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London’s Migration Museum moves to

David Styles, Migration Museum offers ‘something for everyone’ at new shopping centre location, Museums + Heritage, 19 February 2020

Today the Migration Museum opens the doors of a new home in Lewisham Shopping Centre. The move, it is hoped, can expand both its programming capacity and audience reach.

We spoke to Emily Miller, the Museum’s head of learning and partnerships, to find out what the relocation will mean in practice.

Having been stationed in Lambeth since 2017, Britain’s first museum dedicated to exploring the movement of people to and from the UK has found a new home.

Moving to Unit 11, a former branch of H&M, in Lewisham Shopping Centre affords the Museum almost three times the floor space it had at its previous site and offers much more potential for attracting passers-by than any museum tucked away in a side street.

Migration story discs filled in by visitors © Migration Museum.

“As a new museum, we’re constantly asking ourselves how we can make what we do more accessible, breaking down barriers and reaching wider audiences,” says Sophie Henderson, director of the Migration Museum, referencing the prospects offered by operating in a bustling retail environment.

The Museum, Henderson asserts, will have “something for everyone”, no matter where a person is from or what their background is. The new site will provide “space for exploration, discussion and reflection on highly relevant themes that go to the heart of who we all are,” she adds.

Room to Breathe at the Migration Museum © Migration Museum/Poppy Williams

Q&A with Emily Miller, Head of Learning and Partnerships at the Migration Museum

What will the move mean for the Museum?

This is such an exciting next chapter for us. Our new home in the heart of a shopping centre is almost three times the size of our previous venue in Lambeth and allows us to stage multiple exhibitions.

Lewisham is one of London’s most dynamic and diverse boroughs and has a thriving community, cultural and arts sector. We’ve been overwhelmed by the incredibly warm welcome we’ve received from the borough and council and from local organisations and residents and can’t wait to open our doors.

It seems quite appropriate for the Migration Museum to move around; do you feel this makes the offering more authentic in some way?

A migrating migration museum – it has been noted before! In many ways, moving from temporary home to temporary home works for us well; each move giving us a chance to test new ideas and build our case for support. In other ways it is a real challenge and has huge financial and institutional costs.

When we move, we lose some of the relationships and audiences we have built up and have to start all over again in a new place. Having a permanent home is still very much our goal, with each new temporary home building towards this goal.

Do you hope the new location will translate into a rise in footfall from passing shoppers and maybe open the Museum up to different audiences?

Being based right in the middle of a busy shopping centre – in a former H&M, opposite Starbucks and next door TK Maxx – gives us an opportunity to reach a much larger audience than ever before. There are millions of visitors to Lewisham Shopping Centre each year and we hope many of them will come and see what we are up to – perhaps visiting a few times as our temporary exhibitions change.

We are always asking ourselves, and being asked, how we can do more than just ‘preach to the converted’ and reach new audiences. This is a real chance for us to reach a much wider range of visitors than ever before, including visitors who might not usually engage with the museum and heritage sector. As a new, non-traditional museum, being based in a non-traditional space feels fitting and we are looking forward to what’s in store.

What can we expect from the Museum in the coming months and years?

Lots! We’ll be staging a varied series of exhibitions, events and education workshops from our new home in Lewisham throughout 2020.

Highlights include a restaging of our acclaimed immersive exhibition Room to Breathe, inviting visitors on a journey through a series of rooms in which hundreds of personal stories from new arrivals to Britain are brought to life in creative and unexpected ways; Departures, a major new exhibition opening in April exploring 400 years of emigration stories from Britain to coincide with the anniversary of the sailing of the Mayflower to North America; a series of engaging temporary exhibitions on themes including race, football and music; and a wide range of events, from stand-up comedy to art workshops, football tournaments and more.