Part 2: Trying to Transform Museums one step at a time

Trainees at their most recent training day

Last month we heard from Matthew Jones, Project Officer from the Transforming People to Transform Museum project about an initiative to widen opportunities for young people to embark on their museum careers.

Now we talk to five of our current cohort to learn more about their ventures into virtual guided tours, conservation cleaning, exhibition development and getting to grips with museum databases.

Alana Edgeworth, Community Engagement Trainee, National Horse Racing Museum

As someone who loved studying history at school, I knew that I wanted to have a career within the heritage sector. Upon leaving sixth form I had planned to attend university, however I realised that I did not feel ready to go. I had no idea how to get into the heritage sector without studying for a degree first so decided to do a bit of research and that was when I found the traineeship, where I could get a qualification whilst gaining experience of working in a museum.

The Covid-19 pandemic was the biggest and most unexpected challenge I faced during the traineeship. Working from home was something that I had never experienced before and had to adapt to. After a few weeks, I was able to find the right balance and completed some great projects during lockdown. This includes filming a virtual guided tour, designing a touring exhibition during a ‘remote’ work placement at the Suffolk Archives, and starting a volunteer newsletter. Although it is disappointing to have missed out on being at the museum, I have developed many skills whilst working from home, such as time management, trusting in my own ideas more and using Microsoft Teams!

Charlie Davies, Community Engagement Trainee, National Horse Racing Museum

After finishing my A-levels in 2017, I spent my summer volunteering in the galleries at Palace House, and as a conservation engager at Anglesey Abbey. The two roles were very different, but I found I enjoyed them both; gaining a small insight into the inner workings of a museum. The traineeship was brought to my attention whilst I was doing this volunteering and it seemed like a great way to continue to pursue something that I was really enjoying, and that could become a potential career path.

As cliché as it sounds, I’ve definitely become more confident over the past ten months. My first day was in one of the busiest weeks of the year in terms of school visits, and I was straight in to helping school groups find their way around the site. There wasn’t any time to be nervous, and I’m really glad that that first week was as full-on as it was. Coupled with everyone here being really friendly and welcoming, I immediately felt like part of the team.

The highlight of the programme so far for me was working on the John McCririck pop-up exhibition back in November. I’m particularly proud of that because we saw it through from the very beginning, from working with the curator and collections volunteers to sort through and log the items to researching how the outfits would have been put together and assembling the mannequins.

Sally Dix, Trainee, Museum of East Anglian Life

My interest in art, history, travel and museums is ultimately what led me to pursue a career in museums. Prior to applying to the traineeship, I was working as a primary school teacher but decided I wanted to have a career change and work in a sector that I was truly passionate about. I was initially going to do an MA in Museum Studies but then I heard about the ‘Skills for the Future program’.

I really enjoyed the challenge of organising a temporary exhibition that opened in January. All the art was made by one of our volunteers from discarded telecoms waste. I liked the level of responsibility that organising the exhibition gave me: curating the event; writing and releasing the press release; installing the event and organising the private view.

I have also enjoyed working with and learning more about collections as part of our ‘Search for The Stars’ digitisation project, where we are creating an online collection of objects. This has mainly involved working with volunteers and helping to photograph some of our c. 40,000 objects so that they can be added to our online collection.

During lockdown, I became even more involved in the project as we were able to recruit many more volunteers to help us add and check our online records and make them live. My role in the project involved interviewing volunteers, helping to train them, checking entries and adding research.

Alfie Stagg, Digital Collections Trainee, Ipswich Museum

The programme helped me by making me more comfortable in a work environment while being supported by the traineeship. Having only up to this point been in education through school and college it makes the transition between the two an easier experience. I have learnt how to conserve different objects which involves using different cleaning methods on different materials, for example, using Industrial Methylated Spirits to clean leather and learning how to handle the objects safely to ensure that they are not put a risk when they don’t need to be. I also have learnt how to use the Museum’s database system, Axiell which involves me creating new digital records for objects and adding objects to specific collections, for example, making sure the paintings go into the Art collection on the database.

I have really enjoyed the conservation work as you get to see objects that sometimes would not be on display and learning how to care for and preserve them. Learning how to handle objects and the chance to hold historical objects which is something you don’t normally get the opportunity to do. I have also enjoyed meeting up with the other trainees at their Museums and learning what their roles are and also getting background experience on their Museums giving you an insight of the workings of the different Museums.

Freya Didcott, Trainee, Long Shop Museum

After being out of college for over a year and having a normal café job, I wanted to pursue a possible career choice as I felt that I was starting to get stuck.

I have always enjoyed learning about history and going to museums growing up, so I thought it would be a good introduction to see if actually working within the heritage sector would be a good choice for me as a future career. I think the highlight of this programme is being shown the inner workings of how a museum is run.

Meeting all of the different staff, volunteers and trustees has really opened my eyes on how much there is to do and how important the work is, as well as how the heritage sector can bring in a diverse range of people into one working environment.

Particularly, I have enjoyed being able to meet and listen to the histories of our volunteers (as most of them are over 60) has been a great way for me to learn local history alongside the history that the museum I work in focuses on.

The Transforming People to Transform Museums Project @ Colchester and Ipswich Museums, Museum of East Anglia Life, Palace House – Newmarket and The Long Shop Museum is funded by the National Lottery Heritage Fund.