In this blog post, I’m reflecting on the Vital North Partnership’s work from 2015 to 2018, supported by Arts Council England’s Museum Resilience Fund. Through the programme, Seven Stories, The National Centre for Children’s Books have strengthened their leadership role as Britain’s home of children’s literature. Funding allowed them to invest in their strategic collaboration with Newcastle University, and supported business planning and income diversification.
Seven Stories: The National Centre for Children’s Books and Newcastle University share the ambition that Newcastle becomes a centre for excellence in children’s literature – for collections, research, learning, engagement and professional practice.
From 2015 – 2018, Seven Stories and Newcastle University worked together on the Vital North Partnership, a strategic development programme funded by Arts Council England’s Museum Resilience Fund. This aimed to:
- Enhance and scale up their collaborative partnership
- Increase Seven Stories’ financial resilience and diversify income
- Support Seven Stories’ long-term business planning
Arts Council England funding, matched by Newcastle University, supported the employment of a Partnership Manager (me!) to lead the collaboration, and provided a project budget.
Developing a museum / university partnership
The Vital North Partnership has strengthened and significantly developed Seven Stories’ collaboration with Newcastle University, through activities including:
- Collaborating on the UK’s first English Literature Knowledge Transfer Partnership, supported by AHRC and InnovateUK. This embedded a research function into Seven Stories’ Collections and Exhibitions Team and informed the Michael Morpurgo: A Lifetime in Stories exhibition.
- Being recognised as the Knowledge Exchange / Transfer Initiative of the Year at the Times Higher Education Leadership and Management Awards 2017.
- Securing three fully-funded PhDs looking at Seven Stories’ collections and spaces, supported by Newcastle University, the AHRC and the National Productivity Investment Fund.
- Seven Stories engaged with 9 undergraduate and postgraduate taught modules at Newcastle University, from Music to Geography, providing learning and skills development opportunities.
- Seven Stories hosted 20 Newcastle University student internships, from museums studies to film production, helping young people to experience cultural and creative careers.
- Delivering 33 joint public events, from expert talks at Newcastle University to activities for early years in Seven Stories’ Studio.
Increasing Seven Stories’ financial resilience
Arts Council England’s funding supported Seven Stories’ financial resilience by:
- Enabling Seven Stories to invest in marketing activity and branding development to understand audiences better and encourage new and repeat visits.
- The Vital North Partnership supported Seven Stories’ first crowdfunding campaign, which will enhance their work with families with additional sensory needs.
- Through collaborative activity with Newcastle University, Seven Stories were able to access higher education-related funding and support, from funders such as EPSRC, The Leverhulme Trust, Horizon 2020 and ERDF.
A sustainable future for Seven Stories
Through the Vital North Partnership’s work, Seven Stories invested in their infrastructure and explored how their collaboration with Newcastle University could inform a long-term business strategy:
- Seven Stories invested in additional collections storage, enabling additional collection acquisitions during 2015 – 2018.
- Working with Newcastle University Library, Seven Stories explored collaboratively acquiring and providing access to collections. This included working on joint outreach projects with 8 local schools, and jointly acquiring the largest private children’s literature collection in the UK.
- As part of the Newcastle City Futures Urban Living Partnership, Seven Stories’ visitors explored the future of the city, informing a new architectural project on reimagining children’s spaces.
- Developing a detailed options appraisal for Seven Stories’ future infrastructure, and securing funding through the Higher Education Innovation Fund to explore models for the long-term future of the collaboration.
Through the project, Seven Stories’ work became embedded within Newcastle University’s structures, and enhanced their financial resilience.
For Newcastle University, new research collaborations were developed, wider audiences accessed academic research, and the Partnership provided unique opportunities for teaching and learning.
The partnership between the two organisations has been recognised by Arts Council England through the 2018 – 22 National Portfolio scheme, and with match funding from Newcastle University, we are looking forward to an ambitious programme over the next four years. And for more information on that – watch this space!
For more information about the Vital North Partnership and its activity, visit https://blogs.ncl.ac.uk/vitalnorth/