Case Study: Everything to Everybody


‘Everything to Everybody’ is a collaboration between the University of Birmingham and Birmingham City Council which aims to restore the world’s first great people’s Shakespeare Library, Birmingham’s Shakespeare Memorial Library (BSML) to everyone in the city, reanimating Birmingham’s historic, multicultural Shakespeare collection.

The project unites the BSML located in the library of Birmingham, with the George Dawson Collection, a collection of documents related to George Dawson,  a nonconformist preacher, lecturer and activist, who established the BSML in 1864, as part of a pioneering public welfare and cultural participation initiative  ‘which helped make 19th-century Birmingham the world’s most progressive city at the time.

The project is divided into four interdependent strands: 

  1. Unlocking: Identifying new opportunities to make BSML and GDC more accessible.
  2. Sharing: Creating activities with Birmingham communities to encourage people from different backgrounds to enjoy the collections.
  3. Physical Focus: Using iconic artefacts from the collections to generate interest.
  4. Digital Access: Exploiting online resources to give people easy access to materials.  


Community and cultural partnerships have been embedded throughout the project enabling the city’s communities to contribute through family days, open days, workshops, community-curated exhibitions, digital exhibitions and neighbourhood productions. The project also gives volunteers the opportunity to acquire new skills as they help to digitise the collections and work with community groups and partners to organise events.

Partners were invited to information sessions held at the Library of Birmingham as part of the project’s development phase. Following these, the project team worked with partners to devise potential activities which were then submitted as part of the NLHF funding application. After funding for the delivery phase was secured a Community Engagement & Volunteer Officer was recruited to act as the main point of contact for community partners, helping to plan and support their activity and delivers collections-based workshops for partners alongside the project’s Collection Librarian.

While the pandemic impacted the project it did offer opportunities: we were able to increase the frequency of meetings between partners by hosting them online. which enabled deeper connections to be made between partners, and increase the number of collaborations between partners. 

Key partners included:

Jewellery Quarter Research Trust (JQRT): This partnership is key because of the links with George Dawson (who is buried in Key Hill Cemetery in the Jewellery Quarter). The JQRT have activities planned across the life of the project. They were also  quick to adapt planned in-person events to online events in 2020 through upskilling their volunteers in filmmaking.

Bertz Associates: are working to deliver a community research project to explore what ‘Everything to Everybody’ means in the 21st century. The overall aim of the research is to locate and amplify lost voices within the BME community in relation to Dawson’s and Shakespeare’s heritage, exploring how historical documents/objects are created and why; what they show us about the past and present; where in the Collection can any discourses on diversity be found; the meaning of ‘Civic Gospel’ in relation to diversity; how young people can create new documents for the world they live in that reflect engagement with research; and how Shakespeare, the Shakespeare Collection and Dawson’s message can be re‐imagined today.

Sense Arts: They work with people with complex disabilities and will produce an exhibition to accompany the Folio, created during a series of workshops facilitated by artists, and curated by people with complex disabilities. This will enable audiences to experience an inclusive tour of the First Folio through BSL interpretation, Deaf Blind Manual, Braille, Audio Descriptions, Raised Line Drawings, Interactive Installations, Picture Cards and Objects of Reference.  

Full list of project partners can be found below.

The GapSelly Manor Museum, DESIBlitz, Stan’s CaféUoB School, The Hive, Ex Cathedra, Bertz Associates, Daniel Tyler-McTighe: Multilingual Project, Jewellery Quarter Research Trust, Sense Arts, Michaela von Britzke & Fiveways Unitarian Church, HM Prison, Winson Green, Highbury, Black Country Living Museum, Birmingham Children’s Hospital, Small Heath Library, Handsworth Library, FOLIO Sutton Coldfield Library, Friction Arts, Parrabbola, Haymills Church Centre, Canal & River Trust, K’antu Ensemble, Birmingham Centre for Arts Therapies, Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, The REP, RSC, Aston Hall, Mrs History, Soul City Arts


The ‘Everything to Everybody’ project aims to: 

  1. Unlock the first, oldest and largest Shakespeare collection in any public library in the world 
  2. Revive and extend its founding principle that culture should be actively owned by everybody
  3. Inspire Birmingham people and communities to explore, interrogate and improve the collection now

Actively sharing the Collections is fundamental to the project and re-establishes the original ethos of public ownership and diverse participation. The project aims to inform, educate, and inspire the public through a programme of events.

Programme of events include:

  • Family and Community Events: incorporating dance, crafts, song, storytelling, music, drama, poetry; run by the project team and local organisations (e.g., Birmingham Centre for Art Therapies, Mrs History), supported by the project but encouraged to take ownership of Birmingham’s Shakespearean heritage and remake it themselves.
  • Open Days: featuring “pop-up” exhibitions in the LoB’s Wolfson Centre for Research, affording close-up engagement with, and learning about the heritage.
  • First Folio Tour: the only copy in the world bought for inclusive educational purposes to at least fifteen venues, including the Bullring, Birmingham Prison, GAP Arts.
  • Community Curated Exhibitions: enabling groups defined by interest, geography, identity, or culture to curate their own unique exhibitions in the LoB Shakespeare Memorial Room (SMR), making connections between the Collections and contemporary Birmingham (e.g., around non-conformity, Eastern Europe, globalisation, the Arts, and working-class communities).
  • Digital Exhibitions: on existing partner websites with links to resources enabling more engagement, and shared via international partnerships (e.g., Folger, “Citizen Shakespeare”).
  • Neighbourhood Productions: handing over creative control, in community co-devised responses to the Collections (e.g., Ex Cathedra’s singing programme for all Ladywood primary schools and Mohammed Ali’s street art project inspired by Birmingham’s Shakespeare heritage).
  • Major 2022 Exhibition: drawing widely on the project and from partners and celebrating the creation of a “cultural commonwealth” in Birmingham in the year of the Commonwealth Games.
  • Accompanying ‘Everything To Everybody’ Festival: delivered with the backing of the Birmingham Commonwealth Games Organising Committee at LoB and UOB and in-kind across partnership institutions.


Birmingham’s Shakespeare Memorial Library (BSML)

Opened in 1868 as the first great Shakespeare library in the world, Birmingham’s Shakespeare Memorial Library (BSML) contains more than 40,000 volumes, 17,000 production photographs, 2,000 music scores, hundreds of British and international production posters, 15,000 performance programmes and 10,000 playbills. The Collection is now housed in the iconic Library of Birmingham, one of the UK’s most exciting new public buildings, and located at the heart of the city, in Centenary Square.

One of the greatest treasures in Birmingham’s Shakespeare collection is a copy of the First Folio – the first printed collection of Shakespeare’s work and one of the most influential books ever published. The Collection also includes a Second, Third and Fourth Folio, as well as around 70 further rare and early editions. Materials come in 93 different languages, including an 1880s complete edition in Braille. There are some incredible Shakespeare-related artworks by Dali, Picasso and Kokoschka, as well as costume designs by Jean Cocteau. The Collection also includes scrapbooks, annotated scripts, promptbooks, television and radio adaptations, and newspaper cuttings, in addition to unique material relating to the greatest Shakespeareans from Ellen Terry to Lawrence Olivier.

The Everything to Everybody Project

‘Everything to Everybody’ began after Professor Ewan Fernie of the University of Birmingham and Tom Epps of Birmingham City Council collaborated on the Our Shakespeare exhibition at the Library of Birmingham in the Shakespeare anniversary year of 2016. This initiated an approach by the University and Council to the Heritage Lottery Fund which recognised that Birmingham held the first great Shakespeare library in the world, and that this was an important but neglected part of a comprehensive ‘Civic Gospel’ of pioneering public culture.

The project was awarded £675,000 by The National Lottery Heritage Fund to open access to the collections and deliver an exciting programme of engaging events for people and communities across the city. The project achieved a first-round pass and proceeded to a rigorous development phase, recruiting project partners, and shaping a detailed and costed project plan. 

The project’s delivery phase began in January 2020 and was due to conclude at the end of 2022, however, due to the pandemic, the project has been extended until the end of 2023 thanks to awarded further funding from NHLF (£116,200), allowing the delivery of the full programme as originally planned.

The project is being delivered via a range of collaborations with established and grassroots cultural organisations, including the University of Birmingham, Birmingham City Council, Royal Shakespeare Company, the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, the Birmingham Rep, Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery, Desiblitz, Sense Arts for people with complex disabilities, Bertz Associates, the Canal and River Trust, the Jewellery Quarter Research Trust and Polish Millennium House. Around 40 community partners are engaged in the project.

The COVID crisis and the challenges of the Black Lives Matter movement involved redesigning some elements of the programme. In particular, the plan to restore a statue of George Dawson to the city was abandoned in favour of the murals provided by Mohammed Ali and funding the citizen-research project developed by Bertz Associates.


The approach to the project can be demonstrated through the range of outputs delivered:

Mohammed Ali – Soul City Arts

Artist and Curator Mohammed Ali – Soul City Arts has created two new graffiti murals in the heart of Sparkbrook and Balsall Heath as part of the ‘Everything to Everybody’ Project. Created through a five-week project with pupils from Montgomery Primary Academy, Sparkbrook and Percy Shurmer Academy, Balsall Heath, with a permanent mural appearing at each school, the project has encouraged these young people to ‘Tell Your OWN Story,’ remaking Birmingham’s uniquely democratic Shakespeare heritage in the process and exploring video, poetry, manga and mural painting in a series of dynamic workshops. The new murals tell the stories of the vibrant and diverse communities of Sparkbrook and Balsall Heath featuring their unique narratives and local industrial history and allowing them to claim “a place in the story” (Antony & Cleopatra) of Birmingham’s pioneering Shakespeare heritage.

Jewellery Quarter Research Trust

The JQRT have produced a series of films titled ‘Victorian Do-Gooders’, exploring Birmingham Victorians buried in Key Hill cemetery including: John Henry Chamberlain, the architect of Birmingham School of Art, Ikon Gallery and the Shakespeare Memorial Library; Robert William Dale, a preacher at Carrs Lane Church and champion of free education; Charles Vince, a staunch supporter of secular education and member of the Birmingham Education Society; , Joseph Tangye, the machinery manufacturer who partnered with Isambard Kingdom Brunel to launch the SS Great Eastern; and street commissioner, Alderman and Lord Mayor of Birmingham, Robert Martineau. These individuals played pivotal roles in the Civic Gospel movement and the creation of the Shakespeare Memorial Library, now housed in the Library of Birmingham. All 12 films can be watched on the JQRT YouTube channel.

World’s Stage

Project partner, Daniel Tyler-McTighe, a freelance theatre-maker, educator and director of 27:31, collaborated with BAFTA-winning film-makers John Roddy (Audio Bassment), Ollie Walton (Fix8Films Ltd) and production manager Laura Killeen (General Manager, The Playhouse) to create seven ‘World’s Stage’ films, a multilingual celebration of Birmingham, Brummies and their Shakespeare, in five acts.

The films, co-funded by Creative Multilingualism, feature 140 people who live, work and study in Birmingham. Some are born-and-bred Brummies and some are delighted to be ‘honorary Brummies’. They are from all over the city and represent different ages, communities, backgrounds and, most importantly, languages. These films can be viewed on the E2E YouTube channel

Singing Playgrounds by Ex Cathedra

Project partner, Ex Cathedra, have launched a special Singing Playgrounds project: The Birmingham Programme is free to all Birmingham primary schools and designed to allow childrento create new songs and singing games in their own languages inspired by Library of Birmingham’s great Shakespeare collection. More information can be found on the Singing Playgrounds website.

Mrs History Educational Resources

Project partner, Mrs History, have created four fun – and free – resources for children and families to introduce children and young people to the BSML and it’s collection. The resources can be used at home, individually or as part of a family group.


The project is working with an external evaluation consultancy, JW Ltd, who work closely with the project team to collect consistent levels of qualitative and quantitative data from participants, visitors and contractors using a range of tools to ensure standardisation and increase efficiency.

Quantitative Feedback

UoB and BCC already collects a range of quantitative datasets relating to audiences, activity, events, skills and training. JW Ltd work with the project leads and data officers to use this information to set the project activity benchmarks and to develop efficient methods of extracting and analysing the data relevant to the NLHF activity.

During project delivery and as part of the summative report, JW Ltd seek to:
  • Capture impact generated by the project.
  • Record the outputs achieved by the activities – this includes elements like demographic data, number of participants, no of volunteers recruited, workshops, events and outputs delivered, and volunteer hours contributed as well as the material outputs of the collections development workstream.
  • Estimate the economic value of the work to the organisation and the local area using HM Treasury Green Book additionality methods, reporting on jobs and gross value added as a result of LEP investment.

Qualitative Assessment

The existing E2E Evaluation Framework was reviewed to enable JW Ltd to establish the project’s qualitative performance indicators, and to develop the tools to track successful delivery against the 14 NLHF outcomes:

Tools to track successful delivery include:
  • A final version of the overall project evaluation framework.
  • An evaluation toolkit containing a detailed question bank and agreed suite of survey tools suitable for diverse data subjects, to aid monitoring and summative data collection.
  • A RAG/traffic light summary tool so that we can track the progress of suitable and relevant data collection and highlight gaps.
The following qualitative performance assessment frameworks have been use to, develop the question bank, and structure both the formative and summative evaluation and benchmarking:
  • ACE’s Generic Learning Outcomes These will allow us to assess learning impact in the following areas – Skills; Knowledge & Understanding; Enjoyment, Inspiration & Creativity; Attitudes & Values; Activity, Behaviour & Progression.
  • NEF’s Five Ways to Wellbeing: These will allow us to develop an indicator framework to assess the project’s impact on individual participants’ wellbeing and self-realisation.

Lessons Learnt

As the project is still ongoing the evaluation is not complete, however, there have already been a number of notable impacts.

Notable impacts include:

  • The partnership-working trialled by ‘Everything to Everybody’ has fed into Professor Fernie’s appointment as ‘Culture Lead’ for the College of Arts and Law, charged with rebooting the University’s relationships with cultural organisations in the city. Initial meetings with a wide range of non-HEIs have taken place and a larger meeting is planned for January 2022.
  • The project’s development of a citizen-facing Shakespeare culture has been showcased in Birmingham, nationally and internationally.  Conversations have taken place with the British Library, the Folger Shakespeare Library, Washington DC, and the New South Wales Public Library, Sydney, about the democratic Shakespeare heritage the project has uncovered and how to revive and promote it now.  These conversations have specifically focussed on the need and challenges of opening up ‘establishment’ culture to diverse audiences.
  • The project’s First Folio tour has been discussed with the British Library, with whom we are evolving new notions of best-practice for sharing valuable cultural heritage with communities.
  • The University of Minnesota established its Citizen Shakespeare initiative partly in response to the project’s pioneering work in bringing Shakespeare to communities.  E2E has discussed with the project-lead, Professor Katherine Scheil, the challenges of combining Shakespeare scholarship and creative community responses to Shakespeare.
  • Professor Fernie has addressed Amnesty International in Birmingham, the German Shakespeare Society, the Shakespeare Association of America, the World Shakespeare Association and other bodies about Birmingham’s distinctively public Shakespeare culture, and the efforts of the ‘Everything to Everybody’ Project to revive Birmingham’s democratic Shakespeare culture has informed the Cultural Programme of the Commonwealth Games, including the Opening Ceremony.
  • The project’s negotiation with issues raised with the Black Lives Matter movement was discussed, by various members of the project team, at the ‘Shakespeare, Race and Pedagogy’ conference and the ‘Shakespeare Beyond Borders Alliance’ conference, which together attracted more than 1000 delegates.
  • The ‘everything to everybody’ ethos of people rather than object or text-oriented approaches to collections has been discussed in a number of conversations with Birmingham Museums Trust and Soul City Arts, who are developing a similar approach to collections in the city.


The University of Birmingham has committed to funding a permanent Collection Manager (five years in the first instance) to secure the legacy of the project after the delivery phase is completed. The Collection Manager will be responsible for maintaining increased engagement with the heritage, following the project’s activity with a diverse range of community groups, Birmingham residents and other partner organisations.

The project will result in an increased pool of volunteers. Beyond the end of the project, long term volunteers will continue to support the Library of Birmingham and Collection Librarian in managing the collections and heritage more effectively. Volunteers will continue to remain involved with activities such as ongoing digitisation and conservation of the collection, and audience engagement. The University of Birmingham is committed to a long-term plan to provide increased public engagement. With a new civic partnership and the establishment of The Exchange, in Birmingham city centre, the University will focus on developing sustainable local partnerships to collaborate on funding bids, research, impact, exhibitions, and knowledge sharing. The aim is to generate benefits for Birmingham and the wider West Midlands region. The project’s activity and lessons learned will feed into these plans. Furthermore, through Professor Fernie’s appointment as Culture Lead for the College of Arts and Law, the University hopes to embed the lessons learned from ‘Everything to Everybody’ into organisational strategy and progress.