As the Insurance Museum Initiative, at long last, is about to launch its first digital gallery in its digital museum, I’ve given much thought to this particular Chairman’s Message. It seems such a long time ago that the Chartered Insurance Institute announced the sale of its Aldermanbury HQ and asked me to chair “a small group of expert members” to advise the CII what to do with its collection of heritage items for which there would be no room in its new offices.
Inspired by the wonderful Bank of England Museum, I said immediately “open an insurance museum!” I formed a small committee of members representing the Insurance Institute of London, the Insurance institute of York and the CII itself. We were soon joined by Jonathan Squirrell of OB Brand Consulting who, despite not being an insurance professional, added considerable impetus and vision to the idea.
We decided we needed to be sure of market support for the idea, so Jonathan and I did the rounds of all the insurance trade associations, Lloyd’s, the City Corporation, and the insurance Aldermen to share our vision. Every one of them gave support to the idea and allowed us to use their logos.
With a grant from the Education and Training Trust of the CII, a significant legacy, and contributions from several industry donors we were able to conduct a proper market research and published a Feasibility Study in 2019.
We registered as a charity in February 2020 and were about to take a lease on premises in Leadenhall Market as a ‘pop up’ museum when along came Covid 19! Everything ground to a halt, fundraising was put to one side, and we decided to focus on our own housekeeping until the situation improved. We further defined our plans, including how to engage with the public.
We appointed four more Trustees and asked ourselves the question “how do we engage with the public, schools and members of the insurance profession if we have no physical premises? What should the Insurance Museum do if public places are going to be closed or limited by numbers over the next few years?”
The idea of an online museum and exhibition was conceived during one of our lockdown working group conversations. A lot of hard work was initially undertaken, notably by Dr Adrian Leonard of Gresham College, University of Cambridge, to create a “virtual museum” rather than a physical one.
We collaborated with historians and experts in fire insurance history using objects from the collections of the CII, AVIVA, as well as private collections. We photographed objects in high resolution with the intention of using them in our online exhibitions. The items included a whole host of items such as early firefighting gadgets, fire marks and archival documents.
To achieve our objectives, we engaged a Museum Director, Howard Benge, who has given us a very professional way of working and has worked so hard to keep our supporters up to date with our activities by way of regular Newsletters.
In addition to having access to various collections we are also being offered interesting insurance books. This has led us to think that our ambition should be to create a World Class Insurance Visitor and Research Centre, supported by a Museum and a Library in London EC3. We hope the Centre will help to attract more talent to the insurance profession which we know to be a big problem for all employers.
It seems an appropriate time for me to say a few words of thanks to those who have helped us reach this milestone. To all the volunteers for their time, all the contributors and owners of collections, and to all the sponsors and supporters of our initiative for helping us get this far. Special thanks to the Education and Training Trust of the CII for funding this first digital gallery and those immediately following and, of course, the mystery donor of the legacy.
The launch of the online gallery is, for me at least, a watershed moment. It will be the first public view of our work and an opportunity for all to judge whether we are worthy of continued support. We will need further funding for future online galleries featuring other classes of business – Marine, Motor, Life and Pensions, Aviation and Space, Cyber etc. All offering sponsorship opportunities at a fraction of the cost insurers currently spend on advertising.
Our immediate request remains £3,000,000, a sum based on the annual cost to the Bank of England of its fabulous museum. We will use that funding to open a “Pop-Up” museum for a few years while we look for a permanent venue. We are looking, once again, at opening such a “Pop-Up” in or around Leadenhall Market or elsewhere in EC3. If that sounds like a lot of money, let me repeat that it is barely 0.000011% of the UK insurance industry’s gross premium income.
If, and when, we find a permanent venue we will be able to draw up a proper forecast and budget for the annual cost of such a centre for all to consider. That’s when the moment of truth will be upon us!
Reg Brown, September 2022