Scotland's independent museums at risk as they fall through gaps in COVID-19 support

Independent museums across Scotland fear for the future of Scotland’s heritage without urgent financial support.

Industrial Museums Scotland (IMS), a partnership of museums holding almost a quarter of Scotland’s collections recognised as being of National Significance[1], the Scottish Community Heritage Alliance (SCHA) and Museums Heritage Highland (MHH) call for an urgent intervention by major funders if closures and redundancies are to be avoided, actions that will destroy public trust and be felt keenly by the communities around each museum.

Independent museums operate on limited reserves and generate most income, from visitors and education programmes, between April and September.[2] Independent museums are charities and the vast majority do not get any income from local or national government.

Since closing to support the Covid-19 lockdown, reserves have been rapidly depleted with half of independent museums anticipating crisis before the end of the summer. Some have already liquidated assets at great loss to support short-term needs.

With museums likely to remain closed during vital income generating summer months, those surviving to the start of the 2021 season next April will begin at a loss, with a drastically reduced income for 2021. With this knock on effect, independent museums are still likely to struggle as far out as the 2022/23 financial year, putting Scotland’s heritage at risk.

Industrial Museums Scotland, the Scottish Community Heritage Alliance and Museums Heritage Highland believe a financial relief package would be minimal in terms of the wider crisis funding but would be hugely beneficial to Scotland’s heritage and its communities. It would enable museums to help support Scotland’s recovery from the public health crisis, as they are well placed to do, as key employers, educators and contributors to the communities in which they operate.
Industrial Museums Scotland museums collectively engage 900,000 visitors a year and contribute over £9m to the Scottish economy.
As well as caring for, and engaging people with, Scotland’s national industrial heritage, IMS museums lead successful curriculum-linked education programmes reaching 45,000 school pupils a year. They employ over 300 people and create added employment opportunities through modern apprenticeships, traineeships and employability training.

Museum Heritage Highland represents museums across the Highlands, from Bettyhill to Fort William and Grantown to Gairloch, including Groan House Museum, the Highland Museum of Childhood and Strathnaver Museum. They draw 250,000 visitors to the region and employ more than 20 people.

The Scottish Community Heritage Alliance represents community heritage organisations across Scotland, roughly a third of which are museums but also includes historic buildings, sites, archives and many organisations which run heritage activities and heritage-based tourism services.

Independent museums are a significant part of Scotland’s culture and heritage offer, a key draw for visitors to Scotland.

At local level, independent museums can also help rebuild communities post Covid-19 by continuing with the countless health and well-being community initiatives they support, from men’s sheds, creative projects and youth councils through to expansive volunteer programmes that are the backbone of community-based museums.

David Mann, Chair of Industrial Museums Scotland, says:

“Closing indefinitely at a time when we generate the bulk of our annual operating income has put the future of many of our independent museums on a cliff’s edge.

“Current business continuity funding isn’t accessible, adequate or appropriate for the cultural and charity sector. Whilst we are grateful for emergency grant funding from Museums Galleries Scotland (MGS) and the National Lottery Heritage Fund (NLHF), support for the cultural sector is only at present designed for the short-term.

“Our growing concern is that this additional support for the independent museum sector will come too late, after some members have closed permanently, staff have been made redundant and charities wound up. Others will need to make redundancies, cut wages, mothball historic buildings and Nationally Significant collections to try and survive until the 2021 season.

“The impact of this on the sector will be irreversible: putting Nationally Significant collections at risk and, most importantly, decimating staff, destroying team dynamics and ending careers.

“Closures mean collections have to be cared for by other organisations, putting a strain on local and national bodies, at a time when resources are already stretched thin. We believe that additional financial support would be no more costly than redundancies, mothballing and having to rebuild the museum sector in 2021.”

Catherine Gillies for Scottish Community Heritage Alliance says:

“Altogether, we need funders to come forward urgently with financial support that meets not just immediate needs but recognises and secures longer term survival. We need recovery planning and additional funding in place today.

“What is at stake are both people and heritage; the two are intertwined and are part of the bedrock of successful communities.

“Scotland is seen as a world leader with its extraordinary wealth of community-run heritage. Losing it – and there is a high risk that we will – would have impacts on the economy, tourism and community health out of all proportion to the cost of saving it.”

Dan Cottam, Chair of Museums Heritage Highland, says:

“Small independent museums in the Highlands are used to contributing greatly to Scottish culture and their own communities from particularly meagre means, working creatively and entrepreneurially to produce an exciting and valuable offer whilst supporting hundreds of volunteers.

“Whilst the size, self-sufficiency and resilience of the Highland sector has allowed us to react quickly to the initial crisis, the medium to long term picture is daunting. Rural community museums perpetually walk a tightrope in terms of cashflow and the inability to generate income will mean most will quickly be depleting what small reserves we have.

“We have worked extremely hard in the last few years, finding ingenious and innovative ways to combat dwindling public funding and maintain quality experiences for our audiences.  It is vital now more than ever that our collections and our valuable work is recognised and supported to ensure survival.”


Issued by Joanna Harrison / 07884 187404


INDUSTRIAL MUSEUMS SCOTLAND (IMS) (collectively marketed as Go Industrial), has 13 members (across 15 locations) and includes 13 collections (denoted by*) recognised as being of National Significance by the Scottish Government. Find out more about IMS here.

Find out more about the Scottish Government’s Scheme, managed by Museums Galleries Scotland.






Almond Valley Heritage Trust*

(Scottish Shale Museum)


West Lothian



Auchindrain Township*

by Inveraray, Argyll



Dundee Heritage Trust

(Discovery Point* and Verdant Works*)




Maid of the Loch

Loch Lomond



Museum of Lead Mining*



Dumfries & Galloway




Scottish Railway Preservation Society (Museum of the Scottish Railways*)

Bo'ness, West Lothian




National Mining Museum Scotland*

Newtongrange, East Lothian



Scottish Fisheries Museum*

Anstruther, Fife



Scottish Maritime Museum

(At both Irvine* and Dumbarton*)

Irvine, Ayrshire & Dumbarton, West Dumbartonshire



The Devil's Porridge Museum

Dumfries & Galloway



Museum of Scottish Lighthouses*

Fraserburgh, Aberdeenshire




Find out more about Scottish Community Heritage Alliance here.

Find out more about Museums Heritage Highland here.


1 Scotland currently has 50 collections that have been Recognised as Nationally Significant Collections by the Scottish Government

2 Additional restricted operational and project support comes from other funding bodies.