The National Centre for Children's Books: Seven Stories

The National Centre for Children's Books: Seven Stories

Gallery wall full of paintings of owls at Seven Stories museum
Gallery wall at Seven Stories, inspired by David Almond's work

Heritage Grants

Newcastle upon Tyne, North East
Newcastle upon Tyne
Seven Stories, the Centre for Children's Books
A grant from Collecting Cultures helped the National Centre for Children's Books to improve its resilience and literary reputation, and to make long-term strategic changes in collections planning.

The project

The Seven Stories Collecting Cultures project, led by the National Centre for Children's Books, aimed to build on and address weaknesses in the following collections:

  • poetry
  • illustrations and picture books
  • young fiction

In addition, the project’s purpose was to increase the diversity of these collections.

The organisation 

Seven Stories was founded in 1996 by the the National Centre for Children’s Books. Their mission is to save, celebrate and share Britain’s rich literary heritage for children, ensuring its essential place in childhood and our national cultural life. 

The Seven Stories museum and visitor centre, located in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, opened in 2005 and became an Accredited Museum in 2008. The collection now comprises over 150 individual collections, including an estimated 37,000 books and representing the work of over 230 different authors, illustrators, editors and publishers.

The funding 

Seven Stories regards itself as a ‘young’ museum that is still actively collecting. Before the funding, the organisation was finding it hard to add to their collections.

The grant, through The National Lottery Heritage Fund’s Collecting Cultures programme, enabled Seven Stories to strategically assess where they were in terms of their collections, and helped strengthen them by filling in the gaps.

The results 

Picture of people viewing artwork by David Almond
Visitors viewing artwork by David Almond

Collecting Cultures helped Seven Stories:

  • reassess their collecting policy
  • build new relationships in the literature world
  • develop all three areas of the targeted collections in poetry, illustration and young fiction.  

Within the young fiction category, key examples included the work of Sir Michael Morpurgo, former Children’s Laureate. This was a gift and Collecting Cultures did not directly fund the acquisition. However, the grant gave Seven Stories the chance to act on this opportunity quickly.

Collecting Cultures also helped contribute to the acquisition of the David Almond archive. The author is of strong significance in the north east of England. Seven Stories were very keen to acquire his work, especially his award-winning novel Skellig

Both of these acquisitions created two major exhibitions, which engaged a large range of audiences, along with tours, talks, artist-led masterclasses and workshops.

A range of volunteer and student placements also played a part in the project. The bulk of the volunteer contribution for Collecting Cultures came from student placements.

Meeting our outcomes 

Seven Stories met our outcomes in terms of skills development, which subsequently created resilience within the organisation. Staff developed links with experts and specialist book dealers, helping to boost their confidence, increase their willingness and ability to negotiate, and make them more likely to stand their ground in negotiations.

Efforts were also made to improve inclusivity, by increasing the representation of work by diverse ethnic writers and illustrators. This was reflected in the purchases of work by John Agard, Valerie Bloom and David Axtell.

The future 

There has been a step change in collections at Seven Stories due to the funding, especially in the volume of acquisitions. The experience of the project will have an influence on the museum’s development strategy moving forward.

Clear legacies of the project include the enhancement of the reputation of Seven Stories, due to high-profile collections, such as the Michael Morpurgo archive. Michael Morpurgo is now also a patron of the museum. This has resulted in increased potential for other individuals to donate their collection in the future.

Patron Michael Morpurgo
Patron Michael Morpurgo

Collecting Cultures also helped build the case for a new gallery – a space that will exhibit all of the new acquisitions from the project.

Top tips 

There were a few outstanding learnings from the Seven Stories museum:

  • relationship development is key when it comes to understanding what is available to acquire
  • increase in staff capacity helped to open doors to acquisitions
  • there were some potential acquisitions that Seven Stories did not pursue because they did not think the items/collection was worth the money relative to what was available – seek to ensure value for money with any acquisitions.