Page content

New research into the recent challenges faced by the museum sector in Northern Ireland has today been launched to inform future directions of the sector.

Ulster University researchers spent the last two years investigating how Northern Ireland’s museum sector responded during the Covid-19 pandemic, focusing on how museums can contribute to community resilience and wellbeing.

The recommendations from the research will help support museums, funders and policymakers in responding to an uncertain future, by building on the experiences learned through the pandemic including addressing museum purposes, embracing digital media, and finding new ways to engage with audiences.

The project has been an Ulster University-led partnership with the Museums Association, Northern Ireland Museums Council, National Lottery Heritage Fund and the Tower Museum (Derry City and Strabane District Council). The project was awarded £210,758 from UK Research and Innovation as a Coronavirus rapid response project.

The research focuses on three key areas:

  • Museums and the pandemic: revisiting purposes and priorities
  • Museums and community wellbeing
  • Museums, Covid and digital media: innovation, engagement and practice.

The research considers how the pandemic challenged the sector to address its purpose and priorities, and looks at how the sector adjusts its engagement and collaboration with audiences. The reports created from the research provide recommendations and guidance as the sector navigates continuing and future challenges.

Announcing the findings, lead researcher and Professor of Museum and Heritage Studies at Ulster University, Elizabeth Crooke said:

“This research project found evidence of an innovative and engaged museum sector, committed to new and established audiences. The pandemic was a time to reassess museum purpose and find new ways of keeping relevant. The Northern Ireland museum sector has proved itself agile, able to adapt its services at the most challenging times.

“The findings from the Museums, Crisis, and Covid-19 project is informing future directions of the museum sector. Priorities lie in reaching new audiences; addressing museum purposes for changed social, economic and political landscapes; and deepening museum links with communities and the issues that matter to them.”

Stella Byrne, Head of Investment National Lottery Heritage Fund, Northern Ireland said:

“The Museums, Crisis and Covid-19 project has been central to helping us understand the impact of the pandemic on the museum sector and how creatively it has responded to that challenge.

“The project has helped the National Lottery Heritage Fund to better understand the infrastructure needs of the sector and tailor our emergency funding responses. It will also guide our future support for the sector.”

Simon Stephens, Head of Publications and Events Simon at Museums Association said:

“This project led by Ulster University has successfully worked with the museums sector in Northern Ireland to highlight the many challenges we faced during the pandemic and the Museums Association has benefited hugely from the insights that the project has provided. It has shown the enormous impact that museums can have on community wellbeing by bringing people together in inclusive and welcoming spaces. Supporting people with dementia, engaging children and their families and tackling social isolation are just a few of the ways that museums are promoting wellbeing.

“The most forward-thinking museums are also able to empower communities and give them a voice. The Museums, Crisis, Covid project has highlighted many inspiring examples of how the sector can promote wellbeing, which reflects the aims of the Museum Association’s key campaign, Museums Change Lives, which supports museums to have a positive impact on the lives of the communities that they serve.”

The next stage for the research is a stakeholder workshop on ‘Museum Futures’ taking place in September.

To read the research reports, visit:

If you’d like to find out more about the workshop, continuing research, and the challenges faced by museums across Northern Ireland, visit: