2020 has been a time like no other for the culture sector. This year’s Museums + Heritage Awards conformed to the lack of orthodoxy by holding its annual ceremony online via streams on Facebook and YouTube.

While the customary glamourous frocks and champagne flutes may have been disappointingly absent, the excited responses from the 15 entrants who won the night’s top prizes were plain for all to see. An added bonus for 2020 winners was the lack of a nervy walk up on stage to accept their prize.

Museums + Heritage Awards
Tintagel Castle Bridge which saw English Heritage win Permanent Exhibition of the Year

Some of the highlights of the Awards’ latest edition included top spot going to English Heritage for its jaw-dropping work on the Tintagel Castle Bridge project, some very welcome positive news for National Trust for Scotland in the retail category, and recognition for the innovative partnership struck up between York Art Gallery and Kaiser Chiefs.

In addition to the 15 category winners who accepted their gongs via video link, 16 organisations have also been highly commended by the judging panel.

This year's winners

Innovation of the Year sponsored by Squint Opera

Harewood House Trust A Night at the Mansion

Individual Volunteer of the Year in partnership with the Association of Independent Museums

Joseph Stuart Tyne & Wear Archives & Museums

Lin Wylie Thame Museum
Nick Thompson The Lightbox

Volunteer Team of the Year in partnership with the Association of Independent Museums

Worsbrough Mill Youth Action Volunteers Barnsley Museums

The Pickling Project Volunteers St Albans Museums

Sustainable Project of the Year sponsored by the National Lottery Heritage Fund

Museum of Oxford Queering Spires: a history of LGBTIQA+ spaces in Oxford

Natural History Museum Ornithological building at Tring

Temporary or Touring Exhibition of the Year sponsored by Displayways

London Transport Museum Hidden London Exhibition

Ceredigion Museum Sheep
Royal Collection Trust Leonardo da Vinci: Life in Drawings

Shop of the Year – turnover more than £500k

The National Trust for Scotland Transforming Retail at Culloden Battlefield

Shop of the Year – turnover less than £500k

The Charleston Trust Created for Charleston

Old Operating Theatre Museum and Herb Garret The OOT Shop

Restoration or Conservation Project of the Year

Plymouth City Council (The Box) and Orbis Conservation The Box Naval Figureheads Collection

Didcot Railway Centre 2999 “Lady of Legend” – Recreating a GWR “Saint” Class Loco
Chatham Historic Dockyard Trust The Fitted Rigging House

Permanent Exhibition of the Year

English Heritage Tintagel Castle Bridge & Landscape Project

Aberdeen City Council Museums and Galleries Aberdeen Art Gallery – Inspiring Art and Music

Partnership of the Year

York Art Gallery and Kaiser Chiefs When All is Quiet: Kaiser Chiefs in Conversation with York Art Gallery

Oxford University Gardens, Libraries & Museums (GLAM) GLAM and Iffley Academy Partnership

Marketing & Communications Strategy of the Year

Imperial War Museum North Yemen: Inside a Crisis

Castle Howard Skelf Island – The Launch of a New Adventure Playground

Limited Budget Project of the Year

Horniman Museum and Gardens Beat Plastic Pollution

Bailiffgate Museum and Gallery 100 Years of Fashion

Learning Programme of the Year

Leeds Museums and Galleries Careers for All: meaningful work experience for young people with additional needs

National Justice Museum Choices and Consequences

International Project of the Year with a budget of >£1m

OMM – Odunpazarı Modern Museum

International Project of the Year with a budget of <£1m

Studio Louter, OPERA Amsterdam and The Mauritshuis Shifting Image – In Search of Johan Maurits

The Partition Museum, Amritsar and Manchester Museum Jallianwala Bagh 1919: Punjab Under Siege

The award of this year’s prizes were deliberated over by Diane Lees, director general of Imperial War Museums; Matthew Tanner, chief executive of the SS Great Britain Trust; Maggie Appleton, chief executive of the Royal Air Force Museum; Sam Mullins, director of London Transport Museum; and Caro Howell, director of the Foundling Museum.

Going green

Aside from the ceremony’s virtual format having drastically reduced the event’s carbon footprint, another green-minded first for 2020 was the Sustainable Project of the Year Award.

The inaugural environmentally-focused prize, sponsored by National Lottery Heritage Fund-sponsored, was scooped by the Museum of Oxford for its temporary exhibition Queering Spires: a history of LGBTIQA+ spaces in Oxford.

The panel of judges selected this entry due to the institution’s “commitment and authenticity in putting sustainability at the very heart of the project” and even recommended it could be used as a model to replicate across the sector.

Queer spaces map and models from the Museum of Oxford's winning exhibition

“Covid-19 and the subsequent lockdown has highlighted just how valuable our heritage and our natural world are and I would like to congratulate the Museum of Oxford on the success of this fantastic sustainable project,” says Drew Bennellick, National Lottery Heritage Fund’s head of land and nature policy.

“Sharing inspirational ideas and best practice gives us a greater chance to reach the critical goal of net zero greenhouse gas emissions in the UK by 2050.”

It was inspiration and a sense of excitement that the 2020 Museums + Heritage Awards aimed to provide for all involved in the virtual ceremony. Organisers hope next year’s event will be welcoming attendees in person, but for the time being it will continue to promote the exceptional, innovative work that is undertaken every day – even during a global crisis.

If you couldn’t watch the ceremony live then you haven’t missed your chance! Proceedings can be re-watched here shortly after the event.

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