Area of investment and support

Area of investment and support: Towards a national collection – opening UK heritage to the world

Towards a National Collection (TaNC) is a major investment using digital technology to create a unified national collection of the UK’s museums, libraries, galleries and archives to maintain global leadership in digital humanities and arts research.

£18.9 million
2020 to 2025
Partners involved:
Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC), British Library, Tate, Science Museum Group, The National Gallery, V&A East, Royal Botanic Gardens Kew, St Andrews University Libraries and Museums, Art UK, British Museum, Royal Albert Memorial Museum Exeter, National Museum Wales Amgueddfa Genedlaethol Cymru, Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya Mumbai, University of Leicester, National Museums Liverpool, National Library of Scotland, Department of Culture Media and Sport, National Museums Northern Ireland, Natural History Museum Berlin, Information Guild Consulting Group

The scope and what we're doing

Towards a National Collection (TaNC) will take the first steps towards creating a unified virtual national collection by dissolving barriers between different collections, opening UK heritage to the world.

By seizing the opportunity presented by new digital technology, it will allow researchers to:

  • formulate radically new research questions
  • increase visitor numbers
  • dramatically expand and diversify virtual access to our heritage, and
  • bring clear economic, social and health benefits to communities across the UK.

The innovation driven by the programme will maintain the UK’s world leadership in digital humanities and set global standards in the field.

Why we're doing it

The programme’s main objectives are to:

  • begin to dissolve barriers between different collections
  • open up collections to new cross-disciplinary and cross-collection lines of research
  • extend researcher and public access beyond the physical boundaries of their location
  • benefit a diverse range of audiences
  • be active and of benefit across the UK
  • provide clear evidence and exemplars that support enhanced funding going forward.

Opportunities, support and resources available

The website Towards A National Collection (TaNC) gives further information about the programme and the research it has funded so far.

Past projects, outcomes and impact

Foundation projects

Eight small-scale foundation projects have been commissioned, by expert peer review, to support collaborative research between the Arts and Humanities Research Council’s (AHRC) independent research organisations and higher education institutions. They began on 1 February 2020 and are scheduled to complete in 2021 to 2022.

These projects aim to lay the foundations for a virtual national collection by identifying and addressing the current or future challenges facing the formation of such a collection.

Read the foundation projects interim reports.

Urgency call projects

Towards a National Collection has also funded three projects under an urgency call. These projects were selected to provide a critical and time-sensitive evaluation of the digital practice undertaken by museums during the COVID-19 pandemic. Building on data collected during the first lockdown, the urgency projects will help to provide much-needed guidance on how cultural institutions can better prepare for digital access.

Find out more about the three COVID-19 urgency projects.

Discovery projects

Following an open funding opportunity for applications, we are currently in the process of commissioning five Discovery Projects. Each of these projects will involve a core collaboration between one or more UK higher education institutions and one or more of AHRC’s independent research organisations, as well as further collaboration with local and regional cultural, third sector or community organisations.

As well as addressing some of the specific physical, digital and organisational solutions needed to bring together disparate collections across the UK, the aim is that discovery projects will together add up to more than the sum of their parts, working in a complementary way to demonstrate the value of unifying collections across types and geographies, and creating public-facing outputs that can be displayed to, and tested with, diverse and large-scale audiences across the country.

The call for Discovery Projects is now closed. Find details of the outcomes.

Who to contact

Ask a question about the Towards a National Collection programme.



Karen Buchanan, Strategy and Development Manager

Telephone: 01793 416032

David Selway, Portfolio Manager

Telephone: 01793 416122

Governance, management and panels

Programme Director Rebecca Bailey

Rebecca Bailey was appointed as the Programme Director to lead the Towards a National Collection research programme. She joined from Historic Environment Scotland, where she was Head of Exhibitions and Outreach, and will lead the Strategic Priorities Fund programme over the next five years, drawing together the projects funded and developing future recommendations.

Steering committee

We have appointed a steering committee with expertise, experience and knowledge from within the sector.

Last updated: 22 March 2024

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