People’s History Museum is the UK’s national centre for the collection, conservation, interpretation and study of material relating to the history of working people in the country. Looking to scale up and grow the business, they signed up for the Creative Scale-Up programme in 2020, only for the Covid-19 pandemic to drastically shift their priorities.
However, their participation in the programme helped them to pivot their business model to premium online events and focus on the digital side of their offering as well as learning from others in the cohort about how they were dealing with the impacts of lockdown. The museum is now in a strong position and ready to work on their longer-term goals.
• Support for digital growth and upskilling
• PR for crucial fundraising drive
People’s History Museum opened in Manchester in 1994 and tells the story of working people’s lives at home, work and leisure over the last two centuries. In 2020 they took part in the Creative Scale-Up programme with the ambition of building on long-term plans to scale and grow their business through generating additional income from areas like their café and hire spaces. Sarah Miguel, Head of Business Development, tells us how working with the Hub has helped the museum survive the impacts of lockdown and pivot towards a digital future.
We’d heard about GC Business Growth Hub through attending Venturefest and had accessed some support through them before we saw the Creative Scale-Up programme advertised on LinkedIn. We were looking to ramp up our enterprise and trading activity, so we saw this as a way to get the skills we needed to make that happen. The Hub team did a business diagnostic with us to establish our business challenges and we identified some key areas we were looking to expand upon, like how we could generate more income from our café, shop and hire spaces. So, we were excited to see where the programme could take us, but then Covid hit us hard. Within our business, the biggest impact was certainly our trading because it was so focused on what we could deliver in our physical space, which was no longer possible. We also had to start working from home for the first time, which was another new and difficult challenge for our team.
Being a part of the Creative Scale-Up programme during these difficult times turned out to be hugely valuable for us. We particularly found it really useful to be a part of the network of other businesses who were also experiencing the impact of Covid-19 at the same time that we were. These peer sessions and workshops gave us the chance to share our experiences and hear from others about how they also were having to pivot in response to what was happening last April and May. Having these connections and peers to talk to certainly helped keep me sane through a very tough time.
Another really valuable part of the programme were the updates we received from our mentor. They gave detailed information about what we should be thinking about and addressing, so while we received updates from other organisations over the last year, these sessions offered the most valuable information about what we need to know and what we need to do about it. The Hub were a great support and sounding board during these difficult times as we went to them for advice on issues like using the furlough scheme, accessing finance and negotiating contracts with our suppliers.
During lockdown we reassessed our relationship with our caterers and realised that our values weren’t aligned, so we were also to onboard a new caterer which has also enabled us to achieve the Living Wage accreditation. With the help from the Hub, we have also been successful in receiving grant funding and applying to the Innovation Voucher scheme.
We did all of the modules in the programme and one that we found particularly useful was the PR module. We already use PR a lot as a medium to bring in visitors, but we hadn’t really used it to attract and engage with other businesses before, so getting us into that sales mindset was crucial.
PR skills were also crucial for us earlier this year when we launched a crowd-funding project to support us through another lockdown. With the help of people like Sir Ian McKellen, Maxine Peake and Andy Burnham, we managed to raise £58,000 and acquired a lot of new members. We also did a digital skills audit with the Hub, and their Digital team has helped us to have the confidence to pivot to deliver premium online events, which continue to be important as it still may be some time before we can get back to normal operations.
We’ve also been working towards digitalising our shop, which had previously only been a physical space without an online presence. This is another key step towards pivoting to other ways of generating income both in the short and long term. Another aspect of the programme that has been useful is the IP module because we have really complex issues around intellectual property. The Hub referred us to the IP Office, so we’re very much working on that area thanks to the Scale-Up programme, having received grant funding to undertake an audit.
A key impact for us from the Creative Scale-Up programme was helping us grow our staff skills and confidence at a difficult time as we looked to recover. We found working from home a big change, and there’s still work to do on continuing to upskill our staff in different digital areas as we continue to try and build our online audience. Both the programme and lockdown have led to us to reflect on the spirit and culture of enterprise within the organisation, and where that sits. It should be embedded within the whole organisation, so our new business plan is making it clear that all staff should be involved in helping us become more enterprising.