reason for their existence,” Margaret says. If the museum had a clear purpose, as the AIM Hallmarks recommend, then the organisation could remain on course despite changes imposed by outside forces.

“Both Ellesmere Port and Gloucester had become very run-down. The fundamental problem was that there was a huge collection of 68 boats all of which had been kept on the basis that people were going to take them out around the canal network. But it was just undoable and, instead, lots of them were sitting in the canals rotting away.” It was a perfect metaphor for how thinking about the museums’ purpose had stalled.

The Hallmark relating to Collections states that an organisation should understand the purpose of the Collection, and the consultants helped staff to understand how the Collection fitted into a wider development picture.

“When the museum was set up and lots of different Trusts were involved, they thought they were there to operate boats, but we needed to concentrate on our rationale as a museum which is a completely different thing to being an organisation which operates boats,” Margaret says.

The team from CCN considered all the options for both museums, including whether to retain both museums, where to put the focus for investment and even opening a new museum.

One of the Hallmarks relates to innovation and CCN advocated quite a radical solution for the museums, the conclusion was that Ellesmere Port should be the focus for a major, ambitious redevelopment, as it is a significant historic site with greater potential, with the option that Gloucester could be developed as a regional hub for the Trust with less focus on visitor engagement. They are now planning a bid to the HLF Resilience Fund for a bigger piece of strategic work on the development options for the site.

There is much more focus on visitor engagement, one of the other Hallmarks, the Trust wants to understand what visitors need from open air sites such as Ellesmere Port and reflect their increasingly sophisticated needs. CCN also recommended, bearing in mind the Awareness and Networks Hallmark, that the museums should establish an advisory group to create strong links with other museum professionals and to ease the isolation that is possible for a museum team when they are part of a much larger organisation that is not concerned with running museums. That advisory group has been established

“The work to define our purpose goes on but this process has moved us forward,” Margaret says. “Through the workshops and options appraisal, we now have a lot more buy-in from staff and volunteers for the idea of being a museum and considering what we exist for.”

 Grantown Museum

Grantown Museum

Grantown Museum

Grant awarded: £6,300 (AIM Sustainability grant)

Area of work relating to one or more of the AIM Hallmarks:  Finance

The Grantown Museum is a social history museum in the Highlands of Scotland which has been operating since 1999.

Like so many Museums, we are experiencing the effects of local authority cutbacks and now need to be more self sufficient. We entered a partnership with Visit Scotland in 2014 and now run a tourist information centre in our foyer which has had significant impact in increasing our footfall.

While this has translated in some increase in revenue we knew that we would have to further improve our self generated income in order to survive. After a redisplay funded by Museums Galleries Scotland, which massively improved our offer, it was time to look at the shop.

We applied for an Aim Sustainability Grant to engage the services of ‘The Retailer’ – a retail consultancy team of associates. Working over the winter period of closure the team worked with us to come up with and implement a plan of analysis and action.

We first identified our fairly new customer groups and their needs, some of whom are not interested in a visit to the museum at all! We also identified areas that we could improve on, both physically – the shop lay out , external signage and a myriad of unconnected product lines; and how we were (usually under) selling our shop products and entry into the museum.

The consultancy team guided us through a process of change, facilitating volunteers’ training in the art of selling (having conversations and asking questions, not rocket science!), helping us decide on a streamlined and bespoke product range designed with our customers in mind, changing our shop and information centre layout so it is a more welcoming and pleasant space that helps our volunteers to engage with visitors, creating new signage and improving our outside space.

All pretty simple stuff really… but having someone with fresh eyes tell you half of what you already know needs to be done and make helpful suggestions about things you hadn’t thought of, really gives you the impetus to get those things done.

The team also left us with valuable tools which will improve how we evaluate and plan for the retail side of the business and how we can make best use of our EPOS system which has, before now, been a source of bamboozlement.

The work has borne fruit already with a satisfying 32% increase in shop revenue compared to last year.

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