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Photography by Mia Foster and Katie O'Neill


That same year, Esme set up the Whitworth’s education service and over the next decade, developed audiences, exhibitions and teaching at all levels. Since 2005, she has taught an MA module on Creative Learning and Museology at the University of Manchester. 


Her career has been driven by learning and social purpose with a longstanding commitment to make museums more inclusive and relevant to a wider audience. Esme began working for the Lottery Heritage Fund and had the opportunity to ‘travel, read and think’ as she visited more than 100 museums. She came back with the ambition of becoming a museum director and was astounded when in 2018 the opportunity at Manchester Museum came up right under her nose, after her predecessor decided to move to London.


Manchester Museum is one of the UK's largest and leading university museums. Esme is leading its transformation to become the UK’s most inclusive, imaginative and caring museum.

Esme Ward is the Director of Manchester Museum, the first woman to hold the role in its 128 year history. Prior to this Esme was Head of Learning Engagement at Manchester Museum and the Whitworth, working alongside Maria Balshaw - the now Director of the Tate - on the £15 million transformation of the Whitworth.


Esme was born in Somerset in 1971. Her mum was from Eccles, so her family were regular visitors to Salford. She has a degree is in History, with an MA in French Revolutionary Culture and Theory, from the University of London. Esme began her career at Dulwich Picture Gallery and the V&A before moving north in 1998. “I relocated for love. No job to go too, barely knew a soul… but had fallen this fella from Rochdale who had moved back up north and I just couldn’t do the long-distance thing any more. It felt like coming home, and I have never looked back - thankfully, it worked out…we’re still together”.

Manchester Museum’s hello future transformation is so exciting - a once in a lifetime opportunity to expand the museum and bring more joy, inspiration and care to our communities, to become more widely and deeply loved and the museum Manchester needs.

Esme is the Strategic Lead (Culture) for Age Friendly Manchester and the Greater Manchester Ageing Hub, working with and for older people to make the city-region a better place to age well. She regularly writes and speaks about age-friendly culture and the social purpose and future of museums.

Esme was responsible for leading the recent £15 million transformation of Manchester Museum into a bigger, more extraordinary and inspirational place to visit... across all communities.


It would appear that Manchester Museum is in very safe hands.

Manchester Museum, established in 1867

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THE SHOOT: Manchester Museum

In and around the museum's Living Worlds and Fossil Hall

Student reflection: Mia Foster


The shoot certainly took place in grand surroundings. Manchester Museum is an incredible building and the spaces we worked in are ones familiar to many Mancunians.

Esme was very warm and welcoming. Her enthusiasm for the the museum’s ongoing redevelopment and future vision was infectious. We began the photography in the museum’s famous Living Worlds Hall. This proved to be a tricky lighting scenario, fortunately we brought along our trusty LED light wand which allowed us to capture most of the detail in the scenes.

We then moved on to photograph Esme in the Fossil Hall where we were joined by Stan the T-Rex. The conundrum here was how to feature Esme while also including Stan in the shots… unconventional view point and composition was required, which invariably meant sitting or lying on the floor.


Throughout the shoot Esme was very cooperative and supportive and made the experience a pleasurable one.

The shoot was a real technical challenge but a great opportunity to problem solve in unfamiliar surroundings.

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Katie, Stan, Esme & Mia

The shoot

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