Roots & Branches


Manchester Museum, along with Museum Development North West (MDNW) and the Carbon Literacy Trust, have just been awarded £136,750 of Arts Council England National Lottery Project Grant funding for an ambitious two-year partnership project, Roots & Branches, that aims to accelerate the museum sector’s ability to respond to the climate crisis. In this guest post Lynsey Jones, Museum Development Officer at MDNW, introduces the Roots & Branches project and describes some of the impacts we hope to achieve both in terms of our hello future transformation and the wider museum sector.

Sustainability has always been a core part of Manchester Museum’s work but hasn’t always been a priority for other museums. It’s a sweeping generalisation, but some are very on the ball whilst others aren’t sure what climate change has to do with them. But since last year no-one, including those involved in museums, has been able to ignore the inequalities in our society, including those created by the climate crisis.

MDNW is managed by and sits within Manchester Museum, and is funded by Arts Council England to support the Accredited museums in the North West – about 150 of them. The Museum, MDNW and the Carbon Literacy Trust have been working together since 2016 and, amongst other things, have delivered Carbon Literacy training to museum staff from across the North West. Within three years over 300 people from 46 different museums and sector organisations had been to our workshops and subsequently certified as Carbon Literate – not bad numbers but nowhere near enough to tackle the climate crisis… and so ‘Roots & Branches’ was born.

A woman teacher stands in front of a group of adult learners
Amsterdam launch of Carbon Literacy, Carly Wollaert Photography

What could we do to make a far bigger impact, drawing from the unique partnership between these three organisations?

For a start the Carbon Literacy Project originated in Manchester, although it now runs across the UK and in several other countries. It’s a tried and tested format that can work in museums just as well as it works in other sectors such as local authorities, media (did you know that Coronation Street is a Carbon Literate production?), social housing and universities.

Manchester Museum is not just part of the University of Manchester, home of the Tyndall Centre and graphene, but is also a member of MAST, a network of over 50 cultural organisations in Manchester that have been working together for the last 10 years. As one of the biggest museums in the region Manchester Museum also embraces its role in supporting the wider museum sector, and it does this partly through hosting MDNW.

And MDNW has the contacts and connections with museums not only across the region, but also across England, through our collaboration with our counterparts in the eight other English regions. Together, as Museum Development England, we reach over 1,500 museums and are the largest training provider for the sector in the country.

Three people sit around a table with paper and an inflatable globe
Museum Development North West Green Museum Programme (2015), courtesy of Simon Critchley

The launch of ‘Roots & Branches’ will coincide with the COP26 United Nations Climate Change Conference in November 2021. Over the next two years, this project will enable us to scale up the roll-out of Carbon Literacy training across museums in England.

“We are thrilled to receive such timely and significant support from Arts Council England’s Project Grants. Manchester Museum’s commitment to the natural world is central to our core purpose. We are passionate about the role that museums can and should play – here in Manchester, and nationally – in addressing the climate emergency. Through this unique collaboration with Museum Development North West and the Carbon Literacy Trust, this project will be pivotal in developing museum practice further, transforming our sector’s capacity to support ecological thinking and action to build a sustainable future and inspire post-pandemic green recovery.”

Esme Ward, Director of Manchester Museum and Manager of Museum Development North West
People sitting around a table with flag pictures and the names of countries
From the archive: Carbon literacy training (2016 ish) for Manchester Museum staff

Why Roots & Branches?

Manchester Museum will host the roots, creating a nationally significant co-working hub of cultural environmental action that will bring together museum staff, educators, environmentalists, artists, researchers, third sector organisations and students – providing opportunities for thinking, wondering and exploring as only we can. This will be coordinated by an innovative new post shared between Manchester Museum and the Carbon Literacy Trust and will become a feature of our new hello future Museum. The branches of the project will create an environmentally aware and active museums sector, giving museums the tools to respond to environmental sustainability and climate change.

Gigantic tropical tree with twisted roots and huge branches
Roots and branches of a tropical tree, from Manchester Museum’s historical Lantern Slide collection.

In collaboration with Museum Development England and supported by a new Environmental Sustainability Museum Development Officer post, ‘Roots & Branches’ aims to train and certify as Carbon Literate 1,500 museum professionals and volunteers. It will also see 300 museums developing organisational pledges to take action against climate change. The training will start on 1 November 2021, the first day of COP26, as part of the Carbon Literacy Trust’s ‘Carbon Literacy Action Day’ – an attempt to stage the largest ever low-carbon education event globally and set a record for the number of people completing their Carbon Literacy training in a single day.

We are extremily grateful for the funding support from Arts Council England’s National Lottery Project Grants, without which Roots & Branches would not be possible, and look forward to sharing updates and news about this exciting collaboration in the near future.

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