Manchester Museum reopens this weekend after almost 18 months of closure. In August 2021, the museum closed to the public as it underwent an extensive transformation as part of its Hello Future project. We visited for a first look at the changes.
The project stemmed from the museum’s mission to “care for people, their ideas, beliefs and relationships”. The core focus being that museums have the power to build understanding and empathy between cultures and across generations.
The plans for Hello Future, funded by Arts Council England, The National Lottery Heritage Fund, The University of Manchester and other private supporters, included a two-storey extension and brand-new exhibition spaces, which will open to the public this Saturday (18 February).
“It’s no fun running a museum without visitors,” said Esme Ward, director at Manchester Museum. “The project has been over a decade in the making and we’re so excited to welcome people back this weekend to explore our world. Hopefully, people will agree that it’s now a more inclusive and more imaginative museum.”
The completed £15m project features brand-new areas including the Belonging Gallery, Lee Kai Hung Chinese Gallery and the UK's first permanent South Asia Gallery, created in collaboration with the British Museum, and co-curated by 31 people from Manchester’s South Asian communities. It explores artefacts from the region, bringing to life the lived experiences of its people.
Among the insightful exhibits that include South Asian fashion, music and paintings are pieces that tell lesser known stories including the time Mahatma Gandhi travelled to Lancashire back in 1931. The leader of India’s freedom struggle visited Darwen at the request of Quaker welfare coordinator, Corder Catchpool, as they wanted him to witness his boycott’s impact on former mill workers who had lost their jobs. Celebrated British artists The Singh Twins have also designed a mural for the gallery space, which takes the form of an emotional map of the South Asian diaspora experience.
The Golden Mummies of Egypt exhibition will be showcased in the museum's new, large-scale, Exhibition Hall, designed to be used for sustainable, temporary displays. Making its UK debut after touring the US and China, it includes eight mummies and 100 objects from the museum’s collections.
Speaking about the Golden Mummies of Egypt exhibition, Dr Campbell Price, curator of Manchester Museum’s largest Egyptian and Sudanese collection said: “The exhibition includes over 107 objects and eight mummified people who lived and died in the last three centuries BC. It’s not about what’s under the wrappings it’s about what they might have believed about their transformation after death.”
Other collections available to explore for free this weekend include archeological finds from the nineteenth and twentieth century. Amongst these are items that were located in the city centre during excavations of the Roman Fort at Castlefield in 1980. There will also be over one million specimens on display in the museum’s zoology space, which is one of the UK’s largest bodies of preserved birds, eggs, Bryozoa and animals from across the globe.
Many of the 18,000 items that were removed during the renovation - including T-Rex Stan and the intimidating giant crab - will also be returned to their rightful home.
A brand-new shop and cafe has also opened to the public as part of the renovation, which includes sustainable, vegetarian, and vegan dishes, as well as a range of incredible pies from local Manchester business H.M.Pasties - a unique business that offers a transitional employment programme for people with criminal convictions.
“We’ve also added a picnic area for families who want to bring food with them, because why shouldn’t they be able to enjoy food they’ve brought in the beautiful surroundings of the museum?" says Esme, "We’ve added a therapy space, as we attract and support so many young people, as well as prayer spaces, a quiet room, and some excellent, accessible toilets.”
Access to the venue has also been improved with the museum gaining a new ramped entrance from Oxford Road, which leads to its new welcome area.
The largest university museum in the UK, Manchester Museum first opened its doors to the public back in 1888. Designed by renowned architect Alfred Waterhouse, its home to over four million objects from natural science and human cultures, and has been at the forefront of the city’s research infrastructure ever since.
Manchester Museum reopens to the public this Saturday 18 February from 10am. Entry is free and you can plan your visit now via the link below.