Essex MDO News – November

In case you missed it in your inbox, or haven’t yet subscribed, you can view the latest monthly newsletter here: Essex MDO News – November 2020

This month we look at new funding options, including a business development opportunity from NLHF and Cause4, upcoming conferences including Decolonisation and Democratisation from Colchester + Ipswich Museums plus job opportunities and more. Also included is a feature on the brilliant Rayleigh Town Museum!

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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.

Book now for Trustee recruitment: how to find the right people for your organisation

Thursday 10 December, 14:30 – 16:00 (online, Zoom – FREE)

Are you interested in finding out more about best practice trustee recruitment? If you’re thinking about undertaking a governance review, having a shake-up of your Board, or adding in a more diverse skill set, this session will provide some useful information.   

We will hear from Frank Hargrave, Museums Manager at Colchester + Ipswich Museums, and driving force behind the newly created Colchester Museums Development Foundation. Frank will cover his work in setting up the new Foundation, and how he and his team handled building a new Trustee Board from scratch, considering skills and diversity and different recruitment approaches.  

There will be an opportunity for discussion and Q+A – please feel free to email me (Beth) your questions in advance.

Find out more and register on Eventbrite.

Museums Essex launches Small Grants Round 8

Museums Essex is pleased to launch Small Grants Round 8.

Six grants of up to £500 will be awarded. Four of these will be available to museums which are either Accredited or are working towards Accreditation as the funding comes from SHARE Museums East. The remaining two grants will be open to all museums in Essex irrespective of whether they are Accredited or not. Applicants must be members of Museums Essex.

This round will accept applications for activities and equipment to enable museums to recover from the impact of COVID-19, including re-opening in 2021. Areas covered include:

  • Marketing materials and specialist advice
  • Business and financial planning
  • Adaptations to a museum venue to make it COVID-19 secure, including signage
  • Website development, including virtual exhibitions.

Other areas may be considered by the Trustees if in their view they contribute to the ability of a museum to recover from the impact of COVID-19.

Guidance and application documents

Download the application form (with full guidance) and the assessment criteria, so you can see how applications will be assessed by the Museums Essex Trustees.

Deadline is Monday 14 December.

Enquiries about the process/your application should be directed to me, and your completed application should be submitted to Philip Wise –

I am very happy to support organisations with their grant applications and supply feedback/advice so do get in touch if this would be helpful.

Decolonisation + Democratisation – free online seminars!

Join us this November and December for a series of free live-streams over on our YouTube channel. Heritage and arts organisations from across the country will be exploring how they are engaging and sharing ownership with communities. Contributors include:

  • York Museums Trust
  • Brighton and Hove Museums
  • Ipswich Museum
  • Subhadra Das, UCL
  • Liam Wiseman, ACE
  • Snapping the Stiletto project
  • Museum of London

See the CIMS website for the full programme and YouTube link. No need to register, just turn up!

SHARE launch new Acquisitions Grants

SHARE Museums East have just launched a new Acquisitions Grant, which is open until 22 March 2021 as a rolling programme.

If you are thinking about applying, please let me know – I’m very happy to support with developing and reviewing/proofing applications.

Details from SHARE:

As part of our 2018-2022 regional Museum Development activity plan, funded by Arts Council England, SHARE Museums East is supporting museums to develop their collections. We want to help museums to improve the representation and diversity of the stories that present, through the collections they have and interpret. We want museums to be able to provide a more accurate, balanced and inclusive interpretation of the past, therefore becoming more relevant and sustainable as a result.

Museums can apply for a grant of up to £2000 towards obtaining a new acquisition. The grant application form and full guidance is available from the SHARE Museums East website.

Examples of activities for which the grant can be used, include:

  • Purchase of object/objects to develop permanent collections
  • Commissioning of work/works from an artist
  • Costs towards working with a community advisory panel to inform new acquisition/s
  • Valuation costs, framing and display, the conservation and restoration of works, transport and storage costs to

Metal Crime Conference – You are invited to protect your roof & other property

Essex Police are pleased to host the joint Essex & Kent Heritage Watch Metal crime virtual “Teams “conference

09:30 – 13:30 Wednesday 14/10/2020

Presentations from: Ecclesiastical Insurance, Brook Security, Trace in Metal, SmartWater, Historic England, Kent & Essex Heritage Watches and Essex Police Crime Prevention.

For further information and the weblink to the conference using Microsoft “Teams” email:- with your name, organisation where applicable and email address (if different to that used in your reply)

*You do not need to have Teams installed on your IT, the link will open a webpage where you can join as a guest.

If you would like further information about Heritage Watch or wish to join, contact:

for Essex – Paul Harris

for Kent – Kelvin Wood

Spotlight on…Stow Maries Great War Aerodrome

This month we talked to Steve Morley at Stow Maries Great War Aerodome about their unique site – from original First World War hangars and an Officer’s mess, to owls and raptors and their hugely popular Wings and Wheels events.

Black and white image of a light aircraft with a man standing next to it

For people who haven’t visited Stow Maries Great War Aerodrome, what’s it all about?

Stow Maries is the most intact, original, surviving WW1 Royal Flying Corps (RFC) operational aerodrome left in Europe. It was operational from 1916 until 1919 and was a key part of the London Air Defence Region, combatting raids by German Zeppelins, and both Gotha and Giant bombers across the South-East and London. This was the first Battle of Britain.

We have 22 surviving buildings that were built in 1917-19, including an original RFC Officers Mess which we believe is the only one in existence. The long-term aim of the Trust is to restore the whole site back to its heyday in 1918. This is very dependent on funding being found from various sources, with timescales to complete the work(s) linked to funding availability. 

There are currently four exhibitions at the site, plus two temporary hangars housing aircraft from this time of early aviation. It is still an active General Aviation airfield so visitors can see aircraft departing and arriving. It is 99% volunteer run, with a great enthusiastic team. We normally offer guided tours as part of the visitor experience, which receive excellent feedback, but this option is currently unavailable due to COVID restrictions. We do however have a Visit England ‘Good to go’ certificate which confirms that we open the site to visitors in the best way possible.

When the Royal Airforce (RAF) abandoned the site in 1919, it reverted back to a farm, owned by the Turner family. Mr Turner made use of the RAF buildings on-site, with several being turned into farmworkers accommodation. There is a whole aspect of social history associated with the site which we are just beginning to research with a view to forthcoming exhibitions being developed in the next five years.

We also have a vibrant wildlife population of owls, raptors, and other species, with a wildlife team able to give guided tours around parts of the site albeit this is not possible with current COVID restrictions.

Aerial image of Stow Maries Great War Aerodrome and the surrounding area

What makes Stow Maries Great War Aerodrome so special?

Being the only surviving, untouched aerodrome from WW1 makes Stow Maries unique, and a jewel in UK aviation history. Some of the earliest aviation developments took place here, certainly in respect of development of an early air defence network – the continuing development of which went onto become a major factor in the RAF being successful in the Battle of Britain in 1940.

Visitors can experience the ambience of the site, buildings, and stories from the site told by our enthusiastic team. It has an incredibly strong ‘Spirit of Place’ that we strive to maintain at all times.

We are very much volunteer-driven and offer opportunities for people of all ages to become part of the award winning team that hosts members from  a multitude of backgrounds and skill-sets.

Can you tell us about an exciting project you are working on?

We are the development stage for an exhibition around early wireless technology used in aircraft. Our resident squadron (No 37 Home Defence Squadron) was the first home defence squadron to be equipped with wireless as part of the defence of London. We are working with ex Marconi employees to get some of this early equipment interpreted and on display from Spring 2021.

Alongside the above we have a rolling five year exhibition strategy, which will helps to maintain the installation of a new exhibition every year  – as we have for the past four years!

To compliment the curatorial aspects of the site we are developing relationships with other museums, including some of the major players in the aviation museum world. However, we would also like to develop partnerships with other regional museums not related to aviation in an effort to help each other out in what is now a challenging time for the industry.

What sort of events do you usually run?

We are open Friday, Saturday and Sunday throughout the period March – December, where all of our exhibitions are open. During the Spring/Summer/Autumn we hold three major events which include a flying display. Our signature event is Wings and Wheels which combines historic cars and aircraft. We also hold an event called Stow at War, which is one of the main Great War Living History events in  the UK with a multitude of historians and groups attending from across the country.

Our website and our social media presence has more details of these events.

What’s coming up?

After a challenging year for all museums we look forward in 2021 to attracting new and existing visitors by refreshing and adding to our offering. We are currently working on a schedule of events for the year, including Wings and Wheels, and Stow at War.  We are only too aware that the opportunities afforded to us in fundraising this year are unlikely to be repeated next year, so are working hard to link up with partners to reduce costs and push on towards financial sustainability. We are also very glad of the support of our Patrons and sponsors for all their help this year.

However we must also be cognisant of the challenges we face with COVID and ensure that whatever we plan takes into account the relevant guidelines of social distancing to ensure the safety of our volunteers and visitors alike. We want Stow Maries to be a great experience for heritage visitors, a curatorial example to others and most of all, a fun place to be in the #NewNormal!

For more information about Stow Maries Great War Aerodrome, visit their website, follow them on Twitter, or catch them on YouTube.

New training added to SHARE calendar

New training sessions have been added to the SHARE Museums East training calendar.

Upcoming training:

  • 7 October, Remote Learning Programmes
  • 13 October, Purposeful social media
  • 16 October, Collections Care on a shoestring (limited free places for non-Accredited museums/heritage sites available)
  • 28 October, Managing Intellectual Property Rights with Spectrum 5.0
  • 10 November, Why your museum needs to love legacy fundraising
  • 10 December, Caring for Photographs

Please see the training calendar on the SHARE website to book.