Wild About Portsmouth – Discovering and Uncovering a Little Known Natural History Collection

Written by Christine Taylor, Curator of Natural History, Portsmouth Museums

Wild about Portsmouth is a two-year Heritage Lottery Funded project to share and raise the profile of the city’s natural history collections.  In addition to enabling visitors to get more hands on with the collections through events and activities, work is being carried out to make them more accessible for museum staff and researchers.

Challenges

The collections are held at three sites across the city and housed in environmentally controlled stores with many specimens held in archival quality boxes. However, the absence of a natural history curator for over 10 years has led to a series of challenges with accessing them:

Little Knowledge of Collections

Apart from the sizeable and substantial HLF Guermonprez Collection transferred from Bognor Regis Museum in the 1970s, very little was known about the collectors associated with the remainder of the natural history collections. In-depth knowledge of the HLF Guermonprez Collection has also been lost over time, although it is occasionally cited in publications by Sussex naturalists.

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Getting Funding for Natural Science Collections

With the current financial year almost at a close, many of our thoughts are firmly on next year’s budget. With this in mind, here is Clare Brown with some advice on obtaining funding for work on your collections:

 

The 2014 Geology Curators’ Group conference and AGM dealt with how to raise money for natural science collections. The first speaker of the day was Nick Poole, CEO of the Collections Trust. He gave a great talk on where to look for funding, and how to get it once you’ve found it. I’ve converted my notes from his talk below, and the slideshow of his presentation can be found here (the slides are comprehensive and brimming with tips).

Screenshot of Nick Poole's web article on obtaining funding

Nick Poole’s advice on applying for grants

Sources of Funding

Nick Poole mentioned that the National Council for Volunteer Organisations has a good website for looking at who funds what, but after a bit of clicking around I couldn’t turn up anything particularly useful. If I’d had more time, and perhaps a membership number, I might have had a better experience.

A great resource is Funding Central. This website allows you to search 4,000 potential funders using the criteria of your choice.

At present the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) is in a cash-rich situation. However, they are concentrating on funding projects concerned with social utility or financial resilience. It’s quite hard to squeeze collections into those two titles.

At the end of Nick’s slides he has listed several organisations that fund UK museum projects and collections (slides 39 – 45). It’s well worth taking a look at. If you are lucky enough to work in London, Kent, Surrey, Birmingham or Manchester, the Fidelity UK Foundation also funds museum projects.

How do I get Funding?

When considering applying for a grant, only ever apply for money for a project that is consistent with your museum’s aims, otherwise delivering it will be hell.

Be prepared before the funding call goes out. Have a variety of projects ready to go, with need/scope/budget/supporting evidence available.

When writing a grant:

  1. RTFM (read the … manual).
  2. Give yourself time.
  3. Produce a good solid ‘hearts and minds’ story, with hard evidence to back it up.
  4. Many funders have one eye on the press release. Believe it or not, the projects with great names do seem to get funding. Create drama and make it unique and compelling.
  5. Don’t focus on your collections as a problem – focus on the problem to which your collection is the solution.
  6. Be realistic about cost.
  7. Understand how your proposal will be assessed.
  8. Always quote the funders to themselves: “As you yourselves said …”
  9. Don’t be insecure. Use the word ‘successful’. Don’t keep writing ‘if we get the grant’; write ‘when we get the grant’.
  10. Don’t bother with hubris (unless they ask for it). Avoid death by citation and focus on outcomes, not process.
  11. Build your reputation: become well known for delivering great projects.

If at first you don’t succeed, then ask for feedback, adjust your technique, and try again.

 

Clare Brown, December 2014