To mark the centenary of the start of the First World War, Royal Pavilion & Museums, Brighton & Hove (RPM) wanted to build links in India, France, and Belgium to better tell the story of the Royal Pavilion as a military hospital, where wounded Indian soldiers from the Western Front were treated from 1914 to 1916.
Two initiatives were springboards for this work. First, the 2010 development within the Royal Pavilion of a gallery dedicated to the Indian Military Hospital. Second, the 2011-2014 Great War: Between the Lines project, which brought together 15 museums and heritage partners from the UK, northern France, and Flanders, to work on a centenary programme.
Before 2010, RPM had almost no contact with India. The gallery development led to building these links. A British Council grant for travel in India, through its Connections through Culture India scheme, coincided with the Great War project. A 2013 visit included the Centre for Armed Forces Historical Research (United Service Institution of India) and British High Commission in Delhi, Victoria Memorial Hall in Kolkata, and the Haryana Academy of History & Culture. These partnerships, and shared research, continue to develop, with RPM organising an international conference in 2015 on Indian soldiers in WW1 with organisations in the UK and India.
The Great War project was part of INTERREG, part-financed by the European Regional Development Fund, which aims to stimulate cooperation between regions in the European Union. It has enabled RPM to develop a wide-ranging programme, covering exhibitions, displays, events, schools learning, community engagement, digital initiatives and marketing, and to include new activity such as ‘Dr Brighton’s War’, a Brighton seafront display.
Key practical lessons learned include:
- Be open to different cultures of working: be flexible and patient
- INTERREG is very bureaucratic: budget for an experienced administrator
- Make the most of the non-work aspects: these cement lasting partnerships
- Learn from others: ask another museum with experience of working internationally to mentor you
Dr Sarah Posey, Head of Collections, Interpretation & Learning