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

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. 

 

AfCE Convention, Edinburgh 2017

This weeks’ guest blog comes from Sheridanne Reynolds, Retail and Garden Project Volunteer at the Higgins Museum and Art Gallery.

I volunteer at The Higgins Bedford and in February I was asked if I would be interested in attending the Association for Cultural Enterprises convention in March. I was lucky enough to receive a bursary from SHARE Museums East and off I went with a little trepidation of what was awaiting me and the weight of representing our museum and art gallery.

                                     The Higgins, Bedford

AfCE ” is an association of Members and Associate Members who are passionate about their work in the cultural and heritage sector” whose  “aim is to promote commercial best practice in the cultural and heritage sector by providing training and networking opportunities and facilitating the sharing of information and experience between members.” One of the many events they organise is the annual convention and trade fair which this year was to be held in Edinburgh.

In preparation I read the aims of the convention from the AfCE website, discussed what we as a museum wanted to get out of it and combined these aims after which I poured over the convention timetable to find the most appropriate sessions.

As a museum we are in the process of streamlining our retail products so that we reflect our permanent collections, ongoing exhibitions/projects and local area better and then to build cohesive ranges for each of those areas. This convention would be ideal for honing our ideas by:

  • Learning from those who know by attending sessions about developing product ranges
  • Sourcing products and services by meeting suppliers and seeing a wide variety of product ranges
  • Extending the network of influential contacts by meeting people from throughout the heritage and cultural sector
  • Providing inspiration. Edinburgh is a beautiful city and I arrived early enough to have a couple of hours to walk round and admire it and take some photos. I got back in time to change and make my way to The Fruitmarket Gallery for the drinks reception which was crowded noisy and buzzing with anticipation of an exciting convention ahead. I didn’t get to meet up with anyone I knew from SHARE but I did chat with some very friendly people and was able to raise a glass to Howard Hodgkin with everyone, one of whose pieces is in our current exhibition Picasso and the Masters of Print and which I knew would have really pleased the curator of that exhibition, Victoria. After lunch, sited in the middle of the trade fair, the afternoon was taken up with four more sessions of talks, each which had a choice of three. So many of them sounded interesting, but I kept to my aims of attending those relating to retail and developing product ranges.Wednesday had more time for visiting the trade show to hunt for suitable products and chat to suppliers who were all really helpful and friendly. There were three more sessions of talks to choose from plus a fourth session from the International Speaker, Stuart Hata, director of retail operations, Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco and president of the MSA, the Museum Stores Association. The Chair’s Summary wrapped up all the themes of the convention and bid everyone farewell until Brighton next year urging us to go out and be brave, provocative, risk-taking and aggressive as that’s what can bring about change for the good.The sessions I attended were
  • The overall feeling of the conference was one of friendliness combined with enthusiasm to get the most out of the two days. Regardless of status everyone was keen to share knowledge and answer questions. I had felt quite nervous about attending being only a volunteer, but everyone was so welcoming and eager to listen as well as to share that I gained one thing from attending this convention that I had not expected and that was confidence in my role.
  • After the sessions it was a rush to get back to the hotel to change and then walk across the city to the National Museum of Scotland where everyone was piped in to the drinks reception on the ground floor. The meal was upstairs under the high glass roof and it was a beautiful place for a dinner. The tables were mixed with people from other areas, but that was no barrier to conversation and everyone enjoyed the evening, which after the Best Product Awards were handed out, ended with music and dancing.
  • On Tuesday morning everyone descended on the Corn Exchange by bus, train or taxi which divided everyone up by their approach to life according to Caroline Brown, Chair of ACE, in her Welcome speech. The morning passed with registration, Fresher’s meeting, Welcome, “The Big Picture”, by Dr Bridget McConnell, chief executive of Glasgow Life, which made me want to visit Glasgow, coffee, a first foray into the trade show, Question time and an excited meeting up with other members from SHARE, including the other recipients of a bursary. Liz and Denise from Gainsborough House and Palace House were amazing, they were generous with their advice, offers of help and introductions and as much time from them as we wanted and their excitement and enjoyment of the whole thing was infectious.
  • Even the train journey up to Edinburgh was exciting and seeing iconic landmarks such as the Kilburn White Horse, Durham Cathedral, The Angel of the North, the Tyne bridge, Sage Gateshead and Holy Island with its scaffold encased castle and Lindisfarne Abbey infused the trip with heritage and culture before even reaching Edinburgh.
  • Exposed! The restored Mary Rose Shop is back , Paul Griffiths, The Mary Rose
  • The Secret Garden – RHS licensing rejuvenated, Cathy Snow, The RHS
  • Developing an artisan & craft range for the National Trust, Genevieve Sioka, The National Trust
  • Originality by design, Adam Throw, The Barbican
  • A Museum Store world, Stuart Hata
  • How to create a practical digital strategy, Simon Hopkins, Turner Hopkins
  • Visual Matters – unlocking the potential of your shop through visual merchandising, Lynda Murray, International Visual

National Museum of Scotland

I feel I gained more than just meeting our aims. The whole experience was motivating, inspiring and thought provoking and maybe I won’t be able to put many of the ideas into practice now, but I have been inspired and the ideas and processes will stay with me, developing and waiting for the time they can be used best.

The words and phrases that reverberate from the sessions I attended that I will keep with me are

Relevance, lighting, local connection, authenticity, pop-up shops, storytelling, UK, distinctive, style guide, customisation, social media, museum store Sunday, persona exercises, flow, user journey, title, focal points, colour, sense of place, own brand merchandising, artisan and products that reflect the place.

Thank you SHARE Museums East and The Higgins Bedford for giving me such an inspiring experience.

Sheridanne

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  

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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