White gloves, SHARE courses and paint-stained jeans

In this guest blog, Dan Clarke (Skills for the Future Heritage Trainee) tells us how SHARE has helped with his work over the past year, and reflects on his traineeship as it draws to a close.

White gloves, SHARE courses and paint-stained jeans… 

By Dan Clarke, Skills for the Future Heritage Trainee,  Moyse’s Hall Museum, Suffolk

Looking back at day one of my placement, Monday 30th June 2014, it’s all a bit of a blur, except for the moment I was given my first pair of white cotton gloves. It sounds so insignificant and silly yet it was something I’d been waiting years for; the moment I started my first museum placement.

I’m one of four Heritage Trainees that has been on a year-long placement at Moyse’s Hall Museum, West Stow Anglo-Saxon Village, the Records Office and the SCC Archaeological Service. Our year-long posts are funded by the HLF, Suffolk County Council and St Edmundsbury Borough Council.

The placement has been vast in content. I’ve worked on collection care, social media output, exhibitions, workshops, events, displays, archiving at the Records Office, mapping geophysics at the SCC Archaeological Service and much more. One day you’re wearing smart/casual trousers for an event, the next you’re wearing paint stained jeans as you prepare a case for a new display; every day has offered a new experience and a change in dress-code. The main theme of my placement has been the digital aspect of museum work. You can follow my Social Media work for Moyse’s by clicking here and our Skills for the Future project can be followed here.

The symbiosis between SHARE courses and in-house experience has been invaluable. From the very first courses with Bob Entwistle in ‘Handling and Collections’ to ‘Digital Photography’ training with Sarah Holmes; SHARE has contributed immeasurably in our progression through Heritage and given us insights into what the digital era may bring. Techniques taught by Bob (we particularly loved his infamous acid-free paper wedges) were instantly required to change a display in a Gallery of Moyse’s Hall. The movement of priceless fragile Roman glass was a particularly stressful moment which was mitigated by our training.

In total we have attended more than fifteen SHARE courses and events in the last nine months. Each has offered unique insights into topics that have helped us to understand the plethora of different career paths in Heritage and the broad range of essential skills needed. We are grateful for all SHARE’s support.

It’s hard gaining employment in Heritage or Archaeology. We wanted to do something towards the end of our traineeships to help our generation, and the next, to understand opportunities in the sector, so we are putting on an event. Under the umbrella of the ‘Museums at Night Festival’ we are putting on ‘Museums at Night: The Future of History’; an informative and fun event that offers students, members of the public and heritage workers a chance to meet and seek career advice from senior museum workers and archaeologists. If you are near Moyse’s Hall Museum on 15th May 2015 at 6:30pm-8:30pm, why not join in and check us out?

 Trainees

From left to right: Ben Donnelly-Symes, Sarah Clark, Dan Clarke and Jack Everett. Picture by Alex McWhirter

 white gloves

The moment of truth… Picture by Dan Clarke

Dan Clarke

 

Dan Clarke: Graduated in 2011 with a BA (Hons) in English Literature and History. Experience in filming and writing. Volunteered at historical sites prior to current placement.

 

The Heritage Lottery Fund’s Skills for the Future programme is supporting heritage organisations across the UK to create new training places.  Grants range from £100,000 to £1million for a number of traineeships with an emphasis on high-quality work-based training.  The programme will help equip organisations to engage with the widest possible range of people and inspire them to get involved with heritage.  HLF has awarded a grant of £99,700 for the Bury St Edmunds project.

Using money raised through the National Lottery, the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) sustains and transforms a wide range of heritage for present and future generations to take part in, learn from and enjoy. From museums, parks and historic places to archaeology, natural environment and cultural traditions, we invest in every part of our diverse heritage.  HLF has supported over 35,000 projects, allocating more than £5.6 billion across the UK.  Website: www.hlf.org.uk.  For more information please contact Katie Owen, HLF press office, on: 020 7591 6036/07973 613820

For further information Contact: Dan Clarke at Moyse’s Hall. 01284 706183. Email: daniel.clarke@westsuffolk.gov.uk

HLFWest Suffolk

Suffolk CC

 

#MuseumWeek at the British Schools Museum

A couple of weeks ago, Emily Shepperson (Curatorial Assistant, The British Schools Museum) gave us an introduction to #MuseumWeek on Twitter, and shared some ideas about how museums could make the most of it. Now, after a successful week on Twitter, Emily shares her experience of #MuseumWeek at the British Schools Museum.

Between the 23rd and 29th March 2015, over 1400 museums across the globe

Museum week logocame together to tweet about their organisations around seven daily themes. Worldwide over 179,600 tweets were sent.

For the British Schools Museum it was an exciting week. Following the SHARE #Museumweek training I had drawn up a plan of content as well as putting up posters and sending out a press release to promote our involvement.

Gathering the content together was really enjoyable and we started #secretsMW on Monday with our first ever Vine: a six second video of the stores. College students on a takeover day at the museum also wrote tweets about what they had been doing, and we posted these on their behalf which attracted retweets from @teensinmuseums and @kidsinmuseums.

#architectureMW Wednesday was a successful day with lots of interest, particularly from local press about photos tweeted of plans for major redevelopment of the site. From this interest we are hoping that the local paper will carry an editorial article about the proposed plans.

On Thursday #inspirationMW was a great opportunity to celebrate the work of our volunteers. I collected and tweeted nine volunteer comments, but unfortunately didn’t receive much interaction perhaps due to a lack of photographs. However, it was great to get the volunteers involved with social media and to gather wonderful comments which could be useful for other projects.

#familyMW Friday allowed us to showcase all the ways in which families can explore the museum. We talked about the museum ‘family’ and had comments from staff about their work which was re-tweeted and favourited but a range of people. This was a good way to raise awareness of social media with other team members. It was great to get a #FF (Follow Friday which encourages other account to follow you) along with @eh_stonehenge and @NMMgreenwich. This led to a flurry of interactions and new followers.

Many of the weekend tweets were scheduled, allowing me to check in and respond to activity. #favMW was all about favourite parts of the museum, and a tweet about the scones in the café generated the most activity!

Sunday’s #poseMW invited visitors in take photos of themselves in poses. Being aware of our audience demographic we focused instead on posting pictures of mannequins in the museum, and interesting costumes in archive photographs.

We received a lot of interaction throughout the week but our most successful feature was ‘Book Bingo’ on Monday #secretsMW. We ask people to tweet us a number between 5245 and 5537, and we would tweet back a picture of the book. We were surprised by the level of enthusiasm and replied to twelve bingo requests.

Over the week we gained 45 new followers and got to interact with a wide range of people and organisations. #Museumweek does involve a time commitment to work well but it is great for public and professional exposure, as well as being great fun to be involved with. I am looking forward to #Museumweek 2016.

Emily SheppersonCuratorial Assistant, British Schools Museum

@B_S_Museum / britishschoolsmuseum.co.uk

Planning for #MuseumWeek 2015

On 11th March 2015, Amy Cotterill (Essex Museum Development Officer, @EssexMDO), led a training course for the SHARE region which introduced us to #MuseumWeek, and explored how museums can make the most of it. Emily Shepperson (Curatorial Assistant, The British Schools Museum) gives us her thoughts on the day and some ideas for planning for #MuseumWeek.

Museum week logo

With only one week to go many museums across the region are busy planning

to take part in #MuseumWeek 2015. The week of tweeting runs from Monday 23rd March to Sunday 29th and encourages museums worldwide to tweet about their fantastic organisation around seven different daily themes. Last year over 300 museums took part, and this year 1100 organisations have already signed up.

Having recently joined the British Schools Museums as Curatorial Assistant I was keen to set up a Twitter account in time for #MuseumWeek. I was really pleased to see the Twitter training session with SHARE as I was unsure of what to talk about for several of the daily themes.

Essex MDO Amy Cotterill ran an excellent afternoon at The National Horse Racing Museum, working through new and interactive ideas for each of the daily themes. Ideas ranged from ‘A dog’s day at the museum’ to getting visitors to vote for their favourite object. It was great to be able to share ideas with museums of different sizes. Amy also talked through the logistics of running #MuseumWeek and how to incorporate different platforms such as Storify.

At the British Schools Museum I have been gathering input from colleagues and volunteers to develop a varied and exciting plan for the week. Following Amy’s excellent advice we are putting out a press release and posters to promote the museums involvement in the initiative, and boost local awareness of our social media.

I am looking forward to getting more volunteers involved in #MuseumWeek, and responding to the conversations which so much twitter activity will generate.

There is still time to get involved with #MuseumWeek, register your organisation here and start tweeting!

Emily SheppersonCuratorial Assistant, British Schools Museum

@B_S_Museum / britishschoolsmuseum.co.uk

Below are some of the ideas the group came up with for each day of #MuseumWeek, courtesy of Amy Cotterill. Click photos to enlarge.

 

 

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

SHARE Front of House Forum

by Amanda LightstoneOpening Doors Project Coordinator, University of Cambridge Museums 

Originally posted on the UCM Blog.

The recent SHARE Front of House Forum meeting was held at Sutton Hoo in September and focussed on ‘Volunteers in Museums’ and the management of this vital group of people.  Many of the Eastern regions museums wouldn’t open if not for the dedication and enthusiasm of its volunteers. Volunteers play an important role both in the customer service and welcome offered, but also behind the scenes often in roles not initially noticed by visitors.

The University of Cambridge Museums identified the need for this forum and coordinates the meetings three times per year on behalf of SHARE Museums East. The minutes of all previous meetings are available on the SHARE website or carry on reading for a brief synopsis of what was discussed recently.

The Sutton Hoo meeting was attended by 40 museum professionals from across the region, many of who themselves are volunteers.  Mark Taylor, former Director of the Museums Association, gave the keynote presentation in which he covered the following points:

  • A museum’s staff is its most important asset; a poor collection surrounded by enthusiastic and engaging people is far more like to succeed than a great collection with bored and disinterested staff.
  • The definition of a museum has changed recently, highlighting that a museum’s worth is in how it treats visitors, not just the size of its collection. This is a major change from the previous attitude towards the public accessing museums.
  • Front-of-House staff and volunteers from the local community will increase the welcome visitors feel as it will be from people like them, rather than being met by a team of academics whose sole focus is the historic value of the collection. FoH act as a liaison or advocate point for the museum, encouraging people to feel a part of the museum they are visiting.

Mark was followed by Jeremy Althorpe, House Manager at Aldeburgh Music, Snape Maltings, who encouraged the group to think of volunteering as a journey where volunteers who build up their skills can move onto roles with more responsibility.  Jeremy highlighted Aldeburgh Music’s process for recruiting and managing volunteers, and impressed the importance of being clear and fair about what the role requires and the expectations the staff should communicate to the volunteers.

Aldeburgh volunteers contribute around 10,000 hours per annum, covered by just 150 volunteers. They are guides, front of house managers and staff the visitor centre. They also act as ambassadors as they represent Aldeburgh Music to the audience members and visitors.

Following lunch and the chance to wander around the besutiful Sutton Hoo site, the group reconvened for an interactive afternoon session, looking at ‘Managing volunteers through a period of organisational change and difficult situations’.

Niki Hughes of IWM Duxford explained the mentality of volunteers faced with by saying, ‘There is a common misconception that volunteers are against change, but this is not the case as volunteers actually fear the unknown, rather than change. Often this is because they are not aware of the entire picture, they only know the fragments that have been filtered down to them, so are uncertain as to how that will affect them. Because they love the work they do for their organisation, they are more likely to question what’s happening, as it is affecting something they are so passionate about.’

And, Lynsey Coombs from the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology shed some light on the process of transitioning the museum volunteer role from ‘Invigilator’ to ‘Engager’. She advised, ‘Take the time to understand the organisation and the volunteers, involve the volunteers in the ideas process and plan in detail. Will additional training be required? What might go wrong? How can this be coped with? If you’ve considered all the problems you might face, there is more confidence in the process.’

Full notes from the Forum are available on the SHARE website.

The next session of the SHARE Front of House Network will be on 11 February at Botanic Garden, Cambridge and the topic will be ‘What Front of House, paid and unpaid, want from curators and senior management’.

To register for this event, click here.

Making Buckram Mounts with the Costume & Textile Network

By Lisa Little, Curatorial Assistant (Costume & Textiles), Norfolk Museums Service, and SHARE Costume & Textile Network Co-ordinator 2014-15

On May 14th, the SHARE Costume & Textile Network travelled to the museum stores in Southend for a masterclass in making buckram mounts with Ciara Phipps, Touring Exhibition Co-ordinator with Southend Museums.

After a behind the scenes tour of radios, fireplaces and archaeology, among many other lovely social history objects, we were given a methodology report from Ciara.

Ciara and her colleagues have been super busy making buckram supports for the swimwear exhibition which they are currently working on. We were able to see a whole line-up of mounts in true ”here is one I prepared earlier’  Blue Peter style.

These were already made from scratch by Ciara and her colleagues and a production line was dry awaiting a soft covering of wadding and cotton jersey.

There was also one in prepped in clingfilm in readiness for us collectively to help with and so, under Ciara’s direction, we all donned plastic aprons and gloves and dipped our hands into a pan of warm wheat paste. Ciara instructed us in the best method of spreading the glue over the squares of buckram before we placed them onto the body form. Ciara Canning, Senior Curator of Community History with Colchester + Ipswich Museums, was so very prepared for messiness she brought her own coverall in anticipation! We made swift progress and we were quickly able to cover a layer all around the prepared body form. The result was remarkable, it dries to a firm shell which can be cut with tin-snips to the exact silhouette of the swimwear, or indeed to any bespoke shapes one would require.

We were so very impressed with the production line we saw, I can’t wait to see the fabric covered end product of bathing beauties on display.

Find out more about buckram mounts in this blog from Ciara for Southend Museums.

Sign Up to SHARE e-News