Brighton & Hove’s iconic cultural attractions thrive as a Trust

8th July 2024

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Formerly council-managed Brighton & Hove Museums is flourishing as a registered charity.

Brighton and Hove Museums bring together significant cultural and historical landmarks. They are recognised as such not just in the South East but nationally, and internationally each with a rich history and diverse collection.

The operating name for the Royal Pavilion and Museums Trust, that manages and cares for one palace, four musuems and three gardens, is Brighton & Hove Museums.

What attractions are included?

Brighton Museum & Art Gallery, located in the Royal Pavilion Gardens. It began its life in the early 19th century. Originally part of the Royal Pavilion estate, it served as stables and a riding school for the Prince Regent (later King George IV).

Hove Museum & Art Gallery, is housed in a late 19th-century villa, known as Brooker Hall. The villa was built in 1877 and later purchased by Hove Corporation in 1926 to serve as a public museum.

The Royal Pavilion, also known as the Brighton Pavilion, was originally a modest farmhouse before it was transformed by the Prince Regent. The transformation into an extravagant palace began in 1787 and continued into the early 19th century.

Preston Manor is the former manor house of the ancient Sussex village of Preston, now part of the coastal city of Brighton and Hove. The present building dates mostly from 1738.

The Booth Museum was opened in 1874 by naturalist and collector Edward Thomas Booth. Booth was particularly interested in birds, and it was his ambition, though not fully realised, to collect examples of every bird species found in Britain.

Why the need for charity status?

Museums and culture are not a core purpose of local authorities and, because they are not a statutory service, were expected to incur a year-on-year reduction in spending – up to around £200,000.

The move to Trust status was 12 years in the making, with the business case for change presented many times. Price Waterhouse Cooper was among those to advocate for charity status on the grounds of future sustainability.

Similar museums had already made the switch in the 1990s and, had they not done so, would now be closed.

Originally due to switch status on 1st April in 2020, the pandemic caused the original business plan to radically pivot. At the time, it was a significant setback but trust status was finally achieved on 1st October of the same year.

The Trust is not directly government-funded and receives 10% funding  from both Brighton and Hove City Council (BHCC) and the Art Council England (ACE).

Around 80% of the income is self-generated and reliant on visitor ticket sales, venue hire, retail, grants and fundraising.

Hopes are currently high that the 2024/25 financial year will be the first at break-even.

Financial reasons for the change

The following points highlight the benefits of operating under the umbrella of a Trust:

• Can apply for funding which was not available to local authorities

• Not affected by local authority budgeting changes – provides more long-term stability.

• Can fundraise more easily directly with the public for specific projects and general fundraising.

• Opportunity to licence elements of estate such as collections, i.e. wallpaper on a commercial level which would not have been possible when linked to local authority.

• Separate trading arm that allows the Trust to increase income generation opportunities.

There are cultural benefits too. They include the ability to:

• Create a new clear, outstanding brand which is separate from city council and known worldwide.

• Freedom to innovate with exhibitions and events without reference to council restrictions.

• Establish a trustee board to bring in new expertise, overview and opinions from a wide range of industry and community experts.

• Greater cohesion as an organisation with a clear mission and values.

• Chance to be more controversial, thought-provoking and challenging.

Our Buildings and Collections

Rooted in the vibrant and progressive city of Brighton & Hove, the museums are loved by locals and admired by visitors from around the world.

The five unique venues are vital to Brighton & Hove’s visitor economy – directly contributing £29.7M (2012 Tourism South East report) – and the wellbeing of our local community.

The buildings and gardens are both a unique asset and a serious heritage responsibility.

The Royal Pavilion has grown from a seaside villa into an elaborate and fragile building with an extremely complex story to tell.

Preston Manor & Gardens, Hove Museum of Creativity, Brighton Museum & Art Gallery, and the Booth Museum of Natural History all have significant investment needs to both conserve and utilise them to provide the outreach and community support that the City deserves.

The Trust cares for over one million objects, many of international importance, covering a wide range of subjects and types.

Three of the collections are designated as being of national importance: decorative arts, world art and natural history.

• Royal Pavilion & Garden, the Grade I listed Royal Pavilion is the only palace which is owned by the local community rather than the crown. The unique Grade II Regency Garden surrounding the Royal Pavilion is one of the most popular green spaces in the city.

• Brighton Museum & Art Gallery will continue to focus on exhibiting important local history and archaeology, world art, and decorative and fine art collections.

• Hove Museum of Creativity, a family-friendly and accessible museum with eclectic displays including toys, crafts and important early cinematography.

• Preston Manor & Gardens, an historic manor house preserved in the Edwardian style with a beautiful walled garden.

• Booth Museum of Natural History, one of just six natural history museums in England with a designated collection of over 700,000 world-class specimens. Today, it is firmly focused on modern day concerns of conservation and protection of the planet.

Our Purpose

As guardians of Brighton and Hove’s heritage, Brighton & Hove Museums objectives and key activities include:

• Preserving and safe-guarding five buildings (including the world-famous Royal Pavilion), a historic garden and heritage objects.

• Presenting a diverse programme of exhibitions and displays to interpret the items in our collection to educate, inspire and often challenge our visitors.

• Ensuring our buildings, exhibitions and programmes are accessible to all. We do this through community consultation and engagement and by providing a programme of workshops, talks and outreach services to individuals, schools and the wider community.

Community Impact

Each space provides a platform where new voices can be heard, and new ideas can be shared.

The Trust actively works to remove barriers – both real and perceived – for those least engaged with culture.

It aims to reach people who otherwise have limited or no cultural experiences, and in some cases change their lives.

Brighton & Hove Museums works with a range of organisations to ensure it is talking to, listening to and bringing value to different communities: LGBTQI+ through a partnership with Queer Heritage South; those with disabilities via the Museum Mentors Group; the Black and Asian communities through the Heritage Network; young people (14-25 years) through the Museum Collective; local homeless groups through a new partnership with BHT Sussex; the outsider artists community through a partnership with Outside In.

The Trust supports and engages with learning and education at all ages and stages. It runs popular school tours themed around the school curriculum and are supporting the next generation of cultural sector workers through co-design and co-delivery of the University of Brighton’s MA programme in Curating Collections and Heritage.

It also provides a formal learning offer for schools in Brighton & Hove and surrounding areas resulting in 80% of the city’s schools visiting each year (around 18,000 pupils). Brighton & Hove Museums is is currently developing a secondary school and colleges learning programme.

Focus on charity messaging

The Trust is working hard to ensure people know Brighton & Hove Museums is now a charity and reliant on public support to help conserve and protect buildings and collections, so they are here for future generations.

It costs £8 million to operate the city’s museums and deliver an engaging and inspiring programme of exhibitions and community learning and development activities.

The Trust needs to generate 80% of its income through commercial and fundraising activities, including trusts and grants applications, membership and patrons’ schemes, corporate sponsorship, venue hire and retail.

The impact of your support

Your support will help preserve Brighton & Hove’s iconic buildings and collections for future generations.

It will enable Brighton & Hove Museums to curate world class exhibitions and inspiring talks and workshops driving visitors to the city and supporting the wellbeing of our local community.

That support will also deliver vital schools and community learning programmes, and offer accessible, safe spaces for people to connect as well as life-changing volunteering opportunities.

Importantly, with your help, bring the absolute best of art and culture to Brighton & Hove.

How businesses can support Brighton & Hove Museums

Want to get involved?

• Sign up to a corporate membership package and enjoy a host of business benefits that provide premium corporate hospitality, exclusive networking opportunities, support CSR and employee wellbeing and boost brand reach to the Trust’s thriving audiences.

• Sponsor a world-class exhibition or community event, such as Christmas at the Royal Pavilion

• Fund a community development programme supporting vulnerable community groups.

• Make a donation to help preserve our historic museums and gardens.

To find out more about how you can get involved with any of the above, please visit or email

Abigail Thomas, COO and Deputy Chief Executive, has been with the museums for 27 years, starting as Keeper of Hove Museum.

Coming from the Museum of Richmond in Surrey in 1997, she was tasked with developing a plan to gain lottery funding for Hove Museum. Success was achieved when £2 million was granted. The major cash injection saw a complete redevelopment over two years with a family friendly focus, highlighting the Museums’ Film, Craft , Toy and Local History collections.

Other roles include marketing, and working on the launch of the Jubilee Library.

Abigail says: “What I love about working for Brighton & Hove Museums, and why I have been here for 27 years, is no two days are the same. There are always new challenges. I enjoy working with such a loyal, knowledgeable and passionate team of which more than sixty percent have been working for the museums for over ten years.

“I have such pride in being an integral part of the arts, heritage and culture of the city.”

Kate Rooks, Head of Fundraising, joined Brighton & Hove Museums last September with a key focus on developing corporate partnerships for the charity. Speaking of her roles before joining the museums, she said: “I worked as Head of Corporate Partnerships and Joint Head of Fundraising for national charities Royal Voluntary Service and Shelter.

“Before this, I enjoyed a career in fashion and lifestyle PR and marketing. This is my first job working for a local cause in Brighton & Hove and the role is a dream come true, combining my charity experience and passion for community development, art and culture.

“I think we offer a wide range of exciting, mutually beneficial partnership opportunities and I’m looking forward to working closely with our vibrant local business community.”

Case study

Photography Club

Brighton & Hove Museums has partnered for the past few years with national charity Photoworks on ‘Photography Club’ – an inclusive project, which allows young people aged 13-16 to develop camera skills, and build confidence through fun and supportive workshops, with a professional artist.

Young people are recruited through our network of local support services. Many of the participants face some barriers to engagement and may present with challenging behaviours or high support needs. The young people complete a Bronze Arts Award accreditation as part of this project.

This summer Rembrandt’s Self Portrait at the age of 34, went on display at Brighton Museum as part of the National Gallery’s bicentenary National Treasures tour. Displayed alongside this exquisite portrait is Hey Rembrandt! an exhibition of the work created by this group as part of this year’s Photography Club. 14 photographic self-portraits were created by local young people aged 13-16 reflecting the themes of Rembrandt’s famous self-portrait.

“This was a great opportunity for my child, who has a learning disability and has had a difficult childhood, to take part in an inclusive learning environment where he could learn a new skill as well as develop his independence and communication skills in a new setting. He was able to feel included as photography and art is a visual medium and he struggles to read and write.” Quote from the parent/carer of a Photography Club participant.

Case study

Schools visits at Brighton & Hove Museums

Stepping outside the classroom into informal settings, like our five museum sites, has been shown to be beneficial to the learning outcomes of children and young people.  Structured activities offer a way to improve children’s thinking skills and performance at school, with knock-on effects of better life chances as adults.

Brighton & Hove Museums plays a vital, active role in the local community by offering high quality informal learning opportunities which will help support the city-wide aim of ensuring young people achieve their academic potential and leave school with a positive relationship with education. 

As schools and parents face tough financial situations, and as the cost of coach travel increases, we know that many schools can no longer afford to bring classes out for a school trip. Through providing free visits for schools and low cost curriculum based learning sessions, we are really pleased to welcome 18,500 children a year across all our sites, and for many of them this school trip will be the only time they visit a museum.

“I’ve been bringing my classes to Preston Manor for the last 6 years because I know it will always be brilliant. Your museums offer amazing objects and experiences we can’t provide in the classroom” Primary school teacher at our recent focus group.