The UK’s national museum of democracy is 10 years old this week. This Manchester-based incredible space has accomplished plenty in the last decade and become a beacon for a democratic society. Consider this: it holds the world’s largest collection of political and trade union banners. So here are 10 highlights to celebrate this momentous milestone.
1. This is a museum that has brought people together. It’s a place where we are invited to share our stories, where diverse community voices matter, where young people are empowered and where visitors are inspired to be active citizens. If you thought the People’s History Museum (PHM) was another boring museum, you’ll need to think again.
2. It has welcomed 130,000 school pupils who took part in learning programmes about the history and importance of democratic engagement.
3. It displays the largest number of trade union and protest banners anywhere in the world. Visitors can see banners not currently on display being worked on live by peering through a window into the special textile conservation studio.
4. The PHM has been open every day for 10 years from 10am until 5pm (apart from a few Christmas holidays) and hosts Radical Lates events on the second Thursday of each month. With more than 100,000 people a year, that’s more than one million people through the doors.
5. The museum has won a clutch of prizes over the years including accolades at the Manchester Culture Awards and the Kids in Museums Family Friendly Museum Awards.
6. As a museum with democracy at its heart, the PHM has been a pioneer of co-creation – handing over the traditional role of the curator to people outside the museum staff and exploring how members of the public can contribute to and curate their own exhibitions and displays (give them a shout if you want to have your say).
7. No museum is complete without an eatery and the PHM operates the splendid Left Bank café, overlooking the River Irwell. It’s a genuinely family-friendly place, but it’s also licensed, good news for those who enjoy museums and a pint.
8. The PHM created an annual thematic public programme of exhibitions and events in 2018 which explored representation, commemorating 100 years since some women and all men won the right to vote in Britain. The focus in 2019 was on protest, marking the bicentenary of the Peterloo massacre in Manchester.
9. The PHM has also planned what’s next. In 2020 it will examine the theme of migration, and subsequent years will explore disability rights and climate change.
10. Perhaps most importantly, the museum continues to remind us of the role of democracy today. Indeed, as we debate democratic functions around the world, right now it feels like the work of the museum has never been more important. In another ten years, let’s hope it is still inspiring us and championing ideas worth fighting for.
Maybe you’ve dropped in to the People’s History Museum for a card from the shop, maybe you’ve enjoyed dressing up in the galleries, or maybe, like me, you enjoy looking at the huge Battle for the Ballot infographic mural in the entrance hall. If you haven’t, do pay this museum that has free entry a visit (praps give the recommended entrance fee of a fiver if you can) and make sure this amazing place stays in place for future generations.
Main image: Illustration by Danielle Rhoda for the People’s History Museum. All other images by Steve Slack.