Specialist Support Scheme – An Overview

Since 2015 the Subject Specialist Network for Islamic Art and Material Culture (SSN IAMC) has supported museums across the country via its Specialist Support Scheme.


The Specialist Support Scheme aims to provide regional museums with a toolkit to help them unlock the potential of their IAMC collection and use them to engage with new and diverse audiences. It provides flexible, specialist and practical support through a scalable programme that is tailored to the needs of individual institutions. In return for the support, each museum is expected to deliver at least one tangible output, which can include a new display, or a knowledge sharing or outreach event.


For the museums looking to access support, the application process is kept as simple as possible. A short online application form is completed before all applications are shortlisted by the SSN IAMC committee. Support is awarded to those museums that have demonstrated that they meet the criteria the clearest. As soon as each successful applicant accepts the offer of support the SSN IAMC Project Manager works with each organisation to create a delivery plan. This includes finding Collections specialists, Learning & Engagement specialists, and photographers to work with each organisation.


Between 2015 – 2020, 20 applications to the Specialist Support Scheme were received, of which 15 were supported.  The value of support for each museum varied between £2500 to just over £5000.  During Years 1-3 any IAMC collection could be included, however in Year 4 we added a calligraphy focus to the scheme. The museums supported were:


Year 1:


Nuneaton Museum and Art Gallery

Powell Cotton Museum, Kent

Sandwell Museums

Wolverhampton Museum and Art Gallery


Year 2:


Blackburn Museum and Art Gallery

Hull and East Riding Museum

Museums Sheffield

Oriental Museum, Durham University


Year 3:


Berwick Museum

Bradford Museums

Emery Walker’s House

Holburne Museum


Year 4:


Kedleston Hall

Museum of Royal Worcester

Oriental Museum, Durham University


Year 4 has brought significant challenges as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic. The impact of this has complicated the Specialist Support Scheme in many ways. We were over half-way through the delivery of the scheme before we were forced to halt activity in March 2020. We spent the following months working with the teams at the Oriental Museum and Museum of Royal Worcester to find alternative ways to deliver as many aspects of the Support Scheme as possible. Although this has been challenging, we are now in a position to take forward all of the knowledge developed during this time and apply it to our future planning.


Throughout the years the SSN IAMC has been delighted to support so many museums and organisations to develop a greater understanding of their IAMC collections and how to use these to develop new exhibitions and plan learning and engagement activity. As of June 2020 the scheme can be broken down into the following:


Number of museums supported                                                15

Number of objects viewed by Collection Specialists             2,250

Number of reports produced                                                      35

Material type                                                                                  Ceramics, metalwork, textiles, paper, woodwork, glass

Country of origin                                                                           Iraq, Iran, India, Syria, Turkey, Egypt, Sudan, Spain,

Number of objects photographed                                             140

Number of conservation assessments                                     3

Activity delivered:

  • Permanent Exhibition                                 6
  • Temporary Exhibition                                 5
  • Online exhibition                                          1
  • Community curated exhibition                 1
  • Family events                                                4
  • School sessions                                             20
  • ESOL workshops with refugees                2
  • Schools loan box developed                       1
  • Community projects                                    3
  • Knowledge sharing events                        4
  • Conference paper                                          1
  • Blogs                                                                2


Feedback from the museums suggests the Scheme has had significant and positive impacts. The Support Scheme has given the museums the confidence to either use their IAMC collections for the first time or to revaluate the display and interpretation of the collections. For some it has provided an opportunity to develop new partnerships with local communities and those further afield. A particular encouraging impact of the Support Scheme has been the number of museums working on co-curated projects and exhibitions.


The scheme was extremely useful.  We have a very small staff and cannot possibly have expertise in all of the collection areas we cover.  Having access to this scheme allowed us to learn much more about one of our most under-researched and under-used collections.  We have been able to take immediate action to upgrade records on our internal and online databases and to greatly improve our temporary displays until such time as the new gallery gets the go ahead.  The learning and community engagement team have been able to make much use of the report focused on this aspect. We have been able to purchase a considerable amount of material to support learning recommended in the report such as examples of Iznik tiles, calligraphy sets etc. 

Rachel Walker, Curator, Oriental Museum, Durham University


This project has raised the profile of Islamic collections at the Museum. It has enthused and inspired us to explore the different ways these objects can be used. The project has enabled us to make long term improvements to documentation as well as immediately creating improved access through funding the ‘Islamic Treasures’ engagement event.

Becky Harvey, Assistant Museum Officer, Nuneaton Museum and Art Gallery


Neil Stevenson, Project Manager, SSN Islamic Art and Material Culture

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