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 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:

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 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!

New emergency government funding available through ACE and NLHF

For Accredited museums (including Provisional and Working Towards) and NPOs

ACE Culture Recovery Fund guidance has been published with grants of up to £3m available with a minimum application of £50,000 for organisations at imminent risk of failure this financial year. See the ACE published guidance to see if this particular scheme applies to you.

Round 1: opens 10 August, closes midday 21 August – you are strongly encouraged to apply for the first round as ACE anticipate giving away 75% of their budget on this first round.

Round 2: opens 21 August, closes midday 4 September

If you think you will apply, please register on Grantium now if you haven’t already.

Eligibility – cultural organisations that are properly constituted and registered at Companies House and/or Charity Commission and can produce at least one year’s full independently certified or audited financial statements. This includes NPOs, and museums in the accreditation scheme (full, provisional and officially working towards Accreditation). It also includes local authorities, universities and other public bodies who run or maintain cultural services. See the guidance for more information. Library services are not eligible to apply.

You will be required to demonstrate cultural significance or cultural opportunity and a commitment to diversifying workforce and audiences.

For amounts less than £50,000 you can apply for Arts Council Project Grants instead which have recently reopened. The guidance has been adjusted to be more responsive to organisations and individuals during Covid-19.

Please let me know if you are going to put in an application, and I encourage you to share the draft application and project ideas with me and/or SHARE Museums East ( in good time prior to the deadline so that we can offer feedback to strengthen applications – this is part of our remit, to support museums to write effective bids.

For non-accredited museums and heritage sites:

National Lottery Heritage Fund: Culture Recovery Fund – deadline midday 17 August

Applications open on Thursday 30 July for the Culture Recovery Fund for Heritage, which will help heritage organisations recover from the effects of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. The Culture Recovery Fund for Heritage is providing £92m with grants from £10,000 up to £3m available for heritage organisations in England.

Full guidance and eligibility can be found on the NLHF website. Accredited museums and those working towards accreditation should instead apply to the Culture Recovery Fund through Arts Council England.

Please note – the fund is designed to support heritage organisations that are at risk of no longer trading viably this financial year. If you meet the following Essential Criteria, please get in touch and we can discuss your application:

Essential Criteria

You should only apply for this funding if you are able to meet all of the essential criteria:

  • you must have been financially viable before COVID-19 (March 2020)
  • you are at risk of no longer trading viably by the end of this financial year
  • you can demonstrate that you have exhausted all other financing options. For example, applying for other emergency funds, reducing costs, diversifying income streams or taking advantage of government easements
  • you have a clear plan towards future financial viability

Please let me know asap if you are going to put in an application, and I encourage you to share an early draft application and project ideas with me so that I can provide feedback on the draft and seek further advice on your behalf if we need to.

Fundraising support available for Accredited/WTA museums – a reminder!

David Burgess – fundraising helpline

For the rest of the year, SHARE are funding David Burgess from Apollo Fundraising to have one-to-one hour long sessions with museums on their fundraising needs, providing advice and support. You can email him with an outline of what you’d like to discuss, and he will arrange a free appointment with you (remotely). Email: and find out more on the SHARE Museums East website.

I’ve just been to the SHARE coffee morning with David, and it was incredibly useful. He can also advise on bids which have any kind of fundraising angle, for example, he is particularly knowledgeable on contactless donation points.

If anyone is applying to the SHARE Next Steps grant and your application has a fundraising angle, SHARE will expect that you have had a chat with David.

Online fundraising support

This SHARE scheme is for museums facing financial difficulties as a result of the Coronavirus pandemic. SHARE will fund and coordinate work that directly supports online fundraising for museums, through experienced web designers Starfish.

Examples of projects that they will fund include:

  • Setting up an online donations platform (e.g. JustGiving)
  • Creating a social media profile to promote fundraising
  • Creating a website or single page that directly supports or links to online fundraising
  • Design and creation of an electronic newsletter to support fundraising

See the SHARE website for full eligibility and guidance, and contact SHARE for support:

Upcoming funding from central government

A reminder that there is a new £1.57bn support fund for heritage and the arts from central government. It looks likely some of this funding will be available to museums and other cultural organisations via Arts Council England. More details on this will be available shortly, but in the meantime, if there is a chance you might like to apply, then you may need to take action now..

  • To apply for this funding you will need to have a user account and an applicant profile on Grantium, ACE’s online applications system.
  • If you have applied for Accreditation since 2018 you may have a Grantium profile already. However, do check who has the login details in case it’s someone who is not around.
  • You can find guidance on the ACE website or follow this link. Any problems, please let me know.

SHARE also have free helplines for audience development, business support and volunteer management at this time, so do make use of them if this would be helpful: SHARE helplines.

If you are planning on submitting a funding application then please do let me and/or SHARE know as we can support you in the planning and writing to ensure your bid has a good chance of success.

Support available for COVID-19 impact – update

An update on support available at the moment, whether you are reopening or remaining closed.


  • Additional guidance from the government has been released on working safely in heritage locations.
  • EMBED and the Disability Collaborative Network have released guidance created to support organisations in decision making when reopening, considering potential barriers faced by disabled visitors, and offering solutions-based guidance.

Support from SHARE

Events and training

SHARE are running coffee mornings (open to all) for museums to hear from experts and share their own concerns and ask questions. Topics include marketing and communications, family friendly reopening and fundraising. Find out more and book on Eventbrite.

SHARE are also running two online workshops:

Introduction to timed entry booking systems for museums.
Trainer: Nick Kime, Tech Champion, Digital Culture Network, Arts Council England. Get to grips with the basics of setting up a ticketing system – from comparing the different platforms, to NHS Test and Trace and GDPR.
Wednesday 5 August, 14:00 – 15:30 Book here
Wednesday 16 September, 10:30 – 12:00 Book here

The workshops are free and open to museums in the accreditations scheme (full and working towards). If you are not in the accreditation scheme, you can still book, but with the acknowledgement that SHARE will facilitate your attendance if availability permits and that your organisation will pay any fees which may apply.

Online fundraising

The online fundraising scheme is for museums in the accreditation scheme facing financial difficulties as a result of the Coronavirus pandemic. SHARE will fund and coordinate work that directly supports online fundraising for museums, through experienced web designers Starfish.

Examples of projects they will fund include:

  • Setting up an online donations platform (e.g. JustGiving)
  • Creating a social media profile to promote fundraising
  • Creating a website or single page that directly supports or links to online fundraising
  • Design and creation of an electronic newsletter to support fundraising

For full details of how to apply, and what information you need to provide, see the online fundraising scheme section of the SHARE website.


SHARE has launched Next Steps Grants to support museums, whether planning to reopen to the public or choosing to remain closed, thanks to support from the Art Fund. You can apply for up to £5,000. Full eligibility criteria and guidance can be found on the SHARE website. Deadline: midday 31 July 2020.

More information, including on potential funding sources to support your museum, can be found on the COVID-19 resources section of this website.

Upcoming SHARE training workshops on timed entry booking systems

ONLINE WORKSHOP: Introduction to timed entry booking systems for museums

Trainer: Nick Kime, Tech Champion, Digital Culture Network, Arts Council England

Get to grips with the basics of setting up a ticketing system – from comparing the different platforms, to NHS Test and Trace and GDPR.

Wednesday 5 August, 14:00 – 15:30 Book here

Wednesday 16 September, 10:30 – 12:00 Book here

The workshops are free and open to museums in the accreditations scheme (full and working towards). If you are not in the accreditation scheme, you can still book, but with the acknowledgement that SHARE will facilitate your attendance if availability permits and that your organisation will pay any fees which may apply.

Keep up to date on SHARE events, including their coffee mornings with experts (open to all), on their Eventbrite page.

SHARE Museums East launch Next Steps Grants

SHARE has launched Next Steps Grants to support museums, whether planning to reopen to the public or choosing to remain closed, thanks to support from the Art Fund. 

The grants are available to:

  • Support effective reopening
  • Develop sustainable and resilient museums
  • Meet audience needs

Maximum grant available: £5,000

Eligibility: You must be a museum in the East of England within the ACE Accreditation scheme (including provisional and officially Working Towards) which is not also an ACE National Portfolio Organisation or a National museum. You will also be expected to have the support of your county MDO and to have utilised SHARE’s free specialist helplines before planning your application. 

Deadline: Midday, 31 July 2020 

For full eligibility criteria, guidance and an application form, please see the Next Steps section on the SHARE website. Do keep me posted if you are thinking of applying!