First World War Centenary Commemoration: how to get involved

AND's Museums, Libraries & Heritage Advisor John McMahon offers some pointers about how the sector can participate in, and benefit from, opportunities stemming from the Government’s plans for First World War Centenary Commemoration.

11 November 2013

It was Remembrance Sunday yesterday, and it’s Armistice Day today – the ninety-fifth since the ceasefire on the Western Front, on the 11 November 1918, which in British minds ended the First World War.

Now in my early(ish)30s, I’m still just about old enough to have grown up with the stirring annual spectacle of lines of ageing veterans of The Great War stood solemn and vigilant at my local memorial service. However, the new century has continued to expand the distance between us and then; in 2011 Claude Choules, Britain’s (and the world’s) last known combat veteran, died, and last year Florence Green, the final service veteran, also passed away.

The government, keen to foster continued remembrance and understanding of the conflict even as it passes beyond living memory, has planned a four-year programme of First World War Centenary Commemorations which will commence in earnest next year (with August 2014 marking the hundredth anniversary of Britain’s entry to the war), and ending on Armistice day 2018.

This programme will be worth more than £50m over the period, with a substantial chunk of this coming in the form of biddable funds from some of the main National Lottery distributors (Heritage Lottery Fund and Arts Council England), whilst a strong and diverse wider programme of support from other strategic partners including The Imperial War Museum and The National Archives also exists.

It’s clear that there’s a major role for heritage, arts and education partners to play in the Centenary Commemorations; but how can they begin to go about it?

Centenary information events, June & September 2013

In June, A New Direction, alongside DCMS, HLF, ACE, English Heritage, The Museum of London and The National Archives, supported The Imperial War Museum to host an information event at The Churchill War Rooms; this was so popular and successful that we repeated the format in September at The Museum of London Docklands.

Over 200 organisations attended across the two sessions; there’s clearly immense interest in how to participate, so I’ve tried to summarise some of the key opportunities in the rest of this blog. The full set of slides from the most recent event can be found here, but you’ll need to register for the Centenary partnership to view them – please see below.

Local partnerships for education delivery

However, just before outlining some of these new national funding opportunities, I’d like to make a broader point; whilst these financial and wider resources are substantial and very welcome in the current climate, they are still finite and could perhaps be utilised to the strongest and most lasting effect through well-considered strategic partnerships for delivery at a local and national level.

It seems clear that there is potentially a really strong role for local government in this respect – in a way through reprising the partnership cultivation and coordination role that took place in the run-up to the 2012 Cultural Olympiad. This approach could help to maximise the available resources, and make the best use of local capacity and expertise.

The Centenary Partnership portal (again, see below) is very valuable for this purpose, but If you work in London local government(or for an arts, education or heritage partner) and are interested to discuss how to strategically foster local-level partnerships for the delivery of cultural education activity linked to the Centenary, please feel free to contact me directly by email, or by phone at 020 7608 8988.

For the two information events, A New Direction also produced a Crib Sheet for organisations interested in delivering Centenary Commemoration projects for children and young people – this can be downloaded here:

Download First World War Centenary Commemoration - Educatio

First World War Centenary Partnership

The Imperial War Museum (IWM) have developed an online information and resources partnership extranet for organisations interested in the Centenary available through, that is also designed to help people find potential project partners locally and nationally. Arts Council England has also funded a Museum Liaison Officer post at the IWM to promote and support engagement with the centenary.

The very, very best first step that you can take is to sign up as a Centenary Partnership member. It’s free to join, and is open to any and all non-commercial organisations with an interest. This will not only stand you amongst over 1,800 other organisations who have already signed up nationally, all of whom can be viewed by region;

Information from the Partnership Programme is used to fuel the publicly accessible site which contains a full suite of project information, case-studies and resources that the IWM and supporting partners are currently collating.

In addition, there is Lives of the First World War, an interactive digital platform, to be fully launched in 2014, which will bring material from museums, libraries, archives and family collections from across the world together in one place.

Finally, the IWM and Culture 24 have joined forces for events listings – so if you already use Culture 24 for this purpose, or are a new Centenary Partnership member that would like to do so, there’s the benefit of a single, tried, trusted and familiar interface.

Heritage Lottery Fund

The Heritage Lottery Fund have devised a whole new funding programme for grants of £3,000-£10,000, First World War Then & Now. This scheme will allocate up to £1m per year over the course of the Centenary.

The main stipulations are that proposals must be project-based (ie rather than to continue existing activity), and must have a ‘heritage focus’ in terms of using historic resources, fostering understanding of the period, etc.

However, HLF are really keen to showcase the full range of potential activities, and as well as more traditional heritage conservation, access and interpretation-type projects, are very welcoming of bids that feature the arts, music, literature and beyond.

Organisations can also deliver more than one project over the course of the Centenary programme, so it’s possible to ‘start small’ and build up to larger initiatives.

In addition, HLF welcome FWW-related bids to their full wider range of funding streams, including their flagship youth programme Young Roots which supports bids of £10,000-£50,000 (for partnership activity between heritage and youth organisations); Our Heritage, for bids of £10,000-£100,000; and Heritage Grants, for bids of over £100,000. Visit the HLF website for further details.

Although it’s not an essential component, HLF are clear on the fact that they see learning and children & young people’s work as strong prioritiesthrough FWW Centenary Commemoration, and anticipate that many of the proposals received, and projects funded, will be in this arena.

Arts Council England

The Arts Council are also playing a major role in supporting the Centenary Commemorations. They’ve provided the funding for The First World War Centenary team at the IWM, including for, and are also providing support through some of their general regional strategic programmes, including Bridge organisations (in London, primarily delivered by A New Direction) and regional Museum Development (in our case, The Museum of London).

Additionally, ACE very much encourage First World War-related bids to their own open, rolling funding programme, Grants for the Arts. They are especially keen to see bids that are cross artform, or collaborations across the wider sector, including with museums and libraries.

By way of an early example, ACE have already highlighted visual artist Julia Midgely’s War, Art & Surgery project, which responds to the work of the wartime surgeon & artist Henry Tonks.

Department for Culture, Media and Sport

DCMS have also devised a large-scale programme focussing on remembrance, youth and education.

This will include:

For more information on the DCMS programme, visit their 'How to get involved' page.

The National Archives

The National Archives hold the official UK government records of the First World War, including a vast collection of letters, diaries, maps and photographs, and they will be marking the Centenary of the War with an extensive programme to run from 2014 to 2019.

This will include a rolling series of digitised record releases, online and on-site events and education resources being added to their First World War portal, through which they aim to open up their unique collection of First World War records in innovative, engaging and collaborative ways.

In addition, the wider TNA sector development offer, around maintaining collections, building skills and expertise and forming partnerships within the Archives sector and beyond, is highly relevant to FWW Centenary.

If you are an archive in London looking for further information, you can contact Tina Morton, Engagement Manager (London).