Fenland Network – 14th March 2018

Fenlands Network Event: Social Media, Joint Marketing, Local networking

Last week I attended my first Share Network meeting for the ‘Fenland Network’.  The day we spent at Mildenhall and District Museum was both useful and enjoyable, containing a great mixture of both training and networking opportunities.  Attendees were encouraged to give short, 5 minute updates on the current events and activities which are taking place at their museums and I’ve already been able to share with some visitors here at Ely Museum about these local events, encouraging them to head out to the Mill weekend at Burwell Museum in May and to enjoy the Grand Fen Fayre weekend at Ramsey Rural Museum!

We enjoyed a useful and practical social media training session by Kristian Downer, who was able to give us both some practical takeaway advice and many other future options we can explore.  He encouraged us to find the right social media channels to reach the audience we want to connect with.  By using services such as LinkedIn which is already well used and established within the local business community, we can make direct and meaningful contact with our local business leaders.  He also showed us how to target our Facebook advertisements to reach the audiences we seek which was something the network all agreed we’d like more training on, and that is really a great benefit of attending these network meetings, we were able to establish a training need on the day, and get the ball rolling on organising this training at future meeting!

We discussed updates to the FensMuseums.org.uk website too and the features we would like to see and find on the website, as well as different ways the network could enhance the website with stories and folklore from our own corners of the Fen.

I’d definitely encourage anyone to attend and get involved with their local Fenland Network, it was a great opportunity to meet with fellow museums, share news and updates and get some useful training that is both practical and relevant for museums of our size and location.  Our thanks must also go to Sally Ackroyd and Steve Watson for organising the event and to the volunteers of Mildenhall and District Museum for their hospitality and enjoyable tour of the museum!

Emily Allen works as a Custodian for Ely Museum. 

Gardener’s Delight – A Volunteers’ Day!

Gardener’s Delight – A Volunteers’ Day at Gainsborough’s House and Garden, Sudbury  6th March 2018

This was a most welcome outing after the worst snowstorm in a decade had kept us unwillingly house-bound and absent from our emergent gardens. There were 28 of us, all volunteer gardeners from the region’s museums travelling to Sudbury from our different locations. On arriving at this historic and delightful house, the atmosphere was warm and inviting and worth every mile of the long trek through the cold grey skies of East Anglia.

The view onto the garden below was enticing but our attention was quickly captured by the start of proceedings and anticipation of the unknown. With immaculate time-keeping skills, the invited speakers took us on a journey through the paintings and Iris collections of Cedric Morris, enchantingly secret gardens of East Anglia and the enduring story of our orchards, faded but not lost, due to the painstaking work of Orchards East.

Highlights of the day were the 400 year-old Mulberry Tree, centrepiece of the Museum’s walled garden, the historic beauty of the House and its contents, the enthusiasm, knowledge and dedication of the contributors, the seed swap and the excellent planning and organisation which had gone into making the day such a success; and last but not least the most welcome and enjoyable lunch and refreshments.

Carolyn Flynn, Volunteer Gardener at Gressenhall Farm and Workhouse, Norfolk

Lowewood Museum: Retail refurb & new coffee pop-up!

Located in a beautiful Georgian building in the town of Hoddesdon, Lowewood Museum showcases the history of the Borough of Broxbourne and is managed by the Museums, Heritage and Culture team at Epping Forest District Council. The museum recently opened a newly refurbished shop and coffee pop-up.

The old museum shop area had been a multi-function space that was dated, confused and too crowded. Catering had never been offered at the museum. Although it had been considered in the past, the risk of placing an unknown commercial proposition over gallery space was too great a leap. Over time, the provision of a café offer was identified as a priority. It would increase visitor numbers and dwell times, coupled with the creation of a revised hire space to give the museum a new commercial footing.

Last year Epping Forest District, Broxbourne Borough and Chelmsford City museums were successful in setting up a ‘No Borders Partnership‘ that received Arts Council resilience funding to develop a more sustainable footing –  a keystone of which was improved commerciality.  The Museum’s aspiration to refurbish the Lowewood commercial offer was now achievable and planning for a range of activites began.

Following the appointment of a new Commercial Manager, Shane Bartley, the first identified priority was the Lowewood refurbishment project.  It soon became clear that delivery of an improved commercial offer with added venue hire opportunities meant a new divisible multi-use space. This would feature a café-style seating area to complement the new coffee pop up . The new retail offering was also developed in conjunction with the Museum’s Commercial Activities Officer, Francesca Pellegrino, who worked closely with the Council’s Youth Panel to identify new ways to refresh the shop area completely.

The project was delivered within the tight budget constraints of the resilience project grant. There were surprises along the way including the discovery of a floor that was not a floor, and the unearthing of a time capsule (that was returned for future explorers). Surprises aside, the deadline for delivery was achieved and the official opening received support from Councillors and Senior Officers from both local authorities in attendance, as well as representatives from the newly formed Culture Without Borders Development Trust, and the Museum’s Society of Friends.

Initial feedback has been very positive. One review in the Hoddesdon Society Newsletter stated “A new facility at Lowewood, quite apart from the wealth of documents, artefacts and pictures available for inspection, is an attractive snack room welcoming visitors to enjoy tea and coffee”.

For more information contact:  Shane Bartley – Sbartley@eppingforestdc.gov.uk

The Gilwell Oak : Scouting rediscovers its roots

Today’s blog has been written by Caroline Pantling, Heritage Service Manager with the Scout Association. Their Heritage Team have recently won the Woodland Trust’s 2017 Tree of the Year competition. 

The Scout Association Heritage Team have used this quirky competition, run by The Woodland Trust, to raise the profile of Gilwell’s historic landscape and Scouting’s fascinating heritage. Having won the public vote to become England’s Tree of the Year the Oak then faced competition from the other home nations and were appointed UK Tree of the Year by a panel of experts and became the UK’s representative for the European Tree of the Year.


The Gilwell Oak has become renowned throughout the world. Scouting’s founder, Robert Baden-Powell used the oak tree as an analogy for the growth of Scouting. He referred to the experimental camp run for 20 boys on Brownsea Island in 1907 as the acorn from which the oak tree of Scouting grew. Today the Gilwell Oak sits at the heart of a Scout Adventure centre which welcomes over 40,000 young people every year.


The Gilwell Oak is located on edge of Gilwell’s Training Ground. The training offered at Gilwell Park was the first of its kind, Scout leaders from around the world attended training at Gilwell. On their return home many set up their own training centres to pass on their learning. In this way the legend of Gilwell spread and the idyllic scene of Scouts taking shelter from the summer sun (or rain) under the branches of the Training Ground’s most iconic tree became well known.


For many Scouts around the world a trip to Gilwell Park is a long held dream, hundreds visit Gilwell each year to pay homage to those who have gone before and to, maybe, collect a leaf and an acorn from its longest standing resident.

Museum Resilience: Where do we go from here?

Today’s blog has been written by David Holgate-Carruthers, a Teaching Museum Trainee with Norfolk Museums Service. David has worked on a range of successful community history projects at the Museum of Norwich since April 2017 and attended the SHARE Conference in Bedford this November.

How do we respond to adversity? In the face of change, who do we want to become? And when so much is being cut back, what do we feel is essential to hold on to?

These were the kinds of questions being asked at this year’s annual SHARE conference. It was hosted in Bedford, split across three amazing heritage sites: The John Bunyan Museum and Free Church, The Panacea Museum, and The Higgins Bedford. They sit together in a rough triangle; a huddle of historic buildings rich with culture and story. Delegates had the opportunity to visit all three. They explored the headquarters of a unique religious community, followed in the footsteps of the author of ‘Pilgrim’s Progress’ and lost themselves in the beautiful collections begun by brewer, politician and local mayor Cecil Higgins during the 1800s.

The Bunyan Church, Bedford

The main event, held in the meeting hall of the Bunyan church, saw delegates gathered to hear speakers from across the museum sector addressing a wide range of topics. It was a busy day with a high turnout, where all of those gathered had a lot to discuss.

Norfolk Museum Service’s Teaching Museum trainees were invited to be a part of running the day, giving us the opportunity to see behind the scenes as we helped to set up and deliver the conference. Our traineeships have given us a very wide scope of experience, but I had never before been involved with the delivery of such a large event. There’s an impressive amount of very careful planning and a whole host of logistical questions that I would have never even thought of. Working with the SHARE team has been an invaluable part of this year, providing me with a lot of working knowledge to carry forwards. Thinking about that point at the end of this traineeship, it’s an interesting time to be setting out into the culture and heritage industry.

It’s no great secret that, all across the country, many services are struggling. Museums are no different and the themes of this year’s conference reflected that. The focus was on change, how to navigate it, and how to ensure resilience.

The Panacea Museum, Bedford

The Museum Association 2017 report writes that ‘64 museums in the UK have closed since 2010 [and that] the majority of closures are the result of reduced public funding’ with a ‘31% real-terms cut in local authority funding since 2010’ for museums in England and a similar story for those in devolved nations.

Against this backdrop, amidst cuts and the politics of austerity, you would be forgiven for imagining that the atmosphere of this conference was bleak, bearing grim tidings. There were certainly plenty of stark, striking statistics, but the voices that filled the hall weren’t despondent.

Speakers told of experiences at both a micro and macro level, where stories of individual responses to challenges stood alongside broader questions of strategy and ambition. The first keynote speaker, Julia Kaufmann, raised the issue of how change requires careful balance between internal and external influences, asking to what extent we try to anticipate change and to what extent any adaptation is reactive. With each successive speaker, we heard interesting, varied takes on the same key question: What should the museums of the future look like?

Megan Dennis, Museums Change Lives

For me, Megan Dennis’ focus on the MA campaign Museums Change Lives was particularly inspiring; at a time when the future seems increasingly uncertain, having an awareness of our past is all the more important for people. Engagement can strengthen bonds and ensure that people feel rooted, and we are in a unique position in museums to have a tangible, positive effect on wellbeing within communities.

It would also be unforgiveable not to mention Bernard Donoghue’s closing keynote speech, exploring the shape of excellence in visitor attractions and reminding us all of the importance of sex, death, gin and chocolate. I came away from the day driven, not defeated, full of ideas and ambition, knowing that resilience doesn’t equal inflexibility. It doesn’t mean hunkering down, or weathering out the storm, but is the strength and tenacity to adapt and to constantly question. If you couldn’t make it to this year’s conference, I’d definitely recommend that you get yourself to the next.

The unforgettable Bernard Donoghue

Visual Merchandising: A Thank you from Bawdsey

Today’s update is brought to you by Elizabeth Brooking from Bawdsey Radar Museum. Liz is a trustee, shop volunteer and ex-teacher, with no prior retail experience. Liz recently attended one of our Retail Forum events at Chelmsford Museum on visual merchandising.

Both Hilary and I from Bawdsey Radar would like to thank SHARE for the really useful Retail Forum day that we attended. As we are embarking into the unknown it is so helpful to have the advice from your specialists, as well as time to network with others to get their experiences.  Others’ practical advice is very useful.

RAF Bawdsey – the first fully operational radar station in the world

 

We launched our new website – www.bawdseyradar.org.uk  – last weekend, where there is a mention of the new shop.

Bawdsey’s exciting new retail offer. Coming soon…

Staff at Bawdsey will be putting into practice what they have learned through SHARE, and we look forward to seeing their merchandising and retail offer. 

 

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