Benchmarking Survey – Have You Completed It Yet?

chart close up data desk

Photo by Lukas on Pexels.com

Now in its 16th year, SHARE’s annual benchmarking survey is aimed at museums in the region who are Accredited or currently Working Towards Accreditation (or with ambitions to be so).

The information SHARE receives from your surveys helps them, me as the county lead for museums and you to demonstrate the social and economic impact and importance of museums and heritage sites both locally and regionally to funders and stakeholders, helping to sustain investment in our sector.

Your survey returns are hugely important, not only to support us in our advocacy but so SHARE can get a clear picture of your annual activities and support you better as your regional museum development provider.

 

From the 2016/17 survey we know that:

  • there were more than 3,606,169 million visits to museums in the East of England region
  • visits to museums contributed over £60 million to the regional economy
  • there were more than 229,341 participants in learning activities provided by museums
  • and 6,608 museum volunteers who contributed an incredible 812,366 hours to museums
  • meaning that volunteer time was worth £5.8 million to museums
  • museums also employed 915 paid staff

In tough economic times for museums every little helps, and your stats can help enormously!

The survey is short and will be easy to complete by a volunteer or member of staff with a good overview of their museum’s work. The questions cover visitor numbers and engagement; museum finances; volunteers and staff; educational work as well as challenges and opportunities for the future. The data that you provide should be for the period 1st April 2017 – 31st March 2018.

 

If you are a multi-site, or a museum that hosts another Accredited collection within your museum, please contact museum.development@bristol.gov.uk for a bespoke survey form.

 

You can complete the survey online here. If you are unable to complete it all in one go then you can save and return to your answers at any time. Alternatively you can also complete  this paper version and return it via email or post to me as your MDO.  The deadline for completing the survey is Friday 31st August 2018.

 

A partial return is better than no return! If you can’t answer all of the questions because you haven’t been collecting the data, please do what you can.

 

If you have any questions about completing the survey then you can get in touch with museum.development@bristol.gov.uk

Kids in Museums Manifesto – Are You Signed Up?

Museum Explorer

Teddy Bears Picnic at Chelmsford Museum

The Kids in Museums Manifesto is not a new thing. The charity has been doing great work promoting the importance of engaging with children and family audiences for many years now. They run high-profile annual schemes such as Takeover Day and the Family Friendly Museum of the Year Award (nominations are currently open) and deliver regular training on subjects including Babies in Museum and Autism Awareness. The Manifesto is the backbone of all of these areas of work, informing their work and the work of many museums around the UK (and possibly the world…?)

 

The 20-point manifesto is made of really simple things, most of which you are probably already doing including saying hello to visitors and sharing stories. Last year they launched a “mini-manifesto”, covering all the key points:

  1. Reach out. Begin the welcome beyond your door. Help families find you, go out to meet them, start friendly conversations on their home patch and make your museum easy to reach.
  2. Get to know your families. Some have babies, some toddlers, teenagers, parents, grandparents or foster children. Embrace these differences, from your programme to your ticketing.
  3. Seek to reflect your community and include it at your heart in your displays, interpretation and events.
  4. Be positive. Say ‘Hello!’ Welcome enthusiastic comments (which may be loud), have things to touch and explore, challenge your staff to never say ‘No’
  5. Make it easy and Comfortable — with a family friendly café, pushchair friendly toilets, seating in the galleries, a place to store skateboards and teenage kit, child-height stair rails, tap water. Just a few of the very practical ways to help a family relax and have fun.
  6. Be accessible. Families with disabilities may make an extra effort to reach you. Include their needs in everything you do and say — from how to get there to exploring the displays. All your visitors should be equally supported and welcomed.
  7. Tell your story. Families aren’t only coming to see your collections. They’re coming to enjoy your museum and hear your stories. These are what they’ll share when they get home. Find a way to include their stories too. They’ll add new insights and make the museum belong to them.
  8. Communicate well. Let families know what you offer. Include this on your website and social media. Chat with families before they visit and after they leave. Build relationships and include them in long-term decision-making. These families will become your greatest advocates.

 

So, I was surprised to discover that only 17 Essex venues are signed up to this wonderful initiative. Kids in Museums are an Arts Council funded “National Portfolio Organisation” (NPO) so signing up will look good on your Accreditation returns. It is also worth mentioning on funding applications as part of your commitment to broadening audiences and supporting young people. You could also put it on your website and share that fact that you’ve signed up on your social media or in other publicity.

Registering your organisation’s commitment to the manifesto is really easy. Just fill in the short form on their website. You can also have a sneaky look at which other museums are signed up (and which ones aren’t).

While you’re there, why not nominate yourself for Family Friendly Museum of the Year

Learning & Engagement Grants For Essex Museums

colchester-alison-stockmarr

Essex Museum Development is offering grants of up to £500 to support the delivery of learning and community engagement using collections.

The grants aim to support local museums to:

  1. Develop relationships with local education providers including schools, colleges and home education groups
  2. Develop new learning and engagement resources
  3. Develop an adult learning offer
  4. Deliver activities which will reach new audiences
  5. Make their venue more accessible for disabled audiences

The funding scheme is open to any Accredited museum (or museum registered as Working Towards Accreditation) within the Essex or Southend-on-Sea local authority boundaries. Please note that to apply you must have attended at least two of the following training days:

It is important to read the guidance document before applying. It contains some suggestions as to what the grant can be used for, but this is not an exhaustive list. Please do get in contact if you wish to discuss your ideas.

To apply, complete this application form and return it to amy.cotterill@essex.gov.uk by 5pm on Tuesday 23rd January 2018

Learning and Engagement application guidance 2018

Click here to download the application form

 

Learning & Engagement Grants For Essex Museums

colchester-alison-stockmarr

Essex Museum Development is offering grants of up to £500 to support the delivery of learning and community engagement using collections.

 

The grants aim to support local museums to:

  1. Develop relationships with local education providers including schools, colleges and home education groups
  2. Develop new learning and engagement resources
  3. Develop an adult learning offer
  4. Deliver activities which will reach new audiences
  5. Make their venue more accessible for disabled audiences

 

The funding scheme is open to any Accredited museum (or museum registered as Working Towards Accreditation) within the Essex or Southend-on-Sea local authority boundaries.

 

It is important to read the guidance document before applying. It contains some suggestions as to what the grant can be used for, but this is not an exhaustive list. Please do get in contact if you wish to discuss your ideas.

 

To apply, complete this application form and return it to amy.cotterill@essex.gov.uk by 5pm on Tuesday 28th February 2017

Guidance Document: learning-and-engagement-application-guidance-2017

Application Form: learning-and-engagement-application-form-2017

 

Thought and Notes: Museums Association Conference 2015

MA Conference 2015a

Sharon Heal presents statistics from the Code of Ethics consultation

Earlier this month, I attended my fourth  Museums Association conference. Several things struck me over the course the event. Firstly, the people care about making the sector better and stronger. Secondly, that we don’t have the answers on how to do that yet. Thirdly, more change is coming.

Big themes this year were ethics, diversity and the continuing changes happening in our sector.
The revised Code of Ethics was voted in. If you haven’t read it yet, I advise you to do so. Not only is it a cornerstone of accreditation but it’s a living, breathing document that should influence our everyday practice no matter the size of our museum. The code has been compiled in consultation with museum  staff and volunteers across the country. Given recent controversy over sales from collections, it is not surprising that good practice round disposals continues to be a key element. Reflecting 21st century practice the code also covers sponsorship and recommends that museums seek to work with partners whose priorities match their own.
Museums Change LivesSeveral sessions looked at diversity in the workforce. This is a debate that has been going on for several years and there are no easy answers. Many museums are actively looking for ways to change. Apprenticeships and other work-based training schemes do seem to have had some success, although it is too early to tell if the individuals taking part will continue in museum careers. Some people are concerned that creating additional temporary entry-level jobs when the sector is so competitive is a mistake. I believe that this is a debate that will continue for quite some time, but that it’s good that museums are trying new and different ways to recruit.
With councils being forced to tighten their purse-strings even more, and the Comprehensive Spending Review coming up at the end of the month, it sometimes feels like there’s little time or money for anything creative to happen in museums. However, there were some excellent case-studies which are well worth checking out. For example, Richard Gough from Ironbridge Gorge Museums Trust talked about corporate volunteering, which is something our own Museum of Power have good experience with. The Conflict Resolution session included some heart-breaking stories of how museums have the power to knit communities back together, such as the Historical Museum of Bosnia Herzegovina in Sarajevo, National Museums Northern Ireland and the Herbert Art Gallery and Museum in Coventry. However, the session that really blew me away was “More Than Reminiscence” by Tunbridge Wells Museum and Canterbury Christ Church University. They’ve been doing some fantastic work with dementia groups and their model is easy and low-cost to follow. Have a look at their tool-kit and see if it’s something that you could use with your own collections.

New SHARE Training Calendar – Part 2

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Thank you to everyone who took part in my training needs survey earlier this year. I fed all the information back up to SHARE and they have used it in producing this year’s calendar, which goes live at 9am today.

In today’s blog, I am going to highlight where you can access the training that the majority of people requested in each category. However, it is in no way an exhaustive list of what’s on offer (over 100 training events between now and next spring!) so I do recommend taking time to have a look through and see what would be of use to you and your colleagues.

Of those of you who responded to my survey, only one third had not attended any SHARE training in the last year and of them only 10% said that this was because the training was too hard to get to. If there is training that your museum needs, but cannot afford the travel, it isn’t running or it is simply too far away, please do contact me as I may be able to help.

Several of the training days are running in Essex, but please remember that SHARE have to support the whole of the East of England. Therefore they move they days about and if a particular subject has been in Essex recently, they do have to move it somewhere else this year.

Most Requested Training By Category

  1. Collections

There was a strong “digital element” to the training requests for collections, including Copyright, Digitising Collections and Managing Digital Images.

I have spoken to Simon at SHARE about Copyright and they have identified that it is a need for support with this area, however from their experience they aren’t sure if training is the best way of providing it. SHARE is currently formulating a plan and I will update you as soon as possible. If you do have any urgent copyright questions, please get in touch.

Regarding digitising collections, there are several useful days coming up:

  • “Point & Shoot: Collections Photography Using Digital Cameras” is running on 6th October at Ely Museum and 2nd February in Norwich
  • “Digital Technology & Collections: Promoting Access and Engagement” is on 5th October in Ipswich

For managing digital images, I suggest:

  • “Managing Digital Images” on 15th December at Mill Green Museum and Mill in Hatfield or 27th April in Wymondham Heritage Museum, Norfolk
  • “Create Once, Publish Everywhere: How to COPE With Your Digital Content” on 1st December at the Museum of Cambridge or 20th April at the Long Shop Museum in Leiston

I would also suggest having a look at joining the Digital Development Forum if you are planning on a large digital project. The next meeting is on 20th October in Norwich

Other Collections based training that had a large number of requests are Conservation Basics and Rationalisation.

There are several conservation-themed days coming up:

  • Handle With Care: Object Handling & Packing on 2nd December in Mildenhall, Suffolk
  • “Conservation Uncovered: Major Museum Tours” on 19th November is going behind the scenes at the University of Cambridge conservation lab
  • “Environmental Monitoring” on 26th April at the Centre for Computing History in Cambridge
  • Integrated Pest Management: Level 1 on 10th November at Royston and District Museum
  • Integrated Pest Management: Level 2 on 2nd March at University of Cambridge Museums.
  • The 2nd Annual SHARE Collections Care Conference on 20th January at Hughes Hall in Cambridge.

Some sessions are much more specialised but will be relevant to several Essex Museums, including:

  • Assessing and Repacking Military Costume: A Costume & Textiles Network Event on 6th October in Norwich
  • “Preventive Conservation for Waterlogged Archaeology: A Maritime Heritage Network East Event” which is on 15th October at Southend Central Museum

SHARE also have their online Collections Care Syllabus. This current version is available online but it is being reviewed and updated so look out for updates later in the year.

For Rationalisation, SHARE are running “Rationalisation, Review and Disposal: Getting Started” on 8th October. Please note that there will also be funding support for rationalisation available later in the year. It is not compulsory, but I would recommend attending the training if you wish to apply.

2. Audiences

The most requested audience-themed training days are: Writing Engaging Text, Marketing on a Budget, Display Techniques and Understanding Audiences.

There are two different text-writing events booked in this year:

  • Captivating Captions on a Budget is one of this year’s first trainings, happening on 7th September at The Red House in Suffolk.
  • Make it Snappy: Writing Effective Text on 11th April at the Museum of East Anglian Life

There isn’t a generalised “marketing” training on the SHARE calendar this year, so I will organise something for later in the year. However, there are two specialised courses which may be of interest:

  • “Awareness, engagement and impact: Marketing to drive fundraising and income generation – a SHARED Enterprise event” on 25th November at Verulamium Museum in St Albans
  • Social Media Next Steps on 22nd September in Luton and on 9th March (venue TBC). If you feel that you need a “Beginners” level Social Media training, please DO NOT book on to this course. Contact me and I will arrange for help and support.

There are a couple of events coming up for Display Techniques:

  • Basic Display Techniques, 13th October in Stevenage and 12th January at Gainsborough’s House in Suffolk and on 14th April in Norwich.
  • Cutting Edge: Making Professional Labels & Panels on 3rd March at Hollytrees Museum in Colchester

There are several events which will be of interest for those of you who requested “Understanding Audiences”:

  • Front-of-House Forum on 19th October in Norwich
  • First Steps in Community Participation on 14th January in Luton
  • Complaints, Criticisms and Conflicts: How to Handle Them All on 28th January in Ely Museum
  • Managing Successful Events on 25th February at the Fenland Museum and Denny Abbey in Cambridgeshire
  • Working with Different Audiences on 4th March at The Polar Museum in Cambridge

There were also several requests for How to use HistoryPin, which SHARE are offering on 21st October in Ipswich

“Being a “Dementia Friendly” venue” and “Making your museum accessible for people with Autism” were also both highly requested. Working with these audiences will be covered in “Working with Different Audiences” and Helen Griffiths (Essex County Council’s Cultural Access, Learning and Participation Officer) and I am planning to run Dementia Friendly training soon.

3. Children and Young People

The most requested training session for children and young people are Setting Up A Youth Panel/Young Curators, Working with Schools, Child Protection/Safeguarding and Using Digital Technology to Deliver Learning With Schools.

“Giving Young People a Voice: Youth Panels and Young Curators” is running on 18th September at Colchester Castle (NB This will follow the Essex Heritage Education Group meeting).

Regarding Working With Schools, Helen Griffiths and I are planning a series of training in this subject and Child-Protection/Safeguarding for later in the year (look out for more details soon) however, you may also be interested in:

  • Surprising Science For Schools is on 21st January at the National Horseracing Museum in Newmarket.
  • Learning From Objects on 9th October in Ipswich or 7th December in Bedford
  • Object Lessons 3: SHARE & Bridges Children & Young People Conference on 10th February, venue TBC
  • Consider Yourself: Reflective Learning Practice for Learning Staff and Volunteers in Museums, 18th April, Museum of Cambridge

As you may be aware, I’ve been working with several museums in the county on a digital learning pilot. The case-studies from the project will be shared via my website, SHARE and the Heritage Education Group later in the year.

4. Resilience

The most commonly requested training sessions in this section fall into two categories, Volunteer Management (Volunteer Management, Volunteer Recruitment and Young Volunteers) and Fundraising/Income Generation (Alternate Ways to Boost Your Income, Making The Most of Your Shop, How to Talk to Funders and Other Stakeholders and Writing Funding Applications).

SHARE have recently launched the Volunteer Coordinators Forum, details of which can be found here. This is a great source of support for anyone managing volunteers, including those who are volunteers themselves. I also recently commissioned a volunteer management toolkit which is available here. 

SHARE are offering the following training events:

  • Volunteers: Getting Them In and Keeping Them Happy (a Volunteer Co-ordinators’ Forum event) on 18th April at Ipswich Transport Museum
  • Volunteer Co-ordinators’ Forum: Youth Volunteering, 8th December, John Buyan Museum, Bedford

SHARE also have a Retail Forum which offers peer support to those running museum shops. More details can be found here and there are some relevant training days too:

  • “Top Tips For Retail” on 4th February at Braintree Museum
  • “SHARE Retail Forum: Selling Skills and Sound Retail Practice” on 21st September at the National Horseracing Museum in Newmarket

Regarding applying for grants and other fundraising training, there are lots of options:

  • “Relationship Fundraising and Legacy Giving for Museums – a SHARED Enterprise Event” on 12th October at Colchester Castle
  • HLF Young Roots Seminar on 19th October at the HLF Office in Cambridge
  • “Awareness, engagement and impact: Marketing to drive fundraising and income generation – a SHARED Enterprise event” on 25th November at Verulamium Museum
  • “Enterprise & Philanthropy: building relationships to fund museums” on 2nd March at the Museum of London

I would also like to highlight that my colleague Andrew Ward and I are offering a “surgery” connected to Essex County Council’s Cultural Development grants on 23rd September in Chelmsford.

The other training that I would especially like to  mention is Understanding Museums. This is a six day course (one day a fortnight). While six days is a big commitment, this is the perfect course for anyone who is new to working or volunteering in museums. It explains why we do what we do, how different types of museums operate and looks at the history and ethics of the sector.

I would like to thank the SHARE Museums team (Annette, Simon, Kathy, Miranda and Liz) for all their hard work in pulling together this training offer – and wish them luck when the booking opens at 9 o’clock!

New SHARE Training Calendar – Part 1

Object Handling, Packing and MarkingBooking for the new SHARE training calendar opens on 2nd September, but who are SHARE and why should you be interested?

SHARE Museums East are Arts Council England’s Museum Development partner for the East of England. They receive funding to provide training and other support to Accredited museums and those working towards Accreditation. Their activity programme includes formal training days, seminars, peer networks and project cohorts. The subjects covered are based on ACE Goals and include nearly every aspect of running a museum such as collection care and conservation, learning and engagement, income generation, marketing and reviewing your governance. Those of you who responded to my training needs survey have had their thoughts and ideas passed up to SHARE and that information helped to shape this year’s calendar.

Most of the details for this “school year” have already been uploaded to SHARE’s website so you can have a look and see which events you and your colleagues might wish to attend.

However, please be aware that SHARE is funded to provide these opportunities to Accreditation museums and those officially “Working Towards Accreditation”. While other museums may book, priority will be given to museums that fall within their remit.

If your museum isn’t Accredited yet but would like to be, or if you don’t really know what Accreditation is and would like to know more, please send me an email to discuss it further.

There are over 100 training events on the calendar so I’m sure there will be at least one subject of use to your museum.

Interesting session coming up in the first month are:

07/09/2015
10:00 am – 3:30 pm
Captivating Captions – On A Budget
The Red House, Aldeburgh Suffolk
18/09/2015
10:00 am – 3:30 pm
How to Run a Youth Panel
Colchester Castle, Colchester
21/09/2015
10:00 am – 4:00 pm
SHARE Retail Forum: Selling Skills and Sound Retail Practice
The Mews (National Horseracing Museum), Newmarket
22/09/2015
10:00 am – 4:00 pm
Social Media: Next Steps
Stockwood Discovery Centre, Luton Bedfordshire
24/09/2015
10:00 am – 3:30 pm
Volunteers: Getting Them In and Keeping Them Happy (a Volunteer Co-ordinators’ Forum event)
Ipswich Transport Museum, Ipswich Suffolk
25/09/2015
9:30 am – 1:00 pm
Being Creative With Memories: Music and Life Stories
Chelmsford Museum, Chelmsford Essex
28/09/2015
10:00 am – 4:00 pm
Public Services Collections Seminar
Bishop’s Stortford Museum, Bishop’s Stortford Hertfordshire
29/09/2015
10:00 am – 4:00 pm
Keeping A Record: The Essentials of Museum Documentation
Parham Airfield Museum, Framlingham Suffolk
30/09/2015
10:00 am – 4:00 pm
Excellent Visitor Programmes
Norwich Castle Museum & Art Gallery, Norwich Norfolk

Most of the calendar is already on-line and available to view here.

In part two I will go publish the results of the training needs survey and highlight where you can find the training you’ve requested

#VolunteersWeek: Accreditation and Volunteer-Run Museums

Volunteers at Mersea Museum installing their summer exhibition

Volunteers at Mersea Museum installing their summer exhibition

Mersea Museum is an independent local history museum, established in 1976. They have recently submitted their successful Accredited return and Joanne Godfrey talks about their experiences of the process as a volunteer-run organisation.

Mersea Museum became a registered museum in the 1980s, a fact which my predecessors were very proud of, and it has been very important to us not to let them down and to continue to make progress. Our last accreditation return under the MLA in 2010 was a bit more demanding than the previous one but we got through it successfully.

In 2013 we had to make our next return under the new ACE standard and I must admit that we were rather surprised and daunted by the amount of work that would be required, even allowing for the element of scaleability for small museums. However, after going through the different sections carefully and taking copious notes, we realised that this would be do-able. There are templates available to help with writing policies and you can find examples online of what other museums have done which can be helpful. We also made plenty of use of our Museum Mentor and MDO who have the experience to help you when you get stuck or just need a bit of support and encouragement.

Getting people involved in areas such as the Forward Plan and Collections Development Policy is useful as it makes you think about what your museum and its collections are really about and how to reach out to all potential audiences. There were many areas where we had to put into words things that we tended to take for granted such strengths and weaknesses, which was a very useful exercise.

It did take several months before we were ready to submit our return in May 2014 and we were delighted to hear that we had been awarded full accreditation. Our museum was specially commended for its “user focused experiences” which was very satisfying.

I won’t pretend that it was an easy process but if you don’t panic and take all the help available you will have a real sense of achievement when you succeed. The benefits of accreditation, particularly for volunteer-run museums, include being eligible for small grants, access to SHARE training courses and the support of a Museum Mentor. Over the past few years our museum has received grants for various conservation materials, shop fittings, display cabinets, audio guides and electrical equipment which have all helped to improve standards and the experience we offer to visitors. Most importantly we received a Heritage Lottery Fund grant in 2010 towards building our resource centre which has been a great asset to the museum.

We continue to look to the future with plans for some new audio interpretations in displays and a possible longer term plan for another extension. When accreditation comes around again in 2018 we hope to be well prepared.

For more information about Accreditation, contact your local Museum Development Officer and visit the Arts Council’s website. There are also useful resources available from SHARE Museums East, the South West Museums Federation and Collections Trust.

Museums as Learning Spaces

Museums as Learning Spaces

On Monday 16th March, SHARE Museums East ran “Museums as Learning Spaces” at the Museum of Power. Sophie Stevens, Collections and Learning Curator at Colchester and Ipswich Museums shares her experiences of the day:

In my new role as a Collections and Learning Curator at Colchester and Ipswich Museums I am building on my experience as a specialist curator to learn more about museum learning. The SHARE course ‘Museums as Learning Spaces’ with Judith Carruthers sounded like a good place to start.

Museum of Power

Exploring the Museum of Power

The course was held at the Museum of Power near Maldon so it was a great opportunity to visit this fantastic museum. The staff were really welcoming and open about their experiences of delivering learning at the museum. The session began with an introduction from Judith and a ‘classifying objects’ activity. This was a great start and helped the process of thinking about objects in more creative ways. This continued with a ‘questioning mystery objects’ activity in which we looked at the type of questions we would ask to discover more about an unidentified object.

Having been a specialist Curator; looking at an unknown was a great way of recreating how many visitors might feel in our museums. How can we help our visitors discover more about our collections? How can we better support parents and other carers in exciting our young visitors about these objects?

This linked well with finding out our personal learning style. The VAK Learning Styles Self-Assessment Questionnaire categorised us as Kinaesthetic, Visual or Auditory learners. Most people are a mix of these styles but it is interesting to note that not all people learn like we do. Catering for these different learning styles is important to make our museums effective learning spaces.

Judith Carruthers

Working with Judith Carruthers

We then looked at a variety of trails from museums and historic houses and soon formed ideas about what makes a good one. Being clear and concise and not trying to do too much is key. Using photographs of museum objects rather than generic images is also important. A good museum trail should enable the child to take the lead and stimulate discussion, and shouldn’t involve too much writing. Trails are a great way of adding value to a visit, highlighting objects and even directing footfall to less visited parts of a site. The need to focus on one audience when developing a trail is important so that you cater for particular needs or interests of your visitor.

Following lunch we had a demonstration of the fantastic steam engine ‘Marshall’ and explored the museum as different types of visitor including grandparents with children and a wheelchair user. Looking at the displays as these visitors might was a valuable exercise which highlighted some simple changes that would make a big difference.

We finished the day looking at family learning ideas. These included mystery objects, feely bags and tools to encourage creative exploration of museums such as torches, magnifying glasses and role play. One museum has a toy lion that is hidden somewhere in the galleries. Visitors are challenged to locate the lion and find a new place to hide him. Activities such as these help make children feel comfortable in museums which can then lead to learning. This was the main message I took away with me – making our visitors feel welcome and comfortable in our museums is so important. Without this our museums cannot be effective learning spaces.

Collections Trust Seminar at Colchester Castle

Alex Dawson presenting at the Collections Trust Seminar

Alex Dawson presenting at the Collections Trust Seminar

Jennifer Brown, Collections and Interpretation Officer at Braintree District Museum, shares what she learnt at this recent training day:

On Wednesday 18th March 2015 the newly revamped Colchester Castle Museum in Essex hosted a Collections Trust Seminar for the eastern region. The seminar was led by Alex Dawson, programme manager for standards at the Collections Trust, and offered a thought-provoking and varied range of talks and open discussions. Key themes that emerged throughout the day were the importance of placing audiences and communities at the heart of collections management; the importance of making collections the heart of all museum activities (and consequently the importance of all museum departments working closely together to achieve this); and updates on the practical advice, support and frameworks available to help review where we are at, where we would like to be, and what we will need to get there.

Below are some of the key topics and points that emerged during the course of the day:

Update on Arts Council England by Isabel Wilson, Senior Manager Quality & Standards

The sessions started with a useful update on Arts Council England. Two schemes were particularly highlighted:

  • The Designation Scheme celebrates collections of national and international importance not housed in national museum, helping to promote these collections. The scheme is currently being reviewed by ACE and the next round will open in April 2015. More information can be found on their website.
  • The Government Indemnity Scheme is again aimed at helping museums of all sizes. This scheme helps smaller museums to loan items from collections around the country and even the world by arranging government underwriting of loans to avoid high insurance payments.  It is possible to make just one gallery space eligible for the scheme, rather than having to revamp a whole museum. More information including the criteria can be found on-line here.

Audiences and Collections

This was the subject of our first talk by Alex from the Collections Trust but audiences featured in so many other presentations during the day that I have grouped many under this heading.

  • Understanding Audiences – Alex Dawson, Collections Trust

Collections are here for our audience’

There has been a growing realization within the museum sector over the last 10 to 15 years that people are at the heart of our collections, and that our audiences need to drive our collections’ policies. Some key ideas that came out of Alex’s talk were:

  • We need to identify and work with communities to enable the development and care of our collections
  • We need to make sure we are regularly communicating with our communities, exploring the possibility for community curators, and looking for partnership opportunities with local businesses.
  • The collections world needs to take on the ‘language of business’. To be resilient for the future we need to think about strategies and policies, our skills and targets. This will not only help keep our future collecting policies and our collections care focused, but it also makes our work more understandable by those in other sectors. This helps to empower the profession.
  • We need to think about audience segmentation and the different generations that use our museum collections now, and will be using them in the future. What are the character traits of each generation? How will they want to access the collection and what will they want to gain from this?
  • We need to think about the user journey in museums – pre-visit, during visit and post visit. How can we keep them interested in the museum, its collections and its work?

2) Collections Management Competency Framework – Alex Dawson, Collections Trust

This is a framework produced by the Collections Trust to help us look at the skills and behaviours we need to develop, manage and sustain collections. There are four main areas of competencies – technical knowledge and contexts (ethical, legal etc) are those more traditionally associated with collections management. The other two hark back to the importance of audiences and communication – they are ‘customer focus’ and communication skills. More information is available on their website.

  • Museum Accreditation – Alex Dawson, Collections Trust

This session offered some useful tips on working through the accreditation process. In particular, don’t panic if you have a collections backlog. Look at developing a realistic operational plan for dealing with this and for future collections care. However, this should be guided by visitors and which parts of the collection are most likely to be actively used by our audiences. Ask your local police for security advice, they are often happy to help. Local Museum Development Officers are also going to be working more closely with Accreditation advisers in the future and may be able to give you more locally relevant advice.

Learning and Change in Your Museum

‘Good collections management is about change’

This session emphasized the importance of flexibility and managing change, and the importance of integrating learning throughout the museum with the management of collections. Some specific points included:

  • There are 3 models of change in any context – internal bottom up change; internal top-down change and change caused by an external trigger
  • To create a culture change in an organization start small, somewhere progress can be made, and get buy-in from staff at all levels.
  • Strive for managed and purposeful change
  • The importance of the museum’s mission statement, make sure everyone in the museum is aware of that statement and embed it in every aspect of the museum’s work.

One particular case study of successful change came from the Imperial War Museum, where they moved from a risk adverse to a risk aware strategy to copyright and making their collections available online. This resulted in a massive increase in interest in and use of their digital collections. Carolyn Royston from the IWM discusses this in a video available on YouTube

Practical Help and Useful Documents

A number of sessions looked at the advice and frameworks provided. These included:

  • PAS 917 and the framework produced by the Collections Trust. Helpful summary factsheets on each area are provided. Refer to these before going to PAS 917
  • Investors in collection – This is a new service that is being reviewed by the Collections Trust but not launched yet. This would involve the Trust providing a collections consultancy service for museums to help us review our current strengths, identify areas for development and improve our resilience. More information is available here.
  • Collections Trust Standards Toolkit to aid with policy and planning
  • Presentation on the new digital interpretations at Colchester Castle Museum by Tom Hodgson. It was interesting to hear about the new digital strategies used, and the talk reminded us of the scale of historical and archaeological research involved, the amount of material you will need to provide digital companies with to produce reconstructions, games etc.
  • Discussion of the importance of digital being a method to achieve a learning aim, not the aim in itself
  • Presentation on the work of Museum Development Officers with a particular spotlight on Essex from Amy Cotterill. Local schemes included: training and networks provided by SHARE, the forthcoming Heritage Watch scheme and digital learning resources available to hire 

Developing a Digital Strategy

This session introduced the concept of COPE – create once, publish everywhere. We looked at ways to increase access to the research and content we create with minimum labour.

  • How can it be easily pushed out to a range of different digital and web-based platforms?
  • What format/location will we need to store the original in to make sure this process is simple and not time-consuming?
  • Think about the budgets to maintain all these digital mediums in the future, whether gallery interactives or other systems.
  • Seek advice from those with special needs

Overall the day was very helpful, providing a wealth of information and also offering the chance to take a step back and think reflectively on where we are going with collections management, what we want to achieve and how we can get there. Colchester Castle Museum was a great venue, and it was lovely to get the opportunity to look round all the new displays and interactives.

~ Jennifer Brown, Braintree District Museum

If you’ve recently attended a training day or delivered a project that you’d like to write about, please send me an email at amy.cotterill@essex.gov.uk