Government announcement on further restrictions

  • From Monday 14 September, you must not meet with people from other households socially in groups of more than 6. This will apply indoors and outdoors, including in private homes. COVID-19 Secure venues (including museums) can still host larger numbers in total but groups of up to 6 must not mix or form larger groups.
  • Businesses will have a clear legal duty to support NHS Test and Trace. It will be mandatory for certain businesses to have a system to collect NHS Test and Trace data, and keep this for 21 days.

Further details can be found here:

A reminder that the guidance for museums published by the National Museum Directors Council can be found here, and will be updated in line with these changes as soon as possible.

Job vacancy: Archivist, Braintree District Museum Trust

Salary: £27,000 – £32,000

Job Type: Full Time

Contract Type: Permanent

Braintree District Museum Trust has an exciting opportunity to lead on the Braintree Digital Textile Heritage Project to improve access for commercial clients and researchers into the Warner Textile Archive, the largest public collection of a luxury textile manufacturer in the United Kingdom, with over 100,000 textiles and related items. The role will be responsible for the day-to-day care, interpretation and specialist access to the Archive Collection and to develop and implement a research framework to inform public programmes and interpretation.

For an informal discussion please contact Robert Rose, Museums Manager on robert.rose@bdmt.org.uk; 01376 328868 ext.20 or 0797 099 3705.

Find out more and apply.

Free organisational health check opportunity

Would you be interested in undertaking a free organisational health check? Is your museum in the Accreditation scheme? If so, this could be an excellent opportunity to help you prioritise areas of development over the next 12 months.

It is a self-assessment, designed as an indicator to help you highlight your museum’s current best practice, understand where the museum has areas of development and to feed into your forward planning. It takes approximately 45 minutes – one hour to complete.

Information about the process, the benefits, and how I can help with it are below. Please let me know if you are interested and I will arrange individual chats with museums to talk through the process, and to set you up with the online survey, which I can do along with you. 

The benefits:

  • Once the check is completed, you receive a tailored report from SHARE Museums East detailing your developmental needs and priorities, so you can address this where possible
  • It provides an indicator for museums on overall organisational health
  • It enables museums to understand the areas they are doing well and also the areas of challenge
  • Funders are really looking for evidence organisations are taking their long-term sustainability seriously at the moment, and an organisational health check like this one is an excellent activity to have completed, and reference in any funding application. It shows you are taking responsibility and initiative to identify your strengths and weaknesses and are committed to taking action to address any areas of development.

Support available

  • It’s not a one-person task, it can be done as a group exercise by a board or management team, or between a group and a facilitator (me!) The latter option is preferable as it allows me to get a better insight into your organisation, and also adds a neutral perspective into the mix.
  • A YouTube webinar on the survey can be viewed here, to help you understand the process: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wcge6Tbl8TU.

Please get in touch if you are interested!

National Trust teams up with Essex Cultural Diversity Project for community art projects

The National Trust and the Essex Cultural Diversity Project have teamed up to create two commissions focusing on NT properties; Bourne Mill in Colchester, and Paycocke’s House and Grange Barn in Coggeshall. They provide a unique opportunity to creatively explore NT properties and engage local communities.

After a call out for proposals in Autumn 2019, which attracted over 30 applications, two projects were selected. The projects started in January 2020 and were developing nicely with a variety of workshops on property and within the local communities, however the Covid-19 pandemic caused an abrupt halt to the workshops. The artists went online to allow participation from home. The artworks created will be incorporated into an installation for each property.

Bourne Narratives

Artists Nicola Burrell and Lisa Temple-Cox are creating a large felt installation exploring Bourne Mill and highlighting the beauty and ecological diversity of the site. It is a creative opportunity for participants to reflect and share memories and personal histories. On the Bourne Narratives Facebook page you can find self-led activities along with videos of workshops and the Mill.

Woven Sound, Knitted Community

The project revolves around the historical use of Grange Barn as a combined place of industry (wool) and community gathering, and the musical connection between Paycocke’s House and the composers Gustav & Imogen Holst. Composer Mike Roberts has been using accessible musical activity and creation as the focus – working with the local community to create patterns that can be captured both in wool (through knitted and woven patterns) and sound, to ‘compose’ a collection of rhythmic woollen pictures. There is an introductory video on Mike’s website with resources to allow participation at home.

The projects are funded by Arts Council England and the National Trust.

Article by Kerith Ririe, Property Operations Manager at Paycocke’s House & Gardens, Coggeshall Grange Barn and Bourne Mill.

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.

Spotlight on…The Essex Fire Museum

This month we talked to Laura Bayley at the Essex Fire Museum about how they are using Facebook Live events to reach audiences in lockdown, water squirting, and their plans for adapting their learning offer!

For people who haven’t visited the Essex Fire Museum before, what’s it all about?

The Essex Fire Museum depicts the history of the fire service in Essex and is one of the few fire museums in the UK. We house an array of artefacts dating from the mid-18th century and allow visitors the opportunity to take a fascinating look at how brigades have changed from the local town and parish brigades to the modern day service – plus how some things have stayed the same.

Enter into the Victorian period to discover what equipment was available to firemen and how physically demanding it would have been to fight a fire over 100 years ago. Our WW2 section explains the dangers faced in the UK and includes front line roles women could sign up to. You can also read first-hand accounts from local residents who recount their experiences of the war.

We’ll also talk to you about fire safety in your home and the importance of smoke alarms – so as well as receiving a history lesson you’ll leave knowing how to stay safer in your home.

How has lockdown affected the museum and your activities?

Due to the museum being held in the former AFS (Auxiliary Fire Service) garages at Grays fire station we close to visitors between the October half term and Easter as it gets rather cold in there. So when the lockdown was announced there were no immediate issues for us as we had no open days planned.

We would usually have held open days during the various school holidays, which of course we were unable to do this year, so instead we have made more use of our Facebook page to keep in touch with those who follow us and reach out to new people. In the past we have only really used regular text/photo posts to promote our activities. Now, however, we have held live sessions, posted videos and also post about more of our artefacts to ensure the museum continues to remain active even when it is closed.

We have been lucky in that we don’t rely on income from visitors to stay open, which has meant we can concentrate on alternative ways to keep the museum alive and in people’s minds until it’s safe for us to reopen – and continue to provide fire safety advice.

What new ways have you found to reach your audiences?

With social media being the only way we can connect with people while we’re closed we focussed on being more active and introducing new and different posts to keep our audience engaged – and educated! Though I don’t have the exact number, in mid-March the museum’s Facebook page had around 1,600 likes. Now, we have over 2,100 so, though not quite on the heels of the British Museum (1.5 million), it is a noticeable increase. Also, there has been good interaction on the posts with comments and shares as well as reacting to them.

What’s your favourite object in the museum’s collection?

We have thousands of items stored safely at the museum: engines, manual pumps, helmets, uniforms, hoses, medals, cutting equipment and so on, but my favourite item is something I didn’t actually see myself for the best part of a year. It’s an account of a bombing raid in Grays given by someone who was a young girl at the time and, when the siren sounded to warn of an attack, would make her way to the bomb shelter created in their back garden with her mother and grandmother. Unfortunately, it seems the shelter wasn’t particularly comfortable and was described as damp and cold. On one occasion an incendiary bomb landed near their shelter and started a small fire near their fence. The grandmother, on top of the general discomfort of the shelter, was even more aggrieved by this new situation and refused to spend any more time in there so went back into the house, followed by her daughter and granddaughter. The next morning the granddaughter went outside and saw scorch marks on the fence but, thankfully, nothing more, and kept the remnants of the device as a souvenir. They never returned to the shelter, the grandmother told them they’d be much more comfortable in their bed.

…Though our 1994 Dennis Rapier fire engine is a close second!

Why do visitors particularly enjoy your museum?

Undoubtedly the most enjoyable part of an open day for the children is the water squirting. Five of our engines are over 50 years old so quite delicate. Our 1994 Dennis Rapier, however, is still in working use so children (and adults) are able to climb inside and we’re able to use the pump to spray water as a firefighter would.

Other than that, the five fire engines clearly visible as visitors walk through Gray’s yard towards our museum are our biggest draw, especially with those who grew up watching them whizzing through the streets on their way to calls.

What are your plans for 2021 and beyond?  

Our Collections Officer, Roger Pickett, announced his retirement a couple of weeks ago so it will be the end of an era for the museum as its existence is entirely due to his enthusiasm and determination – and I suspect his wife’s wish for him to keep the fire engines he owns elsewhere!

The first change we’re going to implement is to recruit an apprentice rather than a like-for-like replacement. This is likely to be advertised in the autumn so please spread the word if you know anyone who might be interested. Details are being finalised but we’re looking forward to the new chapter of the Essex Fire Museum.

Other than that, I would like to introduce more interactive activities for visitors to enjoy as much of what we have is hands off so it would be great for people to be able to get more hands on. Part of this would be to hold sessions for those who are visually impaired. As just mentioned, our museum is primarily visual so we want to create some sessions to allow those who may usually feel as though there’s little point in them visiting feel welcome.

We are also looking to create remote educational sessions which would be available to schools. We are visited by local schools who want to learn about the Great Fire of London and the emergency services. However, it’s not really practical for schools further afield to travel to Grays which is a great shame for both parties as I still clearly remember school trips and what I learned from them. By creating such sessions many more school pupils would benefit as they would be able to talk to and ask questions directly to members of the fire service.

How can people get in touch with you?

When we are able to reopen again on a more ‘normal’ setting, we only open for general entry on set days during school holidays. However, bookings are taken for groups and special occasions so if other museum people would like to pay us a visit please contact us via museum@essex-fire.gov.uk to arrange a suitable time – it would be great to welcome you to our museum and share ideas! We are also looking to start an apprentice scheme at the museum, so if anyone has experience of running them, or traineeships, we’d be grateful for any advice.

A View from the Chair: Museums Essex

By Philip Wise, Chair of Museums Essex and Heritage Manager at Colchester + Ipswich Museums

I have been fortunate to have worked in Essex for nearly 22 years, arriving in September 1998 as the Curator of Archaeology at the then Colchester Museums. One of my first memories is attending a meeting of the Essex Museum Workers Group (EMWG) with my colleague Tom Hodgson at Braintree Town Hall. Since then I have remained actively involved with museums in Essex, serving for a time as the Secretary of the EMWG and latterly becoming a founder trustee of its successor Museums Essex in 2014. Eighteen months ago I became the Chair of Museums Essex.

This time last year it would have been impossible to predict the position in which we now find ourselves. The withdrawal of Essex County Council from a strategic role in supporting the museum sector in Essex, and in particular hosting the Essex Museum Development Officer post, was a nasty surprise and it took considerable efforts behind the scenes and much negotiation with interested parties, including Museums Essex, to put in place new arrangements. I am delighted that we have appointed Beth Wilkey as the new Essex MDO and already, in only two months, I hope that you will agree with me that she has made a big impact in the county.

The other major event in recent months has, of course, been the COVID-19 pandemic which has affected museums as all other areas of our cultural life in Essex. For many of you the impact has been very severe, not just in terms of being unable to open with the consequent loss of visitor income but also in the lack of opportunity for both volunteers and paid staff, many of whom have been either furloughed or are working from home, to meet together in person at the museums they love. Although some are now reopening well into the peak visitor season, the effects of COVID-19 will be felt for quite some time.

How do I see the future of museums in Essex? It is clear to me that the lesson of both the new arrangements for museum development in the county and the response to the COVID-19 pandemic is that we need to work together and engage with others at both a county and national level.

It goes without saying that I would like to see as many museums in the county as possible joining Museums Essex. Your subscriptions, deliberately kept as low as possible, contribute directly to the MDO’s salary and your numbers strengthen Museums Essex’s mandate to speak up on your behalf. I hope that, despite the difficulties that some may face, all existing members will renew their membership in the autumn and that we might be able to gain some new members as well.

At a national level, there is the Arts Council’s Accreditation scheme. Accreditation provokes a range of reactions out there in the museum world. Some feel that Accreditation is not for them, regarding it as being a very bureaucratic process with no tangible benefits. Others recognise the importance of Accreditation as a means of raising standards and promoting the value of museums in society. 

It will come as no surprise I’m sure to learn that I am firmly in the latter camp and am a passionate supporter of Accreditation. In this I can claim some knowledge as I have engaged with Accreditation in three ways: as a former member of the Accreditation Committee which makes award decisions on applications (or returns) from museums across the UK, as a senior manager in a large local authority museum service who is responsible for ensuring that his museums remain within the Accreditation Scheme and as a Museum Mentor who encourages and supports two self-funding independent museums in achieving Accreditation.

So why is Accreditation important, particularly at the present time? Essentially it ensures that a museum meets nationally agreed standards and, as a result, is starting from a strong position to survive a crisis like COVID-19. Part of this, of course, is the ability of museums within the Accreditation scheme to apply for funding from Arts Council England and other funding bodies. But I do think that there is more to it than this. It is also about being part of a wider community with the opportunities that this brings to learn from each other and share experiences. One of the MDO’s primary roles is to support museums which are either seeking to become Accredited or are in the process of re-applying for Accredited status. From the outset Beth has therefore been paying particular attention to this aspect of her work.

Finally, please do keep in touch with me as your chair. I am always interested to learn what your museum is doing and either Beth or I will try to visit as many of you as possible in the coming months.

Philip Wise

You can contact Philip via email: philip.wise@colchester.gov.uk

The 2020 Annual Museum Survey has now launched across England

FAO: Museums in the Accreditation scheme (including officially working towards).

This year the survey will be more important than ever as we seek to gain insights of the impacts of the pandemic. The 2020 survey will gather data from 1st April 2019 – 31st March 2020 and provide an important baseline from which the impact of closure and the gradual phased reopening of museums across 2020-21 can be better understood. 

Museums who participated last year should have received an email inviting them to do so again, on Friday 24 July. If you did not receive this email, please check your junk folders first, then get in touch with beth.wilkey@colchester.gov.uk if you still haven’t received it.

Museums who were not eligible last year, but are this year, will receive their invitations to register for the survey shortly. The deadline to register is 20 August 2020.

South West Museum Development have created a support page with FAQs on their website.

SURVEY DEADLINE: 18 October 2020.

Thank you for participating in this survey.

Please note that paper copies are not being accepted this year and data has to be entered online.

Trying to Transform Museums one step at a time

By Matthew Jones, Transforming People to Transform Museums Project Officer

Now in its second year the Transforming People Project continues to work with community partners across Suffolk and North Essex to open the opportunity for anyone over 18 with a GCSE grade C in English or equivalent to apply and join their one- year museum traineeship programme. 

Nine traineeships are offered each year in Digital Collection, Retail, Exhibition and Design, Visitors services, Marketing and community engagement with the trainee completing a year’s work experience and an NVQ level 3 in Cultural Heritage.

Anyone who has been involved with recruitment for a museum vacancy will know that there is no shortage of applications from graduates, post-graduates and individuals with a solid background in Historical studies. The aim of this project however was never to exclude these applications but to reach out to individuals who do not come from “traditional museum backgrounds” and challenge both the applicants and the heritage sectors perception of who can work in the museum industry.

I, myself took over the project officer role last year and come from a background in SEN & Social enterprise work. As I am finding out, my last employment and my current do share some very similar factors that need to be in place for there to be a chance of success.

Support, as it is in so many industries, is primary to the success of this traineeship. Project supervisors share their time and expertise to talk to the applicants, show them around the museums and give a very human face to the project as well as supporting the successful applicant throughout the year. Staff also sign up to the mentor scheme where they mentor the trainees for the traineeship and beyond.

It is also the wonderful support from colleges, schools, community groups and local Job centres to signpost individuals from non-traditional museum backgrounds, support their questions and application process that has also led to a noticeable increase in enquiries and applications.

 In conjunction with this there have been modifications in the role descriptions and application forms, taster days and assessment criteria, all designed to make the whole process as accessible as possible.

For those that do not wish to work in the heritage sector their preference is their barrier but what this project is trying to do is to remove as many obstacles as possible for those individuals who always wanted to experience work in this sector but never believed they had the skills or the right background to do so.

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.

Find out more next month when we will hear about the impact this project has had so far, and hear directly from the trainees themselves!