Invitation to tender – Research into UK museum and heritage landownership – AIM

Job Title: Invitation to tender - Research into UK museum and heritage landownership
Salary: £30,000
Location: AIM
Closing date: 12:00 pm 29 February 2024


The Association of Independent Museums (AIM), National Museum Directors’ Council, Welsh Government and Arts Council England are seeking a researcher or researchers to carry out a piece of work on how museums and heritage organisations care for, operate, use, and manage land assets in their ownership or otherwise under their control.

Many museums and heritage organisations have a lot of land, such as open air museums, country houses operated for public benefit, city museums set in parkland – but even small museums may have gardens, terraces, or other land which they can use to the benefit of their organisation, audiences, and the planet (with small spaces held by individual museums potentially adding up to a significant level of land collectively). In some cases this land is owned outright by the organisation and in others is cared for under lease arrangements.

This land could have many uses, for example heritage use e.g. demonstrating original planting schemes or buildings; being accessible as part of the visitor experience e.g. for walking trails or sitting in quiet contemplation; being used for social prescribing or other mental health or wellbeing schemes with local partners; being rented out either permanently or for events for income; being used to grow plants or flowers used in retail or catering; being used for activities and education; car parking; and others.

During covid many heritage sites with significant open space came into their own, being able to open to visitors for exercise and recreation when indoor sites were closed. However, with climate change land can also present a major challenge, with for example a recent answer in the AIM sector survey mentioning extreme heat disrupting summer visitor numbers to a mostly-outdoor site.

Relatedly, recent years have also seen increasing policy and public interest in biodiversity, nature, and landowners’ role in stewardship of both land and other species, which many museums have engaged in. For example, museums could choose to rewild land, use traditional farming methods which promote biodiversity, educate communities on growing food, and provide space to nature-focused organisations – again, amongst many other innovative ideas.


The Association of Independent Museums is a thriving UK museum membership organisation with over 1000 museum members, helping heritage organisations to operate as effective charitable businesses. We represent a wide range from some of the largest attractions in the country to small, grassroots heritage organisations across a huge range of subject areas and localities.

The Welsh Government, through its Culture Division provide advice to the relevant Ministers on museum, archive, arts and library policy. The Museums Branch of Culture Division delivers a development and support service for the local museum sector, including managing the Museum Accreditation Scheme in Wales, grant programmes, training and advice, and are part of the Museum Development UK network. Welsh Government core funds Amgueddfa Cymru National Museum Wales as a sponsored body.

Arts Council England is the national development agency for creativity and culture. We have set out our strategic vision in Let’s Create that by 2030 we want England to be a country in which the creativity of each of us is valued and given the chance to flourish and where everyone of us has access to a remarkable range of high-quality cultural experiences. We invest public money from Government and The National Lottery to help support the sector and to deliver this vision.

The National Museum Directors’ Council (NMDC) represents the leaders of the UK’s national collections and major regional museums. In 2019/20, our member institutions received over 85 million visitors. NMDC acts as an advocate on behalf of members and their collective priorities and provides them with a valuable forum for discussion and debate and an opportunity to share information and work collaboratively. While our members are funded by government, the NMDC is an independent, non-governmental organisation. 

Purpose and scope

The overall research question is ‘what are the opportunities and challenges for museums and heritage organisations of owning land?’

The key themes we are interested in exploring are below, although we appreciate that the final report may reflect other themes that emerge as more relevant and/or important through the project:

  1. How museums and heritage organisations conceptualise their position as landowners
  2. The role land plays in their business models (in terms of both costs and income potential) covering any differences between freehold and leasehold; the ambitions museums have for land in their care; and any barriers faced in managing land
  3. The role land plays in supporting audiences and communities
  4. Ways museums are using land now or might use land in the future as part of climate resilience and adaptation (both in terms of stewarding their land e.g. nature recovery, and in terms of mitigating the effects of climate change on their land uses)
  5. How the different ways of using land (i.e. in terms of practical care, audience work, and climate resilience and adaptation) align with and/or compete with each other and how these purposes can be balanced or tensions managed
  6. The support museums and heritage organisations need to care for and manage their land in the ways they would like to, e.g. from public and philanthropic funders and from the policy/business environment, particularly in ways that support nature and public access to and education on nature.

The research should focus on capturing a snapshot of practice across museums in 2024, looking across the sector at any museum or heritage organisation which might have an interesting story to tell around land ownership. The study should look at the experience of a variety of types and size of museum including smaller and volunteer-run as well as large museums or museum services with multiple sites. The study should include museums from each nation of the UK and cover the range of UK museum types including nationals, independent museums, local authority, and university, and look at free museums as well as chargeable.

It should also look at how museums are treated as landowners by the wider public policy environment, not only cultural funders. The researchers may cover the major heritage charities with significant amounts of land who have clear land management strategies and often have spoken publicly about what this means for them (e.g. the National Trust, English Heritage, Cadw) but should focus on organisations where their use of land is currently less well-understood.

The research might use a literature review (which should look beyond museum/heritage sources, for example covering material like the ‘State of Nature’ report (  or other environment sector reporting which museums may not have engaged with), desk research, surveys, case studies, and interviews to explore the research topic. Quantitative analysis of the type or amount of land held by museums and heritage organisations is not expected. The report might draw out some ideas on best practice and what good stewardship looks like.

An outcome of the research should be suggested possibilities for useful follow-on research or other ways the research could be maximised e.g. how a grant programme could best support museums in land stewardship.


AIM is convening a steering group which will consist of the funding agencies as well as Museums Galleries Scotland and the National Lottery Heritage Fund. The group will oversee the research including selecting the researchers and signing off the final report.

The project will also have an advisory group comprising 15-20 interested parties including museums, public bodies, and other charities. The researchers will be expected to lead engagement with this group at three points: at kick-off stage, to help finalise research questions and methodology; presenting interim findings to gather feedback that can help shape the final output; and to comment on the final report. 

Work of the contractor

We are seeking contractors to undertake this research.

Researchers should be able to demonstrate an understanding of both museums and heritage, and environmental sustainability. Researchers should also have a sound understanding of qualitative research methodologies.

The research should result in the following outputs:

  • A full research report with executive summary
  • Recommendations for follow-on research with indicative costs
  • A summary article for AIM Bulletin
  • Preparation and delivery of an online webinar presenting the research to museum and heritage organisations and other stakeholders such as funders.  

Contractors should note that outputs including surveys and the final report will be translated into Welsh, and some interviews with museums and heritage organisations may need to be conducted in Welsh – AIM will manage translation and interpretation, but contractors should be aware and build sufficient time for this into their timelines. 


The budget available for this work is £30,000 inclusive of VAT. We would like the work to begin in Q1 2024, taking up to six months and reporting summer or early autumn 2024.

Researchers should note we expect to select the successful researcher in early March and need to make an initial payment by the end of March 2024.

Tendering for the research

Proposals should include:

  • Brief credentials and evidence of relevant experience of your company and the names and experience of the people who will work on this project
  • Your proposed methodology
  • Indicative timeline
  • A breakdown of your costings
  • Two references.

Proposals will be scored on:

  • Understanding of the issues 20%
  • How the methodology will explore the research question(s) 50%
  • Experience of researchers 20%
  • Cost 10%

Proposals should be no longer than 8 pages and be sent to by 12noon on Thursday 29 February.