Spotlight on…Rayleigh Town Museum

Poppies for Remembrance at Rayleigh Town Museum

For people who haven’t visited Rayleigh Town Museum what’s it all about?

The Rayleigh Town Museum is operated entirely by our 55 volunteers. The Museum, part of which dates to 1350, is the oldest secular building in town, is located in the middle of the Rayleigh Town Centre Conservation area in a grade 2 listed building, one of 32 within Rayleigh.

The Museum showcases the rich and varied history of Rayleigh, with evidence dating back to the Stone age. We display a diverse range of artefacts and ephemera, all with a direct provenance to Rayleigh.

We opened in 2016 (Wednesdays, Fridays. Saturdays and Sundays) all year with free entry to all. In addition, we welcome school, youth, and adult groups on private visits outside of these times. We also offer heritage walks around town for groups and individuals We have a commercial hire arm as part of our diversification programme. We have welcomed over 30,000 visitors not only from Rayleigh but from within Essex and further afield.

We have a number of specialists displays and exhibitions throughout the year to include Rayleigh Speedway, The Cinema, the arrival of the railway, various wars, local schools, carnivals and much more. We hold a vast archive, to include 600 postcards, books, town guides, programmes, carnival ephemera, far more than can be on display at any one time.

Since closure we have been working tirelessly behind the scenes to become fully Covid compliant for when we are able to reopen.

What makes Rayleigh Town Museum so special?

The building itself with its most impressive open beams throughout gives first time visitors that WOW factor from the start. It is an exhibit in itself. In addition to our rental grant we receive sponsorship, donations and support from many local retailers and businesses who sponsor exhibitions, rooms and exhibits as well as many local private benefactors, who each pay £250 for inclusion on our benefactors’ board.

We are a community Museum run by the community and for the community and we take part in many local events during the year, such as Christmas lights, annual Trinity fair, school fetes, fun runs, indeed as many as we can to help promote the Museum.

Admission to the Museum is free and this is possible not only due to the financial contribution from our major sponsors and benefactors but also to the 625 members of our Friends group. This one fact evidences the depth of our community involvement; indeed, we have members from all corners of the world.

We are members of a number trade bodies, such as AIM, and we can calculate the economic value of the Museum to our town by way of their economic toolkit. This indicates that we add in the region of £100,000 a year to the town, from visitors who extend their visit to Rayleigh to shop and eat.

Interior of Rayleigh Town Museum showing it set up for an event, with red chairs in theatre style.

I’ve seen a great volunteer hours counter on your website! How many volunteers do you have and what is everyone working on at the moment?

Every month we log the number of hours our volunteers contribute to the operation of the Museum. Pre Covid this was in the region of 1,000 hours EVERY month, although during Covid this has reduced to 600. On Covid closure we set up a working party to investigate when we could reopen, and in addition building maintenance, security, research, PR, and social media have all continued.

How have things changed since Covid-19?

Uppermost in our thoughts at all times is the safety and wellbeing of both our volunteers and visitors. Although we could have opened the Museum from the 4th July we waited until all our procedures have been thought through, fully Covid “good to go “and approved by our Trustees.

In October we reopened but only to member so our Friends group, both as a thank you to them for retaining their membership whilst we were closed, but also to test our “new normal” Covid arrangements.

We have always been aware of the value of social media and Covid has accelerated this greatly. We now have an “object of the week “on our website and will soon have a virtual tour of the Museum ready for viewing. We will then start work on a virtual heritage walk of the High Street, and we are also hoping to complete a new 30-minute DVD on the history of Rayleigh by spring 2021.

We are also considering holding talks in the Museum via Zoom, possibly live on Social media with financial donations as an income stream

What are your plans for 2021 and beyond?

Much of course depends on Covid but current plans include, a medieval Christmas display, a Rochford area 2020/Beagle tapestry exhibition. Rayleigh remembers (Nov each year as part of the town’s war commemoration), the annual Trinity fair, and notable town anniversaries. We also hope to have a new and significant display on the history of Rayleigh castle (the only Essex castle mentioned in the Domesday survey of 1086) in 2021 a major addition to our archives.

We are also working actively behind the scenes to become an Accredited Museum. We see this as fundamental to our ongoing sustainability.

The Museum is now firmly established as the heritage hub of the area. We work closely with other Museums and heritage sites (Rayleigh Windmill/ Dutch Cottage/Rayleigh Mount). One of our future plans is a project “Spend a day in Rayleigh” to visit all the heritage sites, and to shop and eat in town. We are in discussion with a number of local retailers for vouchers schemes to boost interest.

This is just the tip of the iceberg!!!

Find out more and get in touch on the Rayleigh Town Museum website.