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.
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
“Digital Fundraising Doesn’t Exist….. not what I expected to hear at the start of a two-day training session on the subject!…
Thirteen museums came together for four days of getting to know each other’s ideas and challenges, and plenty of learning. The first meet up was in Hertfordshire, kindly hosted by Stevenage Museum.
“Of course, fundraising is about the personal connections and it’s the channel that may be digital. We have learnt so much. Before, we made in-roads into digital fundraising, but we now know how to make it a more engaging experience.. We are now primed to catch attention with a compelling story, convert their interest into action and then into long-term commitment.
We feel better informed to explore the use of technology, as part of an overall strategy that includes social media, emails and perhaps crowd-funding. The follow up consultancy time will be valuable once our ideas crystallise. Indeed, it would be wonderful if we can have a follow-up session in a year’s time to see how we’ve all progressed, to help each other with any obstacles that still need hurdling and to share success stories.” Mark Copley, British Schools Museum
The Digital Fundraising Programme, run by SHARE Museums East and presented by David Burgess of Apollo Fundraising, was very professionally organised and well presented. We had lots of discussion and break-out groups – always effective ways of learning about new subjects, as well as gaining useful input from other attendees.
As a relatively new volunteer (as Webmaster for Bushey Museum and Art Gallery) I learnt a lot about the varied reasons for and benefits of digital fundraising and the many strategies, which can use a range of technologies, to implement these initiatives – as well as what makes them effective! In the final session, we drafted Campaign Plan for an up-coming exhibition which would use many of the techniques learnt on the course, and which may also attract funding.
All in all, a very interesting, professional – and fun – couple of days which I really enjoyed, and which should help the Bushey Museum and the local community. Thanks all! Andrew Gunton, Bushey Museum
… I particularly enjoyed the exercise to make an online donation as it made realise just how short people’s patience is with interfaces that don’t work instantly and intuitively. I surprised myself that when seeking to give a donation to an organisation that I admire and finding the process over-complicated and slow, I gave to another charity. A valuable lesson! Marion Hill, Hertfordshire Archives and Local Studies
The November group was based in the Reading Room at Dunwich Museum on the Suffolk Coast. Again, many people were new to the museum so we were delighted to have it opened for us at lunchtime for people to have a quick peek.
My aims from this session were 1 – Awareness of new opportunities, 2- new channels of communication 3 – greater interactivity with our visitors. David covered these thoroughly, mining down into relevant case studies and encouraging our participation using both discussion and activities. He frequently addressed our respective organisations directly with feedback on existing fundraising structures and the potential for new ones, making the training diverse and relevant. Ben Ridgeon, West Stow Anglo Saxon Village and Country Park
A thought-provoking couple of days, with a superb presenter – engaging, entertaining and not afraid to challenge us and ‘rattle the cage’ where necessary! The proof of the pudding will, of course, be in the eating, but now plenty to chew over! Jonny Wood, St Seraphim’s Icon & Railway Heritage Museum
Starting with a warm welcome from our host Museum, we had two days in the Suffolk village that was once the second largest Medieval city in the country! David’s varied background in fundraising in the Museum and wider cultural sector provided a solid grounding for the two days. Digital fundraising doesn’t exist as such, as digital is just one option for building relationships alongside those made in the real world. This was one of the many assumptions were challenged throughout the two insightful days.
We came away with a much broader and deeper understanding of the opportunities of digital fundraising with the important caveat that it is not a panacea to solve the financial voids in modern museums but is another chance to broaden the fundraising toolkit. Robert Rose, Braintree District Museum
We look forward to lots of digital fundraising in the region!
Some of the Inside Museums participants exploring Nail Theory.
Networking on Steroids – Fraser Hale
‘Join the “Inside Museums” training course’, they said. ‘Come and learn more about why, what, and how museums are, they said. What they could have added was ‘by the way you’ll meet a dozen new, highly engaged, inquisitive and intelligent people who will gladly share their experiences, perspectives and insights with you while you learn together.’ Who wouldn’t want to do that?!
‘Inside Museums’ – led by Nick Winterbotham, and impeccably organised by SHARE Museums East, was an interactive and thought-provoking guided learning exercise. The two days included museum visits, object handling, group discussions, and plenty of time to network with both the students and the course leaders. What it did not contain was one single moment that wasn’t fun, interesting and useful.
When you hear the call to attend a SHARE event – heed it, you will not be disappointed!
What is a museum anyway? – Catherine Rizzo
Never having written a blog before in my life, and subtly being encouraged to produce one for SHARE Museums East, I had to ashamedly consult the omniscient ‘Google’ to find the answer to ‘What is a blog anyway?’.
The nature of queries, however, aptly resounds with the questions raised in the recent course run by SHARE – ‘Inside Museums: Your Part in Their Future’. The essence of the course encouraged participants to reflect on the overarching idea of ‘What is a museum anyway?’ What is their purpose? Why bother? Are they still relevant? Questions like this that make you stop and contemplate are we, in the museum sector, making a difference to people’s lives? To society?
In the day to day hustle and bustle of museum life, it can be easy to forget to stop and reflect on the purpose of museums. Certainly, changing a toilet seat for the second time in a week because the visitors have managed – yet again – to somehow work the hinges loose can, occasionally, make you wonder why you changed career and chose to work in a museum. Or, spending too much time worrying that your museum must be the only one that seems to be having issues with money, staff, visitor numbers etc. can certainly take one’s eye off the big picture.
Furthermore, perhaps it is useful to ask ourselves: ‘How do we keep ourselves challenged and inspired in our work?’ It is easy to forget how important and valuable our own continuing professional development is to keeping that vision for our museums and the narratives we tell alive.
This is why it is important to have courses such as this to be able to connect with others in order to help us think creatively and approach our own museums with a fresh perspective. The value of ‘Inside Museums: Your Part in Their Future’ is that opportunity to connect, share, collaborate with other creative thinkers and practitioners whether they be trustees, front of house members, curators, volunteers etc. This way we can create a ‘supermind’ – a collective understanding of what makes a great museum – museums which showcase the wonder of collections and exhibitions and inspire curiosity.
Maybe our part in the future of museums is to continue to discover new ways of connecting and collaborating for the success of all.
Inside Museums – Chris Strang
We have just attended Share Museum East’s two-day training programme ‘Inside Museums’, a fascinating and thought-provoking interactive course on customer engagement in museums and galleries.
The course treats you to great insights, guest speakers, practical sessions, fun challenges and visits to museums, while providing ample opportunity for collaboration between the participants. Our participant group comprised enthusiastic and creative trustees, volunteers and interpretation staff who all brought interesting perspectives from their own museum experience.
The broad agenda covers the management of museums and exhibitions, collections interpretation and exhibition, customer engagement and inclusion, and how to keep the offering relevant for today’s audience.
The course is amiably and expertly led by the impressive Dr Nick Winterbotham, whose deep knowledge of museums really helps bring to life discussions on how to keep exhibitions and story-telling relevant for changing expectations.
I have found the SHARE Museums East training to be of a consistently high standard: courses such as this are worth committing the time to attend and will definitely help your exhibition strategy.
Give it a go!
Melissa Kozlenko, Royal Anglian Museum, reflects on the training day held at IWM, Duxford
To be honest I wasn’t quite sure what to expect from this day of training, but I figured that learning how to advocate for my museum could never hurt! What I got from the day was more than I had expected.
It was really interesting to learn about ways to look for funding or people that may want to donate to your museum, especially from the perspective of how it would also benefit them. The course was really helpful to allow me time to think of a concise message I would like to give about my museum, what I do and how we are unique. Furthermore, as I am not a Cambridge local, it was nice to have the opportunity to sit down with other people and identify businesses and prominent figures in the area who may wish to support us. As we are most likely moving from our present site in the next decade, it gives me more things to think about as a long term plan to fund this or garner more support for the future.
Although some of the ideas could not work for me as a partner museum to the IWM, there were definitely many ideas I took away with me, especially when it came to the annual planner ideas of advocacy tasks to do that didn’t involve money. The brainstorming with other museums in this area definitely also a helpful exercise as when ideas are being thrown around there is usually something that you did not think of.
The segment we did on goals or ways to read your impact was also quite helpful as I do check some of those, but it is always a good idea to have a measure of your success so you have the information at hand if asked about it by any potential donors or even your other museum staff!
After the day of training I definitely had some new ideas and was excited to hopefully start some projects based around ideas from the Advocacy training.
Miranda Ellis, SHARE Accreditation Advisor
Arts Council England’s revised Museum Accreditation Standard launched on 1 November after a long period of consultation and planning. Natasha and I went along to a training session in Birmingham to find out what the revised standard means for museums in our region.
5 Year Cycle
A change that we’re sure will be very welcome is that Accredited status will now last for 5 years from the date it is awarded. That means you will be invited to re-submit 4½ years after your successful award. During this time it will be as important as ever to keep your policies and key documents up to date and relevant, which will make life easier for you when your resubmission invitation arrives. You’ll also need to work on any ‘Areas for Development’ identified in your previous assessment (previously called ‘Areas for Improvement’), so that you can demonstrate your progress in these areas.
The revised Accreditation Schedule is now available online. Please have a look at this and check when your next return is due. If you have any problems with this, please contact your county Museum Development Officer (MDO) or the Regional Accreditation Adviser (Miranda Ellis or Ruth Burwood) for help.
Museums wishing to apply for Accreditation for the first time will complete an Eligibility Questionnaire as before, but this is a little different from the previous version. The questions are a little clearer, to identify the person who will be the main contact, for example. There will be a greater emphasis on having an appropriately constituted governing body from the start – see ‘Appropriate Governance’ below.
The initial eligibility assessment will be carried out by the Regional Accreditation Adviser, who will make a recommendation to the Arts Council. The Arts Council Accreditation Team will make the final decision. Museums not considered eligible will be supported by the Regional Museum Development service (SHARE Museums East, the Regional Accreditation Adviser, Museum Mentors and County MDOs) to make the necessary changes if they still wish to apply. Eligible museums will then be registered as ‘Working Towards Accreditation’.
Working Towards Accreditation
In order to standardise this phase of the process, museums will be given up to 3 years in which to submit their first full Accreditation Application. Regional Museum Development services (SHARE Museums East, the Regional Accreditation Adviser, Museum Mentors and MDOs) will support museums during this phase.
The revised standard places greater emphasis on museums having an appropriately-constituted governing body. As mentioned above, to be eligible for Accreditation, museums will need to demonstrate this from the start. The following are eligible legal structures:
- Charitable Company Limited by Guarantee (CCLG)
- Charitable Incorporated Organisation (CIO)
This is not a full and exhaustive list – there are several other eligible structures (including Local Authorities and Universities), but for the sake of simplicity, these are the structures that museums in the region are most likely to have. Other legal entities like Charitable Trusts may also be eligible, provided they meet the main criteria to demonstrate they are appropriate for managing a museum. That is, constitutions must specifically refer to:
- Ownership and protection of collections – it should make clear that the organisation has the power to operate a museum
- Nature and status of the governing document (i.e. state the organisation’s legal constitution – CCLG, CIO or otherwise, set out the organisation’s objectives and how its governance is structured to achieve this)
- Oversight by an appropriate regulatory body (e.g. the Charities Commission, Companies House)
- The benefit to the public through access to the collections
However, we know that there are lots of museums that are already Accredited that probably don’t have this. Don’t worry if your museum falls into this category. The Arts Council is not looking to remove any museums from the scheme, so you will not be penalised on your next assessment if you can’t demonstrate appropriate governance. However, you are likely to be asked to review your constitution before your next return, as an ‘Area for Development’. It is, in any case, best practice to review the constitution of any governing body on a regular basis to ensure it is still ‘fit for purpose’. I’d recommend doing this around every three years. This is also very important for succession planning.
SHARE Museums East regularly offers workshops for Trustees, which we highly recommend Trustees to attend. Your County MDO can also offer support with governance review, so talk to them or the SHARE Museums East Team to ask for help.
The revised standard is more specific about the use of Spectrum procedures for collections documentation and management. If you are not already using Spectrum, have a look at our forthcoming workshops with the Collections Trust and book yourself a place to learn more.
Access Policy and Plan
There is a new requirement to have an access policy and plan in place. This is not just about physical access but should also cover anything you are doing to enhance sensory and intellectual access to collections. For example, this might be about layered interpretation or providing autism friendly access.
Again, this area of the standard has been made clearer in its requirements. The requirement is to understand who uses the museum and who doesn’t, using user feedback to inform development and planning for developing the range of users.
The standard specifies provision of ‘stimulating learning and discovery activities’ that help a broad range of people to access the museum and its collections. Plus ‘effective communications’ with audiences though a range of appropriate media. This could include audio-visual interpretation, digital access to collections, and audience engagement via social media, for example.
Accreditation Mentors (formerly known as Museum Mentors) are experienced museum professionals who provide support for museums with the Accreditation process, where the museum does not have an experienced museum professional member of staff. The requirements for becoming a mentor have been relaxed to reflect the broader range of skills needed for Accreditation. Mentors need to have at least 3 years’ experience working at a senior level in museums (this used to be 5 years). There is no longer a requirement to have a professional museum qualification since the Arts Council recognises that other skills backgrounds are equally useful, for example business skills and qualifications.
Additional Information We recommend having a look at the following resources on the Arts Council’s website:
There is also a supporting guidance document that deals with Museum Constitutional and Governance Arrangements, which may be helpful for some museums. However, it’s quite a long, complex document. It will probably be quicker and easier to speak to the Museum Development Team at SHARE, the Regional Accreditation Adviser your Museum Mentor or County MDO before delving into this document.
The launch of the revised Standard represents the beginning of a process of improvement, not the end. There are still more supporting documents to come and the new online submission system, via Grantium, will go live in the Spring. The Arts Council will be continuing to assess how the Accreditation process is working and monitor the impact of the changes.
We will be working on some further guidance resources for you over the coming months and will publicise these as soon as they are available. In the meantime you might like to familiarise yourself with the new standard and check the schedule for your next submission date.
Remember, we are here to help you. Please get in touch if you have any questions.
I will be in post until January 2019, when Ruth Burwood returns from maternity leave and will take over again as Regional Accreditation Adviser.
SHARE Accreditation enquiry email – email@example.com
Miranda Ellis – firstname.lastname@example.org
Ruth Burwood – email@example.com (from January 2019)
Or call us on 01603 495881.