Joe Blogs

Today’s blog is brought to you by Joe Hoyle, SHARE’s outgoing Museum Development Assistant. Joe worked in this role for two years; administrating the SHARE training calendar, coordinating large events and overseeing the team’s communications and finance. Prior to this, Joe had worked with the Royal Norfolk Regimental Museum collection at Norwich Castle, the National Trust in Cambridgeshire, and spent 2 years with Lancashire Museums Service.

In what is fast becoming SHARE tradition, I am ending my time here with some final thoughts. If you are reading this, I will spare you any holier-than-thou predictions. I am neither qualified nor experienced enough to talk about museum futures or their place in the world. My role has offered many fly-on-the-wall moments though, and I have been privy to a range of discussions, meetings, experiences and challenges that have shaped how I perceive museums in this region. I have also had a great deal of fun, so I’ll start there.

September 2016, Newmarket. My colleagues Ruth and Kathy have joined me in the gent’s toilets at the Jockey Club Rooms. We are gazing in awe at the bathroom’s mellifluous grace and majesty. Kathy is holding the soft white hand towels, Ruth is examining the fine cubicle doors and I’m trying to take a photograph of a sink. Nobody is standing guard but we’re hoping not to be found. Our attention to detail while museum conference planning knows no bounds. The best toilet I’ve ever been in? Undoubtedly.

The team at the Jockey Club Rooms, Newmarket. This wasn’t the toilets…

Fast-forward three months. I have made a grave error. I’m sat in a meeting at Imperial War Museum Duxford with my back to the window that overlooks the runway. Half an hour in and I can hear the unmistakable splutter of a Rolls Royce Merlin engine behind me. A Spitfire is taxiing along the runway and I’m missing it. I can only guess at what is happening from examining the eyes of those across the table. They, in turn, are craning their necks around my despondent face to catch a glimpse of the fierce flying machine. I’m a man in his twenties close to tears.

Like the Jockey Club bathroom, I saw the Spitfire in all its splendour eventually. I then saw a Hawker Hurricane. I went back later and saw a Bristol Blenheim, a Douglas Dakota and a Vought Corsair. I also saw a huge French Tricolour that month, captured in 1800 by Horatio Nelson himself and unfurled for the first time in a generation.  My job has taken me from creaking wooden buildings of rural Suffolk to sleek, modern edifices in Cambridge. From the Broads of Norfolk to inner city Luton. I have met a great many people, from volunteers to senior managers to celebrities of the trade (I’m still processing shaking hands with John Orloff, the American screenwriter who penned some of the HBO Band of Brothers episodes). Everybody I’ve met has a head full of ideas, all equally valid. But what have I learned?

Delivering a session in Norfolk

Here goes… Are this regions museums in a downward spiral, chronically underfunded yet bloated with CVs from bright-eyed professionals? Well, yes and no. Are museums struggling to broaden their audiences? Probably. Is a museums’ place in society being increasingly side-lined by local government? I think so. Is everybody being asked to do more with less? Almost certainly. The future looks grim for many museums out there, but not all… I think.

In all this hullabaloo, “I want to work in museums” is something I’ve heard a thousand times. Admirable indeed, but why? Museum jobs are as varied as a blacksmith is to a DJ. How does the wish to work “in a museum” manifest itself into brushing mould off the back of a wooden door? Surely… Surely those who work in museums have a fundamental appreciation of history, art and heritage at a base-level? Whether it’s teaching children, informing new audiences, writing, designing, conserving, working in the community, improving accessibility or helping the museum to grow financially, this fundamental appreciation surely comes first? This is certainly the reason I’ve worked in heritage for five years.

“I want to work in museums”. Hmmmm.

When I landed my first museum job at the Lancaster City Museum, I couldn’t help but feel a little short-changed when the manager told me she was originally from Stafford, 100 miles down the M6. A foreigner in a local community museum!? I learned very quickly that this was quite normal and I was in fact being preposterously ignorant. She was a great match for the museum because of her passion and skill. She was a curator first and foremost with a love for heritage.

To be blunt, that’s why I’ve enjoyed my time in the sector. Who else could be so excited by a piece of old cloth or bit of metal in a damp store? I read last week that a novelty lighter from the Mexico 1986 Football World Cup had just washed ashore on a beach in Scotland – my first thought was “get it accessioned somewhere!” My favourite museums, like my favourite people, are always those that are rough around the edges. Those museums where subject matter is the absolute priority (sometimes at the expense of other amenities), put together by staff and volunteers who care. Their collections, lovingly embraced, speak to people.

Life for me beyond SHARE is unknown. Though my compass is pointed north west, I’ve yet to figure out what I’ll be doing. I’m a realist though – it may never be in the sector again. I’ll end on this – If the Goddess of Museums visited me in my sleep tonight and granted me one wish for Her dominion, it would probably be;

“No matter what challenges our institutions face (and there are many), may we never lose sight of how subject matter binds us together with a lust for learning, sharing and caring. May this passion influence what we do, who we employ and how we work.”

Passion and natural enthusiasm trump all other facets, and I really hope it remains so in every museum. Whatever the weather. It may be the only thing some museums have left.

Please be passionate for the subject!

Just a little bit of History repeating

Today’s blog is written by Phoebe Wingate, a trainee on Norfolk Museums Service ‘Teaching Museum‘ scheme. 

My relationship with History as a subject is a rather turbulent story.  At Middle School I had a fantastic teacher by the name of Mr Holzer. His lessons were full of story-telling and as a class we always hoped for a chance to use the giant dressing-up basket in the corner of the room. Continuing this inspirational introduction was a Scottish historian and I, at age 14, imagined he spent his spare time roaming the Highlands, fully kilted and blue of face. These early engaging characters were a tough act to follow though and at High School I feel out of love with the subject; lost in dry facts and dates that refused to be anchored to events.

So how on earth did I find myself, over 20 years later, on a traineeship with Norfolk Museums? Public engagement has always been at the core of my work but it had never occurred to me to work in museums due to my scientific background. Several months ago a number of friends and family pointed out the teaching museum programme and encouraged by their support I applied. Now 4 months into the training, I still feel incredibly lucky. It is hard work and full-on but I get to be involved in amazing projects and gain experience with a fantastic team.

One of our recent training days saw us exploring some of the independent museums in the county: first stop, the Museum of the Broads. Here we met with museum curator, Nicola Hems, who talked about the history of the site, as well as the trials and tribulations of being a small independent museum. As we chatted her volunteers were desperately working on the most prized item in their collection; a Victorian steam boat called ‘Falcon’. The BBC were due the following day to film Timothy West and Prunella Scales aboard as part of the series Great Canal journeys – at the time ‘Falcon’ was producing dubious splutters.

Trainees with MoB curator, Nicola, Regional Museums Development Manager, Jamie Everitt and Teaching Museum Manager, Sarah Gore at the Museum of the Broads.

The collections on display in this picturesque museum tell the story of life on the Broads; including Viking marauders, boat builders and holidaymakers. It houses boats of all sorts, from a strict interpretation such as racing yachts to more nutty waterborne inventions. The museum also boasts an engaging display of boat toilets…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Top left; ‘Nutty Slack’, a water bicycle used in recovery of bodies from the river. Top right; Steam boat ‘Falcon’ getting some TLC from the MoB vols. 

As we were leaving to the more encouraging sounds of a putt-putting steam boat, we wove our way Northwest to meet Philip Miles, the manager of Sheringham Museum. The building, found nestled in the cliff face, is home to several lifeboats as well as collections that focus on the local fishing industry and townspeople. The temporary exhibition of Gansey patterns installed throughout the museum adds another dimension and has been well received, pulling in audiences from as far as Japan. As Philip took us through the rollercoaster experience of making this museum a success, we all picked up on his passion and his team’s efforts.

The Dutch Gansey exhibition features over 60 different patterns as well as few of Sheringham’s own.

The final visit on our tour was to Fakenham Gas and Local History Museum where we were greeted by the enigmatic Harry. Solely run by volunteers, the museum is housed in the only complete town gasworks in the country, and is a treasure trove for engineer enthusiasts.

Fakenham Museum of Gas and Local Life

These museums are incredibly different; a relic of the industrial revolution; a reflection on past and present holiday industries; a reveal of the fishing heritage and courageous lifeboat men. But they also share a common ground; they all have a team of dedicated, passionate people (a theme that crops up time and time again). The more I come to learn of museums, the more I am reminded of those characters who engaged me all those years ago.

Museum Mentoring: A Recipe for Success!

Museums are like cakes. Everybody has experienced one, and almost everybody has enjoyed one. Some eat cake all the time, others eat in moderation and some save it for a special treat. Some cakes are too rich, some are too plain; for some, the humble mince pie is just as gratifying as a three-tier iced wedding cake.

My name is Joe and I work for SHARE Museums East, the Arts Council-funded development team helping Accredited museums in Norfolk, Suffolk, Cambridgeshire, Essex, Hertfordshire and Befordshire through advice, training and financial support. In my role I see museums (and cakes) of all shapes and sizes, and my job is to assist them in improving. Museum development not only offers the perfect opportunity to witness museum growth, change and betterment, but also to speak to hundreds of people to share ideas and skills. Indeed, what makes our SHARE events so brilliant is that everybody benefits from speaking to one another face-to-face, regardless of museum size, governance or budget. This is usually done over coffee and cake…

Museums are like cakes!

Working in the eastern region is also a huge advantage. The differences between museum audiences in Watford, Sudbury and Sheringham for example, are massive, and they pose profound questions about museum visitors, a museums’ overall purpose, their stories and how they can be told. Their sheer range in size and scale is also something that fascinates me. The Imperial War Museum Duxford – a National museum that employs over a hundred staff – is one of my favourite museums in the region, a veritable four-tier Victoria sponge. In stiff competition with this, however, is the Little Hall in Lavenham, an entirely volunteer-led site and real gem in Suffolk; a perfectly crafted bakewell tart? The SHARE office, hosted by Norfolk Museums Service, falls somewhere in the middle.  We count our lucky stars to be based within a local authority setting in Norwich, and are acutely aware of the pros and cons of large, small and medium organisations.  Museum development, in short, is a great way to understand how museums operate across the sector. But this is not the only way…

Four months ago, I tentatively enquired about museum mentoring. Although I’ve never considered myself a professional expert, I certainly felt I could lend a helping hand to a smaller museum (if only through my SHARE connections). Mentoring is an Arts Council England scheme for museum professionals wishing to share their expertise with museums in the region. Mentors apply online and are assigned a museum, agreeing to attend meetings, offer guidance, compile reports and share ideas.

To my complete and utter delight, I am now co-mentoring the volunteer-run 100th Bomb Group Memorial Museum at Thorpe Abbotts in Norfolk. Based at the site of the control tower of the ‘Bloody Hundredth’ during the Second World War, it is quite possibly the most interesting museum in the region. I have met their dedicated trustees and many of their wonderful volunteers, all of whom are welcoming and willing to share ideas. I have written my first mentor report and I am eager to hear their thoughts for the future.

100th Bomb Group Memorial Museum, Thorpe Abbotts

I would recommend mentoring to any museum staff member who meets the criteria, particularly those from local authority museums who may not be used to organisations on a different scale. I have already learned things about museums that I would never have done otherwise, and have been inspired to think differently about sites like this. In truth, I have learned just as much from the trustees at Thorpe Abbots as they have from me.

Although working in museum development is not everybody’s cup of tea, with museum mentoring, you can have your cake and eat it!

For more information about museum mentoring in the region, email ruth.burwood@norfolk.gov.uk  

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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Thoughts from Simon Floyd

At the end of July, the longest-standing member of the SHARE team, Simon Floyd, left to pursue his great passion; the theatre. Simon was a mainstay of SHARE from 2009. He played a key role in developing the now well-established SHARE ethos, whereby all contributions are freely offered and equally valued. This has enabled SHARE to nurture a Museum Development programme second-to-none. He was also the inspiration behind the famous owl logo!

Before he left, Simon wrote a short piece on the ethos and achievements of SHARE:

“The SHARE Museum Development Programme has proved that skills-sharing can benefit museums of every size. We work hard to incorporate offers of expertise and resources from museums of all different types. Bishops Stortford museum offered their collections photography expertise, which evolved into a highly successful training course; the National Horse Racing Museum ran a course in business skills; and our networks continue to grow and develop with the goodwill of museum-based coordinators – especially in learning, heritage engineering and costume & textiles. The networks have contributed not only to their own knowledge but to that of the wider museums sector. The deliberate informality of SHARE has been a strength, helping us to deliver successful partnerships involving the biggest museums (including the British Museum) to the smallest volunteer-run organisation.

“SHARE has not only been busy, it’s been cost-effective. By looking for the support we need in our own backyard we have rarely had to pay for trainers, external facilitators or venues. With central coordination and a real willingness from participating museums, SHARE has proved that a lot can be done for not very much.

“Museums across the region now recognise the benefits of offering SHARE support to their own organisations. They see that by sharing time, skills and expertise, staff and volunteers can develop their practice and knowledge. By contributing to the development of others they learn to value both their own contribution and that of their museum.

Simon

“We value all contributions equally – experience, knowledge, resources, even attendance at an event. In challenging times it takes a leap of faith to believe this, but the principle survives: it’s good to share, and everybody is stronger for it.

“Here are a few of the things we’ve learned along the way:

  • To give is to receive – if there is not a win for the contributor, it’s not SHARE.
  • Making and maintaining relationships takes most of the energy, but it is the most important thing.
  • Get people with similar interests together and, if you help them with small amounts of money and central support, good things will always happen.
  • Trust the instincts of those who do the job, and be ready to take risks.
  • Be collaborative and listen – try to meet needs with practical solutions.
  • Stay informal, people are much more comfortable talking about their ‘experience’ than their ‘expertise’.
  • Find a brand that unites people behind an idea – our owl and strapline (‘a network of know how’) work because they are inclusive, simple and encourage participation.

“One thing is certain – we all have something to give and something to gain. Long may we explore what this wealth of knowledge and experience enables us to do.”

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Museum Development – The National Picture

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By Annette French, Regional Museum Development Manager, 
SHARE Museums East
annette.french@norfolk.gov.uk

 

 

The National Museum Development Network’s annual one day conference, sponsored by AIM, was a great opportunity to hear some case studies on resilience themed programmes from other regional teams. Being new to my role in the region this was a valuable networking event, meeting colleagues in the wider national museum development network and making contact with potential partners.

From the range of delegates it’s clear that Museum Development Officers work in a variety of funding and organisational contexts.  It’s a dispersed and diverse picture and the different regional models can be a challenge to working strategically at a national level. The conference highlighted a range of potential partners looking to make contact with museum development providers and we reflected on how the opportunities to use existing local and regional networks and adapt national programmes to local need were sometimes missed.

The Museum Development Network has developed as a national forum to enable the sharing of skills, experience and resources across diverse boundaries and contexts. Increasingly there is a recognised need to develop better advocacy and achieve a stronger voice nationally for museum development to reach funders and stakeholders. To support the longer term resilience of museum development a planned governance review of the network was proposed.  As part of a light touch skills audit workshop we were able to see a simple overview of some of our main skills areas and identify common CPD needs. This simple exercise generated lots of discussion with new ideas for skills sharing, mentoring and partnership working.

A series of brief presentations outlined opportunities for national support with links to museum development programmes.  Many of these have led from successful applications to the Arts Council’s Museum Resilience Fund and the conference provided a forum through which external partners and funders were able to make contact with Museum Development professionals across the country.  Museum Development in our region, through SHARE Museums East working in partnership with the county based MDO’s, is well placed to help match up opportunities by inviting museums to participate and help with national programmes, to identify case studies and to promote and share training and resources. The SHARE monthly e-bulletin is one of the key ways we can help signpost these opportunities to you so please do distribute widely to your own networks and encourage others in your organisations to sign up too.

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