As I reflect on the journey Birmingham Museums has been on since March my overwhelming feeling is one of pride. I am so proud of how we have adapted during this awful pandemic so, while this has been a very difficult and upsetting time, for this blog I’m going to focus on how we have overcome some of the challenges and shine a light on what we have achieved.
One of our lesser known sites is Sarehole Mill but it was this tiny gem of a historic property that kept us physically trading when every other site was forced to close their doors
As is the case for so many museums, most of the BMT workforce remains furloughed but those that were able to continue working during this period did so tirelessly, bringing some fantastic new ideas to market. There were late nights, tears and thankfully plenty of laughter too. We lived and breathed entrepreneurialism. Highlights for me include launching a Recipe Box initiative – delivering “ready to cook” meals to homes across the city, selling out our first virtual fun run, and several record-breaking months for our online shop. We had so many ideas to generate income, needless to say some worked and some didn’t but as it turns out one of our earliest ideas was one of the best ideas…
For those who don’t know us, Birmingham Museums Trust has a portfolio of nine sites. Perhaps best known is Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery, home to a world renowned collection of Pre-Raphaelite art and “the best and most stylish museum café in the universe” according to author Bill Bryson. Who am I to disagree? One of our lesser known sites is Sarehole Mill but it was this tiny gem of a historic property that kept us physically trading when every other site was forced to close their doors.
We were determined not to lose momentum and seeing the empty supermarket shelves we quickly adapted and turned our gift shop into a Community Shop
Just before lockdown we had successfully completed a project at the mill to develop a small bakery operation on site. This was easier said than done in a listed building with terrible power supply, but we did it nonetheless. Then, just as we began to get a glimpse of the success this project might bring, lockdown was enforced. We were determined not to lose momentum and seeing the empty supermarket shelves we quickly adapted and turned our gift shop into a Community Shop. We sold essential food items that we sourced through our food and beverage suppliers and we soon became a safe space for the local community to shop. Word spread and we continued to develop the operation, we launched an online pre-order system for freshly baked bread, then, as government advice allowed, we introduced takeaway coffee too. The love for the Community Shop continued to grow as we developed and we even had a visit from local celeb Joe Lycett. The end result? In Q1 our turnover in the Community Shop was greater than the entire site’s turnover in Q1 2019.
Naturally I was thrilled with this financial success but the change and development we’ve seen at Sarehole Mill is deeper than that. Through the initiatives we delivered during the pandemic this small historic property has found its place in the hearts and minds of our local community and we’ve taken a giant leap forward in our mission to make Sarehole Mill sustainable. We aren’t stopping here! Last month we opened our courtyard for outdoor dining, next month we begin a programme of outdoor events and I’m confident we’ll continue to adapt to the changing needs of our customers.
Adapting and developing will be more important than ever for us now as Birmingham Museums Trust has sadly joined the numerous cultural organisations entering redundancy consultations as a result of coronavirus. The road ahead will be exceptionally difficult and our hearts are heavy with the horrible decisions ahead, but we will find some solace and inspiration in all we have achieved at Sarehole Mill and in the future that lies ahead of this truly special historic property.