The Migration Museum finds a home

Windrush generation elders celebrate their participation in Caribbean Takeaway Takeover at the Migration Museum, Lambeth © EVEWRIGHT

With exhibitions, events, and workshops platforming diverse stories and voices, the Migration Museum is about exploring how migration across the ages has made us who we are today. Since launching in 2013, the museum has also been on a journey of its own, seeking temporary shelter in venues all across the country. Now it’s finally time to put down roots.

London is one of the most diverse cities globally. Approximately 40% of Londoners are foreign-born and in the capital’s streets, more than 300 different languages fill the air. In November 2022, the Mayor published a six-part Equality, Diversity, and Inclusion Strategy asserting the value of diversity and the city’s continued commitment to welcoming people of all faiths, nationalities, and backgrounds. Our differences are, in the Mayor’s own words, “one of our most valuable assets”.

The same can of course be said of Britain, a country which has been shaped by the incomings and outgoings of people through centuries. Yet migration remains a contentious topic in the public discourse, often prompting undue scepticism and stirring heated discussions. How should we understand our history and identity as a nation, city, or neighbourhood of diverse voices? That is one of the central questions that the Migration Museum invites you to explore.

The Migration Museum was founded in 2013 as a series of pop-up exhibitions, events, and workshops staged across the country. In 2017, the organisation found its first semi-permanent home in the former headquarters of the London Fire Brigade in Lambeth, London, and in 2020, it took up residence in Lewisham Shopping Centre, with a lease to stay for five to six years. Speaking to Matthew Plowright, Director of Communications and Engagement, the benefits of a fixed venue have been palpable. In Lambeth, the Museum was able to build up a passionate core audience, while in Lewisham they have benefitted from large volumes of incidental footfall.

“It has been fantastic to be in a space that is so visible and accessible. A lot of the barriers to entry that people might feel about museums and cultural spaces are broken down by the fact that we’re in a shopping centre.”

Matthew Plowright, Migration Museum

In both venues, the Migration Museum has benefitted from favourable lease terms offered by collaborative building owners with space to spare. In 2016, the London Fire Brigade, in collaboration with developers U+I, set out to regenerate a building in Lambeth formerly known as 8 Albert Embankment, inviting the Migration Museum to take up residence as part of their meanwhile use strategy. Lewisham Shopping Centre is owned and managed by Landsec, a major commercial property company. Here, the museum was able to move into a unit that had previously been occupied by international clothing brand H&M. While they do pay for services and bills, there’s no rent. Entrance to the museum is always free, and around 7,000 people visit monthly.

“We have a great variety of people come through our doors every day. Some have travelled from afar to see us, while others pop in on their way to Sainsbury’s. It’s great to be able to engage both those people who consider migration an essential part of their lives, and those who are discovering its relevance for the first time.”

 Matthew Plowright, Migration Museum

People are at the heart of everything the Migration Museum does. Whether it is about connecting with visitors or bringing stories of migration to life, the organisation strives to keep things personal. After all, what could be more personal than the journey to finding a home?

One organisation that recognises the value of the Migration Museum’s work is Dominus Real Estate. Sukhpal Ahluwalia, their founder and non-executive Chairman, was born in Uganda and became a refugee under military leader Idi Amin’s brutal regime. Spending time as a child in a British refugee camp, he would grow up to build an incredibly successful business which he sold in 2011, spurring the launch of Dominus Real Estate.

Today, Sukhpal’s sons lead  Dominus Real Estate, a family-owned property developer with a pipeline of three million sq. ft. with a gross development value of over 2.4 billion pounds. Sukhpal’s inspiring story is one of many that have been profiled by the museum in recent years. Now, their destinies are about to become even further intertwined.

In February this year, it was announced that the Migration Museum will be given a permanent home in one of Dominus’ new buildings: a 769-bed student accommodation development near the Tower of London. The museum will take three floors, covering 30,000 sq. ft. As well as agreeing to host the museum rent-free and service-charge-free for a term of 60 years, Dominus has guaranteed to cover the museum’s operating costs for the first three years and has donated a further £500,000 to pay for a team of museum staff to lead a wider fundraising drive. 

According to Jay Ahluwalia, a principal director of Dominus, the entrepreneurial family has always had a philanthropic outlook. Since starting a property company, they have been learning new ways to deliver social impact, namely through the design and management of buildings and space. The company’s vision is “to invest in a better society where everyone’s welcome” and that is exactly what the collaboration with the Migration Museum is about.

“Migration is often painted in a negative light, but there are also so many positive, amazing stories to celebrate. By supporting the Migration Museum, we can help bring out the good and bring communities together.”

Jay Ahluwalia, Principal Director, Dominus

However, the collaboration is not just about charity. Through temporary projects like Gaia’s Garden, a community-built public garden delivered in partnership with the creative organisation Play Nice, the Dominus team have come to value community engagement and inclusion as ‘good business sense’ – especially for long-term asset owners. Additionally, they see opportunities for contributing to wider local priorities aimed at attracting residents, workers, and visitors.

“By locating the Migration Museum in our new Square Mile Student development, we can help The City of London achieve its Destination City vision.”

Jay Ahluwalia, Principal Director, Dominus

Over the next couple of years, the Migration Museum will be working with Dominus and different community groups to define a vision and strategy for how to make the most of the new space and its prominent location. Until then, the museum can be found in Lewisham Shopping Centre, where a new immersive exhibition invites you to explore migrant entrepreneurs and the making of modern Britain.


  • Matthew Plowright, Migration Museum
  • Jay Ahluwalia, Dominus

Written by Camilla Siggaard Andersen


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