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Regroup, Rethink, Reset – SHARE conference November 2021
The three teaching museum trainees at Norwich Castle Museum and Art Gallery attended the excellent and engaging SHARE conference last week, and we are here to share our thoughts, takeaways and highlights from the two days. We also helped to prompt discussion and asked questions in the chat for some of the speakers. We are Sophie Couling, Learning Trainee; Kathryn Goulding Mountford, Modern and Contemporary Art Trainee; and Bea Prutton, Communications Trainee. Thank you very much for having us SHARE, and thank you to all the speakers, organisers, and fellow attendees, who brought brilliant, interesting, and important topics and conversations to the conference.
Bea Prutton, Teaching Museum Communications Trainee:
This year’s SHARE conference was an engaging, inspiring and thought-provoking reflection on the changing landscape for museums since the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic. It was a cathartic exploration of healing (as demonstrated by Rachel Mackay’s discussion of The Recovery Room), a celebration of incredible achievements in the face of adversity and collective struggle (as exemplified by Emmie Kell’s collaborative work through the Cornwall Museums Partnership, and Liz Power’s community engagement at the London Museum of Water and Steam), and an opportunity to share and formulate new ways to adapt to changing audiences and obstacles (with talks from the inspirational Ruchi Aggarwal and Zak Mensah, who highlighted the continual need for personal growth).
The conference began with a ‘disco wellbeing session’, which invited attendees to dance to the tunes of Cher (pun intended), Meatloaf (highly controversial) and Taylor Swift. The chatroom was as lively as the dancing! While having a virtual boogie with colleagues felt unnatural to many of us, it was an excellent way to promote good mental health and active movement, which are two aspects of post-Covid remote working that we all recognised as significant issues. However, the highlight of the conference was, for me, the dedicated networking sessions, which took a relaxed approach to the discussion of topics such as volunteering, wellbeing and social prescribing.
Being new to the museums sphere, these were an excellent opportunity to listen to the thoughts and opinions of those who have worked in the sector for many years and have seen, first-hand, museums move over to the digital realm, engagement and audiences ebb and flow, and the impact of social justice movements and the pandemic. The resilience of many of the attendees was admirable and motivating and speaking with them was an excellent learning opportunity. We had fruitful and engaging discussions about the future of social prescribing and the work already being done by museums in Cambridge and Southend to engage and aid the vulnerable and to support mental wellbeing. I very much hope to attend the conference next time, and to contribute to such positive, constructive and impactful discussions and developments in museums.
Kathryn Goulding Mountford, Teaching Museum Modern and Contemporary Art Trainee:
What a brilliant and stimulating two days! A really striking takeaway I’d like to highlight from the conference, is how refreshing the format was. I’ve attended different virtual or partially web-based conferences now and though all were excellent, it often left online-only attendees feeling left out or quite isolated because of the lack of interaction. Having a chat facility is great, but it can often feel quite disconnected from the rest of the very audio-visual based delivery. Therefore, the SHARE conference being a zoom meeting, rather than a webinar, allowed for a much more interactive – and friendly and interpersonal! – experience, everyone had their cameras on, and when we entered breakout rooms for conversations about specific topics, the level of communication was amazing. Attendees could talk and engage with each other directly, but also enter links, conversation and questions into the chat. It worked wonderfully! As the three of us were often starting off questions in the chat for speakers to answer after their talks with some of our own, it felt lovely to really feel part of the flow of the sessions, and again, the dynamic of the zoom meeting rather than a webinar allowed for that continual conversational communication between attendees, speakers and organisers, throughout.
Some of my favourite parts of the conference have already been highlighted by Bea, but a standout for me was the “Museum professional wellbeing in a (hopefully) post-Covid world” session by Claire Warner. It was, to me, a very vital and important topic. I especially liked Claire highlighting “what can we be brave about?” and including “Putting your wellbeing first; prioritising self-care; learning what your best looks like and how to achieve it; finding your coping mechanisms; doing something different; and checking in on others”. I think wellbeing and mental health in the workplace can be very hard to follow through with for many of us, but is incredibly powerful, impactful and integral to our lives.
Thank you SHARE for the conference – I took away so much that I will carry with me in my professional (and non-professional!) life!
Sophie Couling, Teaching Museum Learning Trainee:
SHARE’s 2021 conference – Regroup, Rethink, Reset – was a fascinating two days of dynamic discussions and perspective-altering talks about the changing nature of the museum sector. As a trainee just joining the sector, it made doing so in a period of uncertainty feel incredibly exciting, rather than daunting.
A key takeaway for me was Liz Power’s (London Museum of Water and Steam) ponderance on whether ‘museum’ should be considered as a noun or a verb. That is to say, is it the spaces and collections themselves which are essential to our museums? Or is it the role and functions of museums in the wider community which defines them?
Wherever we as individuals stand on this debate – and, in case you’re wondering, the Twitter poll found under #SHAREconf21 stood at a 50/50 split at my last check… – it definitely succeeds in provoking reflections on what museums are, what they do, and how they do it.
Incredibly, this was reflected in the conference itself. The ‘Conversations’ sessions were the perfect demonstration of one of Emmie Kell’s (Cornwall Museums Partnership) ‘Collaborative strategies for success’ – networking! Similarly, Claire Warner’s (Purpose Driven People) ‘Museum professional wellbeing in a (hopefully) post-Covid world’ as the closing talk offered a poignant contrast to David Burgess’s (Apollo Fundraising) fun-filled ‘Wellbeing Disco’ which opened the conference. I’m not sure I can forgive playing Coldplay on a Monday morning though, sorry David!
The only thing left to say is thanks once again to the SHARE team for their hard work, all the speakers for their inspiring talks, and the attendees for engaging in such rich discussions. The conference certainly presented an opportunity to: regroup as a sector, rethink how our practices can be informed by our values, and reset for the future.
A huge thank you to everyone who donated to Forncett Industrial Steam Museum’s Steam Pipe Appeal. They are happy to share some good news with you.
Volunteers Week feature: From the Museum of Cambridge
Volunteer Blogs: The World of Front-of-HouseOur volunteer David- and the people he met along the way! It does not feel to me as though there has been a Friday morning recently. I guess that there must have been, but I carelessly let it pass unnoticed! Over the last four or five years I have become accustomed to my Friday mornings being focussed, interesting, enlightening and fulfilling while volunteering Front of House at the Museum. That’s the way I like to spend it.
But Social Distancing etc. came sweeping in and, all of a sudden, my Friday mornings were transformed – and not for the better! Since March 2020, days have come and gone with a lack of texture and context.
Whilst certainly far from dull, my Friday mornings are just so very different nowadays – no visitors to welcome for a start! The visitors are, for me, what makes Front of House volunteering so special. The Museum’s visitors are of course all different, but they are all consistent in possessing the same quality- that most splendid of qualities- curiosity.
Over the years, my murmured enquiry of “what brings you to Cambridge today?” has initiated such a range of enthralling responses. And many memorable conversations have ensued.
Just a few of those fascinating visitors spring instantly to mind…..
The delightful Brazilian professor (over here for a Conference on “Ocean litter”) who was a fascinating polymath, He could chat about anything and everything!
The French Art Student who was on his way back home to Reunion after visiting dozens of Scottish islands. We shared the same opinion that Callanish is one of the most achingly beautiful places in Britain (especially if you are blessed with a sunny day).
The couple from Greenwich who had some great stories about their frequent beachcombing strolls along the Thames foreshore. They told me all about gathering and transforming all kinds of flotsam and jetsam into a bizarre range of art forms for their house and garden.
The couple whose home was a narrow boat that wandered Britain’s canals (the husband specialising in mending clocks and all-things-mechanical on his travels).
The family from Alice Springs who were delighted to discover that their home-town was specifically named (OK, actually re-named) after the eighteenth-century Cambridge resident Alice Todd.
The couple who were touring Britain as part of a play that was on at the Arts Theatre. Gosh, they were the source of many cheeky and amusing tales!
The local chap whose great Uncle (Mr Fenner no less) had founded the Cambridge University Cricket Ground.
The retired couple from Mauritius who were travelling the globe, writing a book about the World’s wonderful Botanic Gardens.
The man from Christchurch, New Zealand, who was visiting anywhere and everywhere that had an association with Antarctica. He had (of course) been to Scott Polar Museum, British Antarctic Survey (and the Whipple to see the clocks made by John Harrison) and he wanted to make time to visit our Museum before setting off for Dundee to see RRS Discovery.
I particularly enjoy the sheer curiosity of the youngsters who visit the Museum. It is always fun to set them a task or two as they start their visit, although I am only too aware at how testing their own subsequent questions can be an hour later!
Oh, so many interesting and interested people! They are too numerous (and too humorous) to mention. It is always great to hear of their affection for our Museum and our City; they have made a great impact on me and I miss them.
I should have been keeping more detailed notes about the great conversations just in case I find myself faced with an irresistible urge to write my own book! And although I have been too lazy to even start that book yet, I might at least have found a working title. Perhaps Musings at the Museum might possibly do? I am left wondering, though, if I could do justice to all those wonderfully curious visitors!
I am keeping my fingers crossed that the “new normal” is about to arrive. Let’s hope it is as exciting as its predecessor.
This post was written by David M., a volunteer at the Museum of Cambridge.
They’re coming home!
People of the Halesworth area have responded magnificently to the Halesworth and District Museum’s plea for help to secure the return to the area of a hoard of Iron Age gold coins recently unearthed near Blythburgh. They are among the earliest coins produced in Britain and carry intriguing images in the shape of animals, hidden faces, swirling patterns and strange symbols. One at least is the first of its kind ever to be discovered. How they came to be left or buried over 2,000 years ago is, for the time being, a matter of speculation.
£16,150 was needed to purchase the nineteen rare pieces once they were declared Treasure Trove. The hope was to raise at least £2,000 of this locally. In the event donations from local people and supporters have amounted to well over £5,000 and the Museum has successfully applied to national grant-making bodies for the balance.
Pauline Wilcock, Chair of the Museum’s Trustees is full of praise for the local response.
“Thanks to the magnificent generosity of local people, we have reached our target well within the three-month period we were given. It says a lot about people’s understanding and appreciation of the importance and interest of our local history. We shall do all we can to make sure that everyone gets a chance as soon as possible to see and wonder at these incredible survivals from two thousand years ago.”
The coins should shortly be released by the British Museum where they are currently stored. Halesworth Museum is set to reopen after the next stage of lockdown is lifted, hopefully in mid-May. “For now, the next task is to acquire a secure display cabinet which will show the coins off to advantage and allow us to explain their importance”, explains Museum Curator, Brian Howard. “As a museum run by local people for local people, we owe that much to everyone who has been so generous”.
Halesworth and District Museum is at the Halesworth Railway Station Building