08 Jul 22. Founded in 1968 and opening its doors to the public four years later in 1972, the RAF Museum London was the principle legacy to emerge from the fiftieth anniversary of the Royal Air Force in 1968. Thirty years later, in 1998, the former Cosford Aerospace Museum which had had been operated by the MOD at RAF Cosford from 1972 formally became part of the RAF Museum. Today, the RAF London and Midland museums are enjoying unprecedented levels of success recording some of the highest visitor levels on records. That success is down to the hard work and effort put in by CEO Maggie Appleton and her team, to the Trustees and the many supporters and volunteers who provide unrivalled levels of support and to all those who are serving or have served in the Royal Air Force and whose brilliant stories the Museum ensures that it tells.
No museum or organisation of this kind can stand still and the RAF Museum is no exception. In the years leading up to the RAF Centenary commemorations in 2018 the London Museum site had enjoyed major new infrastructure investment and development including major new exhibition facilities, repurposing of buildings, landscaping and improvements to its learning facilities.
Today, four years on from the RAF Centenary, the RAF Museum is preparing for the next stage of major development at the Midland Museum site along with having launches a strategy that will take the museum into a new generation of RAF history.
First, let me remind of what the RAF Museum is and what it sets out to do. The RAF Museum may best be regarded as the National Museum of the Royal Air Force. From the beginning its purpose has always been to share the story of the Royal Air Force, past, present and future, using the stories of its people and using the Museum’s collections to engage, inspire and encourage learning.
At both the London and Midland sites the RAF Museum offers free entry. The Museum is the custodian of the RAF story and the trustees, people – staff and volunteers – and our key partners have a shared vision and ambitions designed to inspire all those that wish to better understand the brilliance and crucial important of what the Royal Air Force is, what it has achieved and how, the people who shaped it through its so-far 104 year history and importantly, to constantly remind of the place that the RAF has in all of our lives.
The RAF Museum has recently embarked on a new ambitious programme of transformation under the title: Strategy 2030.
Strategy 2030 priorities:
These include the launch of a twenty-five-year Development Programme for the Cosford site which is now branded as the RAF Museum Midlands. This programme of engagement activities and capital investment will continue our focus on immersive RAF storytelling and support our ambition to encourage reflection and debate across our spaces and programmes – as well as welcome all visitors for a great day out.
The strategy envisaged and agreed will undoubtedly transform the RAF Midlands Museum and it will also impact through a series of phased projects engaging audiences, who may not necessarily easily identify themselves with the RAF story, through enabling them to find common interests and histories that may possibly link them.
Strategy 2030 sets out to continue to develop and nurture meaningful partnerships whilst also looking for more support and external investment in order to cover the funding required to meet the planned objectives.
The RAF Museum recognises the importance of museums and culture to the economic prosperity and social wellbeing of our communities.
The ultimate intention is that by 2030 the Royal Air Force Museum will be recognised as a world class National Museum, respected for commitment to focusing on its audiences and using the collections and spaces available and using these in creative ways that fully engage the audience and visitors with the RAF story.
The RAF Museum will remain financially sustainable and retain the firm foundations that will enable an agile and ambitious future to be achieved.
The RAF Museum Midlands Development Programme Will Be the first part of Strategy 2030 with a £26m transformation proposed on the Cosford site spread over the next five years:
The RAF Museum Midlands Development Programme will enable the museum to step into the chosen our new identity as the RAF Museum Midlands serving local, regional and national communities onsite, offsite and online.
A multi-strand engagement programme will connect with diverse communities offsite and online, supported by and through a welcoming onsite transformation of the museums extensive collection and that will further facilitate story sharing, galleries and landscape.
Through the Programme the RAF Museum Midlands will become an extremely valuable resource for communities spread across the Midlands
The Museum will work with partners to involve people in their local and RAF heritage, improving their wellbeing and developing their skills
The Museum will work with audiences to share RAF stories that are relevant to their lives and lived experiences in the hope of inspiring them to fulfil their own potential
The collections, exhibits and information will be better understood, cared for and more widely shared
The 2030 Strategy envisages a move towards our target of being a Carbon Net Zero organisation by 2030
The Museum will be more resilient and able to support the wider communities in which it operates.
A large part of the plan includes the opening a new ‘COLLECTIONS HUB’ that it is hoped will enable increased levels of conservation to be undertaken, research and share the stored collections with visitors for the first time. This will hopefully provide a further springboard to communities and the fostering of more local pride and belonging.
The ‘Collections Hub’ together with the shared collections is intended to engage people in intergenerational opportunities to develop new skills and ideas, tackling isolation, and provide the inspiration for a wide range of creative activities, encouraging social and emotional learning in a safe environment.
An innovative NATIONALLY RELEVANT EXHIBITION will focus on the critical role of the Royal Air Force over the past 40 years, inviting visitors to discover its mission today and to imagine how the service will need to adapt in the future. The exhibition will embrace digital technology and be at the forefront of best practice in museum interpretation. Artefacts ranging from aircraft through to films will be selected through co-curation and research to support storytelling and reflect on our diverse local communities.
A new LEARNING CENTRE will provide bespoke facilities dedicated to the development and delivery of lifelong learning programmes. New learning spaces will enable exploration, discovery and debate and will ignite visitors’ curiosity, both in STEM subjects, as well as art, history and design. They will provide safe spaces for social and emotional learning using creative experiences to explore challenging issues.
Improvements to our OUTDOOR SPACES will include areas for learning, discovery and contemplation set in a woodland landscape and new public realm. Investment in the outdoor realm adjacent to the Collections Hub and new exhibition will incorporate seating, walking trails, with pockets of greenery creating much-needed outdoor facilities, with the option to host learning activities outdoors. The intention is that the Museum will co-design these areas with groups that may not have access to green spaces, offering volunteering opportunities to help maintain them in the future. This area will explore and present stories of the RAF’s own environmental innovation within these new landscapes.
AS you would expect, the RAF Museum 2030 Strategy plan that is designed to deliver the RAF Museum Midlands programme has placed a priority on SUSTAINABILITY & BIODIVERSITY in order that the Museum will be able to reach its set Carbon Net Zero target of 2030.
Greening of the site landscape will provide new opportunities for carbon capture, increasing biodiversity and spaces where visitors and staff can improve their physical and mental health.
Interestingly, the whole life carbon impacts of the 2030 Midland Strategy programme will be monitored using the ‘Net Zero Carbon Buildings: A Framework Definition’ produced by the World Green Building Council and UK Green Building Council. This framework will measure the impacts from the construction process, through to improvements to existing buildings and site infrastructure.
So, there you have it – a Museum that already offers so much and that over the past ten years has seen massive investment designed to ensure that the full RAF story, past, present and whatever emerges in the future, can and will be told. The Trustees of the Museum along with CEO Maggie Appleton and all of the staff who work so hard to ensure visitors get so much from the RAF Museums London and Midlands sites are to be commended for what they have done and achieved and what they are planning to do over the next five years to ensure that the RAF Museum achieves all of its aims.
CHW (London 8th July 2022)
Howard Wheeldon FRAeS
Wheeldon Strategic Advisory Ltd,
M: +44 7710 779785