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Making the most of your museums: a handbook for councillors

Produced with Arts Council England, this handbook shares innovative case studies and advice for council-run museums, including operating models, partnership working and how museums can contribute to wider local priorities.

Museums play a vital role in local communities. They are crucial to our sense of place, and at their best museums bring people together, expose people to new ideas and concepts, and instil a sense of pride in communities. This guide will give councils the information and resources needed to help museums fulfil their potential.

There are around 350 museums in England run by councils and many more museums which are supported by councils. The 2017 Mendoza Review showed council-run museums faced particular challenges, and the Local Government Association and Arts Council England have created this guide as part of their ongoing work to support the sector.  

Museums can contribute to many pressing local priorities by boosting economies, developing workforce skills and fostering community cohesion. This guide shares examples of how museums are having a significant positive impact in local areas around the country.

There is also a growing body of evidence for how museums can contribute to health and wellbeing, such as the exciting new programmes being developed to support people living with dementia. Councils have a critical role to play in brokering partnerships between museums and health organisations, local businesses, tourist attractions, education and more to achieve outcomes for communities.

However, as councils face a rising funding gap, museums must innovate to succeed. This guide contains advice and links to further resources for key challenges such as strategic planning, communication and technology, and shows how getting these aspects right supports museums to flourish.

Museums must also consider the best operating model which meet local needs and priorities. This guide contains information about different models, such as independent trusts, the council as a trustee and shared services.

We hope this guide will empower your local museums to thrive.