The SHARE Conference: A Trainee Perspective

Todays guest blog comes from Anne Brown, a Teaching Museums trainee with Norfolk Museums Service. Anne shares her thoughts on the SHARE Conference in November and reflects on the things she’s learned along the way.

On the 21st November 2016 I had the great pleasure of attending my first SHARE Conference, in the awe-inspiring Jockey Club Rooms in Newmarket.

Although only my first conference, this was in fact the 6th Annual Conference for SHARE Museums East and it was immediately clear to me what an important event it has become in the eastern area museums calendar. With well over 100 attendees from a diverse range of settings, representation came from the smaller independent museums, such as the Mildenhall and District Museum and The Norfolk Tank Museum (both run entirely by volunteers), through to the larger establishments like IWM, The Fitzwilliam and my very own, Norfolk Museums Service.

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The day was a well thought out combination of speakers, workshops and the oh-so- important time to network with colleagues you rarely get the opportunity to see, let alone have enough time to talk to.

For the Norfolk Museum Trainees it was a great opportunity to be introduced to so many people from across the region, hear about fabulous projects and join in the various breakout sessions in the afternoon.

The theme of the conference this year was ‘Better Placed? Museums at the heart of successful communities’. After a welcome and introduction Chris Garibaldi and Jamie Everitt, the thought provoking morning Keynote speech ‘Culture making places- challenges and opportunities’ was given by Paul Bristow, Director of Strategic Partnerships, Arts Council England. This was followed by a series of presentations providing working examples of projects based within the heart of the communities they serve. There were plenty of opportunities for questions and comments from the floor, which provided the opportunity for more in-depth discussion of the projects described, both in the room and later over tea and coffee and a very impressive lunch. Chris Garibaldi then provided an introduction to Palace House and delegates at the conference had the opportunity to take a look around the museum. Despite the weather, many delegates took up the opportunity and the chance to say hello to the horses – who were really very welcoming!

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After a long lunch break allowing plenty of time for eating, networking, visiting the museum and the ‘market-place’ (where various organisations and groups- including the Trainees- had set up shop), the afternoon Keynote speech was delivered by Robyn Llewellyn, Head of Heritage Lottery Fund for the East of England. Robyn not only provided an interesting and useful insight into how much the HLF values community engagement, but also reflected on the morning’s presentations. The remainder of the afternoon was spent with delegates taking part in a variety of break-out sessions, providing more opportunities for the exchange of information and ideas. This was another great opportunity for myself and the other Museum Trainees to get involved in discussions and workshops with professionals from across the heritage industry in the East. The day was rounded up with thanks and reflections from Steve Miller, Head of Norfolk Museums Service.

My reflections on the day would have to be what a valuable experience it was for me and my fellow trainees. The opportunity to hear about such a range of inspirational projects from passionately committed staff, both paid and voluntary. To meet and have the time to discuss a range of issues, ideas and to hear about the plans, hopes and aspirations of colleagues from across the Eastern region.

A day very well spent. If you have the opportunity I strongly recommend you get yourself booked onto next year’s conference. I know I will.

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Enterprise & Philanthropy: building relationships to fund museums

by Miranda Rowlands, SHARED Enterprise

What motivates individuals to support culture and heritage?  How do I approach businesses to work in partnership with the museum?  How can we generate more income from commercial operations?  SHARED Enterprise has been helping regional museums answer these questions, working with them to build their capacity and skills to fundraise from private donors, corporate sources, trusts and foundations.

On Wednesday 2 March, SHARED Enterprise hosted a conference at the Museum of London, in partnership with Inspiring a Culture of Philanthropy, another HLF Catalyst Umbrella project delivered by Hampshire Cultural Trust.  With Steve Miller, Head of Norfolk Museums Service, presiding as Conference Chair, the day’s programme shared case studies and learning about fundraising and commercial income generation in museums.

The day was attended by 85 delegates from the East of England, Hampshire and as far afield as the Wirral, who have given resoundingly positive feedback about the day.  The aim was to show that attracting funds from alternative streams is something that can be done by museums of all types and sizes, as most activities can be scaled to fit the needs of any organisation.

Here’s what people are saying about the event:

“…brilliantly helpful and instructive. Excellent range of presentations and lots of practical ideas for immediate implementation, as well as for longer-term strategic planning.”

“Very good day – informative, stimulating and hugely enjoyable”

“Well organised, co-ordinated and structured. A great day with relevant and useful speakers”

“Very enjoyable event.  Well organised and very useful. Excellent speakers.”

Following an inspirational keynote presentation by Peter Maple, Visiting Lecturer and Fundraising Researcher at London South Bank University and St Mary’s University, participants in both projects shared what they have learned.  Tony O’Connor from Epping Forest District Museum, (due to re-open on 19th March following a major refurbishment), has recently undertaken a review of the museum’s pricing strategies, charging policies and fundraising strategy.  Kate Axon and Vanessa Trevelyan talked about how Museum Directors and Trustees the Museum of East Anglian Life are working together to develop trustees’ fundraising capacity and promote a positive culture to support fundraising and income generation.  Director of Gainsborough’s House, Mark Bills has been proactive in forging links with neighbouring businesses to put Gainsborough at the heart of Sudbury’s business community.

The afternoon sessions focussed on learning from experience, starting with a particularly useful panel discussion with a fundraising consultant and representatives of three grant-making bodies.  The panel shared what they look for in a good funding application, and perhaps more telling, some tips to avoid writing a bad one.  The most memorable applications give a clear and concise explanation of the project, from which the organisation’s passion and enthusiasm shine through.  Surprisingly, the panellists said they still receive a large number of applications which are poorly written, with grammatical and punctuation errors and budgets that don’t add up.  Shockingly, many applicants also commit the cardinal sin of copying and submitting the same application to several different funding bodies, as evidenced by applications received that are addressed to somebody else!  The top 5 tips are:

  • write each application individually – don’t sent batch applications
  • keep it under 2 pages long
  • tell your story clearly and concisely
  • use photographs / diagrams where appropriate
  • check your grammar, punctuation and calculations carefully

We then learned about generating income from alternative streams.  Operations Manager for Norwich Museums, Stuart Garner, shared his insight into the various challenges and factors to consider when delivering weddings in heritage buildings.  Venue hire, whether for weddings or other purposes, is for many museums and as-yet untapped income stream, so this was of particular interest to several delegates considering alternative ways to use museum spaces to earn more income.  Jaane Rowehl, Museum Development Officer for the South East Museum Development programme shared her experience of working with television companies filming in museums.  The museum was successful because they were able to respond to the opportunity when it arose, and they negotiated a deal which not only compensated them for their loss of income during a period of closure necessary for the filming but also provided extra income for the use of their location.

Anne Young, Head of Strategic Planning at the Heritage Lottery Fund, rounded off the day with a closing keynote address about HLF’s Strategic Framework, some of the projects supported by HLF and future funding opportunities.

So what did delegates tell us they learnt that will make a difference to their work?

“I have got a much better understanding of the broader meaning of ‘philanthropy’ and, as a result, feeling of greater confidence in exploring this in my museum.”

“Top tips for applications from a funder’s perspective ”

“Keep funders informed of the progress of your project after they have given you funding – even if they don’t ask for it – it helps develop a relationship.”

 “Build relationships and positively promote cause…”

“Embedding a culture of fundraising throughout the organisation.” 

If you were not able to attend the conference and would like to know more, presentations from the day are available to download from the SHARED Enterprise resources page.  You can also contact Miranda, SHARED Enterprise Project Officer, on 01603 228993, miranda.rowlands@norfolk.gov.uk.  More SHARED Enterprise training events, focussed on fundraising and income generation skills, will be coming soon.  Keep an eye on the training calendar for news.

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Getting in the Corners

On 21st January 2015, around 80 delegates gathered at Hughes Hall, Cambridge, for the first ever SHARE and UCM Collections Care Conference. Ellie Ohara Anderson, UCM Intern, gives us her thoughts on the day.

Hello. My name is Ellie Ohara Anderson. I am in my final year of the MSc degree ‘Conservation for Archaeology and Museums’ at UniversityClare H College London. Since September 2014 I have been with the University of Cambridge Museums for my 10-month conservation internship.

I am expected to experience a wide range of conservation activities during the internship and attending conferences is one of them. So, I was grateful for the opportunity to go to the first SHARE & University of Cambridge Museums Conference on Collections Care in Cambridge on 21 January 2015.

The conference opened with a warm welcome by Simon Floyd (SHARE) and Julie Dawson (Fitzwilliam Museum). Both Simon and Julie thanked Deborah Walton (University of Cambridge Museums Regional Conservation Officer) for thinking up and organising the unusual conference programme. As the title Getting in the Cornerssuggests, the day lifted the lid on collections’ issues that tend to be shelved away somewhere in the corner of museums – but which everyone knows need to be tackled!

The first speaker was Quinton Carroll (Cambridgeshire County Council Historic Environment Team). He talked about solving the problem of storing a huge quantity of archaeological material by outsourcing to a commercial storage company. While outsourcing sounds a bit radical for traditional museums, the Council’s solution is not so different from many museums’ off-site storage spaces. The key is, as Quinton said, to have a very good catalogue so that you can pinpoint and retrieve individual items without opening boxes.

Repacking workshopSandra Freshney (Sedgwick Museum of Earth Sciences) told us how to approach piles of accumulated paper-based documents. She provided resource contacts for professional advice, funding, training, and record management. Her practical tips included ways to minimize physical damage to documents as well as a list of packaging materials for document storage.

Presentations shifted from archives to dealing with the museum building when it is an historical object in its own right.  Jenny Mathiasson (University of Cambridge Museums) and Clare Hunt (Southend Museums Service) presented their personal experiences of how historic buildings work as display spaces. They showed how, through careful visual arrangement and sensitive placement of information, it is possible to engage visitors whilst preserving the identity and fabric of the building.

Chris Knapp (Imperial War Museum Duxford) touched on the ethical issues of conservation and curation of huge working objects, such as aeroplanes. There is no simple answer to decide what stage of an object’s history should be restored, and just how much restoration will be needed or acceptable.

The afternoon session was all about how to deal with museum objects that contain hazardous materials – from poisons to explosives!20150121_123921_resized

Laura Ratcliffe (freelance conservator) gave the wise advice ‘Don’t Panic’! A hazards survey is a useful tool for getting to know your collections and planning further steps. As all the afternoon speakers emphasized, the ultimate concern has to be museum workers’ and visitors’ health and safety.

Larry Carr (Science Museums Group) discussed how to maintain a collection of hazardous chemicals that have historical significance. His talk included an impressive video of the controlled burn of a dangerous chemical by experts, whilst museum staff filmed from a safe distance!

Derek Brain presented case studies showing how arsenic and asbestos, two of the most common hazardous chemicals in museum collections, are managed by Birmingham Museums Trust. Martin Adlem (independent health and safety adviser) summarized some of the legal and operational requirements for dealing with hazardous collections and the importance of proper risk assessment.

The conference closed with a Q&A session with the panel of hazards experts – an opportunity to discuss common concerns and seek advice and reassurance. The conference provided not just an occasion to learn new things, but also lots of networking among the museums.

I appreciated all the speakers who shared their knowledge and expertise through their personal experiences. I particularly enjoyed the drop-in workshop sessions held by the morning speakers where I could ask questions in a relaxed atmosphere and get some practice by taking Sandra’s ’15 Minute Archive Repacking Challenge!’.

It was clear to me that every attendee aspired to raise the quality of collections care with their colleagues within each museum and through the resources provided by the SHARE network and University of Cambridge Museums. I found it very inspiring, and I look forward to the 2nd Collections Care conference next year!

Ellie Ohara Anderson, Conservation Intern of Antiquities, University of Cambridge Museums

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