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Towards a National Collection: Opening UK Heritage to the World


Towards a National Collection is a major five-year £18.9 million investment in the UK’s world-renowned museums, archives, libraries and galleries. The programme will take the first steps towards creating a unified virtual ‘national collection’ by dissolving barriers between different collections – opening UK heritage to the world. By seizing the opportunity presented by new digital technology, it will allow researchers to formulate radically new research questions, increase visitor numbers, dramatically expand and diversify virtual access to our heritage, and bring clear economic, social and health benefits to communities across the UK. The innovation driven by the programme will maintain the UK’s world leadership in digital humanities and set global standards in the field. The Programme’s main objectives are:

  • to begin to dissolve barriers between different collections
  • to open up collections to new cross-disciplinary and cross-collection lines of research
  • to extend researcher and public access beyond the physical boundaries of their location
  • to benefit a diverse range of audiences
  • to be active and of benefit across the UK
  • to provide clear evidence and exemplars that support enhanced funding going forward.

Programme delivery

Funding is provided through UK Research and Innovation’s Strategic Priorities Fund (SPF). The programme will be led by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC). AHRC has appointed a Programme Director to provide leadership and strategic delivery of the programme.

Rebecca Bailey

Rebecca Bailey

Rebecca Bailey has been appointed as the programme director to lead the Towards a National Collection research programme. She joins from Historic Environment Scotland, where she was Head of Exhibitions and Outreach and will lead the SPF programme over the next 5 years, drawing together the projects funded and developing future recommendations.

“I am delighted to have the opportunity to lead this significant and timely new programme, which has clear potential to dissolve barriers between collections, opening them up to new cross-disciplinary lines of research, and extending public access. This unprecedented funding will allow us to build a strong collaborative research community, bringing together practitioners from across the cultural heritage sector, with academics at the forefront of digital humanities.

“We aim to be active and of benefit right across the UK and to ensure that everything we deliver respects the diversity of both the cultural heritage sector and the public it serves. Towards a National Collection will generate the ideas, exemplars and experiences that instigate and inspire a larger process of transformation in the way everyone can access, research, learn from and enjoy the outstanding collections of the UK’s museums, galleries, archives, libraries and heritage bodies.

Rebecca Bailey, Programme Director, Towards a National Collection

We have also appointed a Steering Committee with expertise, experience and knowledge from within the sector. The full list of members can be found here (PDF, 169KB).

Funding opportunities

Eight small-scale ‘Foundation Projects’ have been commissioned, by expert peer review, to support collaborative research between AHRC’s Independent Research Organisations and Higher-Education Institutions.  The projects will carry out some exploratory research over the next eighteen to twenty-four months.  A list of projects can be found here (PDF, 159KB).

The call for the ‘Discovery Projects’ is open and can be found here. Each of these Discovery projects will involve a core collaboration between one or more UK Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) and one or more of AHRC’s Independent Research Organisations (IROs), as well as further collaboration with local and regional cultural, third sector or community organisations. As well as addressing some of the specific physical, digital and organisational solutions needed to bring together disparate collections across the UK, the aim is that Discovery Projects will together add up to more than the sum of their parts, working in a complementary way to demonstrate the value of unifying collections across types and geographies, and creating public-facing outputs that can be displayed to, and tested with, diverse and/or large-scale audiences across the country.

The full call specification can be found here. The Discovery Projects represent the most substantial part of Towards a National Collection and the call aims to fund up to five projects over a maximum of 36 months within a total funding envelope of up to £15m. The indicative limit for each project is £3 million (80 per cent fEC). This call will have a two-stage application process via UKRI’s Joint Electronic Submission System (JeS), with an outline stage followed by a full proposal stage.

Following the webinars held in June, we collated a document with the most frequently asked questions around the Discovery Projects Call, which you can find here (PDF, 369KB).

The deadline for outline proposals is: 16:00 GMT, 17 November 2020.

How can I get involved?

We held two introductory events in early March, one in Edinburgh, one in London. A presentation from the events can be seen here (PDF, 2.7MB).

We held a further four events as online webinars in May and June 2020 which facilitated engagement between HEIs and IROs. A presentation from these events can be seen here (PDF, 1.9MB).

Following the success of these webinars, we will be hosting four more webinars in August 2020. These webinars will be in two formats. The first will be “Introduction” webinars and will replicate the first run of the ones held in May and June. These are targeted at those who were unable to make those initial sessions. The second will be “Support” webinars are aimed at those who attended those sessions and are at a more advanced stage with their proposals). The dates and times of the webinars are below.

  • (INTRODUCTION webinar) Tuesday 11th August 2020 – 1000-1200 BST    
  • (SUPPORT webinar) Wednesday 12th August 2020 – 1030-1230 BST
  • (SUPPORT webinar) Tuesday 18th August 2020 – 1400-1600 BST 
  • (INTRODUCTION webinar) Wednesday 19th August 2020 – 1400-1600 BST

If you wish to attend, please complete the online SmartSurvey which can be found at:


Introduction Webinars

The AHRC is introducing “speed-dating” sessions for our Introduction seminars. This will provide the participants with the opportunity to virtually meet with IRO representatives and discuss their project ideas with them in Zoom break out rooms. If you are interested in this opportunity, please find links to the Doodle polls for the Introduction webinars below:



Support Webinars

Two guest speakers will be presenting at the support webinars:

Dr Jane Winters (Heritage Connector): ‘Connecting the UK’s cultural heritage’

Short bio: Jane Winters is Professor of Digital Humanities and Pro-Dean for Libraries and Digital at the School of Advanced Study, University of London. She is a Co-Investigator for the Towards a National Collection Foundation project Heritage Connector, in partnership with the Science Museum Group and the V&A. Jane has led or co-directed a range of digital projects, including Big UK Domain Data for the Arts and Humanities, Traces Through Time: Prosopography in Practice across Big Data, and Digging into Linked Parliamentary Data. Currently, she is a partner in the CLEOPATRA project, a Marie Skłodowska-Curie Innovative Training Network, which is exploring how we can study significant transnational political and cultural events as they unfold online. Jane's research interests include digital history, born-digital archives (particularly the archived web), the use of social media by cultural heritage institutions, and open access publishing. She has published most recently on Non-Print Legal Deposit and web archives, born-digital archives and the problem of search, and the archiving and analysis of national web domains.

Pip Willcox (Engaging Crowds): ‘Engage! Behind the scenes of citizen research and heritage data’

Short bio: Pip Willcox is Head of Research at The National Archives (TNA) and leads the Towards a National Collection Foundation project, Engaging Crowds: citizen research and heritage data at scale. Pip leads on research strategy and delivery at TNA, and heads its Research and Academic Engagement department. Multidisciplinary and interdisciplinary research into all aspects of our collections and activities is at the heart of what TNA does, as we become a digital archive by instinct and design and seek to generate new knowledge that advances understanding in archives, the wider research community and society as a whole. With a background in digital scholarship and library and archive collections, Pip has designed and delivered collaborative research in fields including web science, history, and heritage collections, engaging national and international partners from academia, industry, and the public. Pip has developed strategies and networks to share tools, collections, and expertise in digital scholarship, and led teaching and training at foundational and advanced levels.

Further information

The closing date for applications to take part in a webinar is 17:00 4 August 2020. We aim to achieve a good spread across institutions, expertise and career stages and will be confirming places from Thursday, 6th August onwards.

The official Towards a National Collection website is launching on Monday, 20th July. You can find more about the programme by visiting the following link.

To help organisations form partnerships for the proposals, AHRC has set up a discussion mailing list with JISC for use as a partner matching tool. The mailing list can be found at:


COVID-19 Urgency Call

***Call closing*** The COVID-19 Urgency Call for projects under Towards a National Collection is closing.  To allow potential applicants who are in the process of preparing a proposal time to submit it before the closing date, the call will remain open for four weeks, with the final date for the submission of applications Monday, 17 August 2020.  If you have any concerns in meeting this final deadline, please contact us at National.Collection@AHRC.ukri.org.  Please note, the wider UKRI/AHRC call remains open for applications. 

AHRC also welcomes applications for Towards a National Collection projects under the UKRI open call for research and innovation ideas to address the COVID-19 pandemic and its impacts. The programme particularly welcomes research on digital capacity and digital engagement with cultural assets during the lockdown, and on lessons to be learned from these for future patterns of cultural engagement. Further guidance on making an application to Towards a National Collection under this call can be found in the Call Guidance Document (PDF, 143KB).

Applications should be made using the form listed on the UKRI Coronavirus hub, following the Call Guidance there. The application form and accompanying documents must sent as a single PDF to CV19researchinnovation@ukri.org. Proposals will be accepted from anyone eligible to apply for AHRC funding. The call is open and early applications are encouraged.


Please get in touch with us at: National.Collection@AHRC.ukri.org

Karen Buchanan, Strategy and Development Manager, Heritage
T: 01793 416032

David Selway, Portfolio Manager, Heritage
T: 01793 416122

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