What Essex Sounds Like: Soft Launch of Essex Sounds Audio Map

Sarah-Joy Maddeaux, You Are Hear Project Officer at the Essex Record Office, talks about the sounds of our county:

For the past six months, the You Are Hear project team at the Essex Sound and Video Archive has been asking the public what Essex sounds like. Whether stopping innocent passers-by in shopping centres, appealing to the public through newspapers, or calling for suggestions through e-bulletins, we have been asking you what noises you hear in your daily routine; what noises you associate with the county; what sounds represent your community.

Now we have the answer! Well, to a point. We have compiled the results with our sound recordist, Stuart Bowditch. Based on your suggestions, he has been venturing into the far corners of the county, braving all weathers, to capture those soundscapes. And now you can hear some of the results on our audio map, Essex Sounds.

MaldonHunt

The hunt parade through Maldon, 1st January 2016. Image courtesy Stuart Bowditch.

From church bells to firework displays; the sounding of ship’s horns at Tilbury to bring in the New Year to the annual New Year’s hunt parade through Maldon (yes, he managed to capture both, and more besides that day!): see if your suggestion of an Essex sound has been recorded.

In our public surveys about Essex sounds, many people commented on a perceived difference between the north and south of the county. Commonly, people considered the southern part of the county to contain more industrial noises, more hustle and bustle, more crowded atmospheres: with more people speaking with a London or ‘TOWIE accent’. The north was depicted as quieter, more rural, where the people are more likely to speak with a ‘traditional’ Essex accent.

Is this an accurate depiction of the county, or is it over-generalised? Why not consult the Essex Sounds map to see if it reflects this north-south divide?

The map also enables comparisons between old and new sounds of the county. We have uploaded some historic recordings from the Archive. For example, you can listen to an auction at the Chelmsford cattle market in the 1950s.

 

You can then compare it with a recording made on that site in 2015, capturing the busy atmosphere of High Chelmer on a Saturday. Try it out here

 

If your sound suggestion has not yet been added, do not fear: our site is still a work in progress. Stuart will continue to record Essex sounds over the next few months, gradually uploading them to the audio map. We will also keep adding historic recordings as they are digitised, as part of this Heritage Lottery Funded project. We are happy to receive further suggestions of places and events to record, though we will not be able to include everything within the scope of the project.

In the next phase, our web developers will build an app version. By the autumn, you will be able to take the map on location, listening to the clips in the very spot where they were first recorded.

In the meantime, why not contribute your own recording to the site? We want the map to fully reflect your experiences of what Essex sounds like. You will find instructions on the ‘contribute’ page, but please get in touch if you have any questions.

We would be delighted to talk to any museums that want to use the Essex Sounds map for engagement activities. Maybe you want to host a recording day, encouraging people to venture out into the surrounding area with their phones and tablets to capture what your community sounds like in 2016, then upload the fruits to the map. Or perhaps a workshop is more up your street: inviting theorists and practitioners to review the material and discuss how the sounds of Essex are changing, and what this means about bigger socio-cultural shifts. How does sound affect our sense of place? What sounds are absent in our collections, and how can we redress that for future generations?

We would love to hear any feedback you have, so that we can continue to improve the site and pass on your comments to our website developers, Community Sites. Please be gentle with us, though: we are still in the development phase! We would also be grateful for any volunteers to test the map more extensively, particularly if you are using accessibility software. Please get in touch find out more.

For more information about the You Are Hear project, you can visit the project site. You can also listen to more recordings on our Soundcloud channel.

 

From summer 2016 to summer 2018, we will be showcasing a selection of our recordings on interactive touchscreen kiosks and listening benches that will tour public locations across the county. We are also looking for volunteers to help us with installing listening benches in the following areas:

  • Burnham-on-Crouch
  • Chelmsford
  • Clacton-on-Sea
  • Coggeshall
  • Epping
  • Great Baddow
  • Great Chesterford / Clavering
  • Southend-on-Sea
  • Witham

Please get in touch if you want to be a part of our tour, or if you can help with the community benches.

Heritage Lottery Fund

 

 

Lego: An Ingenious Solution to A Display On A Budget

Dominic Petre from Ingatestone Hall shares his top-tip for displaying museum interpretation:

Displays at Ingatestone Hall

Some words of wisdom. Ingatestone Hall is a privately owned Tudor historic house that is still occupied by the family who built it. We are open for private events but also for general visits throughout the summer. When we threw open our doors to the public in 1992 we bought in a series of glass display cases to display all our small items of interest that were “hidden away in drawers”.

At that time our interpretation of the items was very simple. Each thing had a small label explaining what the item was – which seemed to work quite well. However, in recent years, we have become a little disenchanted with the way it appeared for several reasons:

  • It was fiddly to change the labels when academic knowledge changed making the information displayed wrong or at least misleading.
  • There was a ground swell of comments that the text size of the labels was too small to be read easily but increasing the size would mean that the cabinets would be more label than exhibit
  • Some of the exhibits were very small but had a lot we wanted to say about them making the label size disproportionate to the exhibit
  • And of course the labels were themselves deteriorating and becoming tatty

We decided to refresh the cases some time ago and decided that a fitting solution would be to number the individual exhibits and have a hand held guide referring to the numbered exhibit this, we felt, would solve a lot of the problems viz

  • The text size could be bigger
  • We could go into as much detail as we wanted
  • We could include transcripts of difficult documents to read
  • The cases them selves would be “sharper” and the labels would not distract from the objects themselves
  • We could even have different guide books (for example – one for adults and one for children, interpreting the items in different ways)

We then hit a minor problem – looking on-line for nice number blocks we discovered a number of museum supply companies that would indeed supply numbered blocks but they were all very expensive and well beyond what we would budget for such an exercise. We considered making our own (out of wood) but the result never struck us as professional enough – and so the project stalled.

Using a Lego brick to support a museum labelThen one day, when clearing up my son’s Lego I had a serendipitous idea. The sloping blocks would be ideal for this purpose. Using the on-line Lego shop, I got the correct sloping pieces in the right colour at a very good price. Using those with adhesive labels has I think produced a very professional and clean solution – I commend it to all.

Contemporary Collecting and Saving the 70s

Saving the 70s

Collecting historic items for our collections comes as second nature, but collecting from within living memory, or even our own life-time, can be difficult. How can we predict what will be of interest to museum visitors of the future? Museum freelancer Isobel Keith shares her experiences of  “Saving the 70s”, a contemporary collecting project that took place across Suffolk and Hertfordshire.

The 70s Saved…

During the course of two years, 11 museums and heritage organisations across Suffolk and Hertfordshire took part in an ambitious project – Saving the 70s. It was the second year, after receiving stage two funding from HLF, that things really got moving.

I joined the project team for stage two, supporting and assisting the museums in Suffolk over the course of a year, working closely with the two volunteer run museums. It was a brilliant experience, meeting and working with a varied bunch of lovely people and I certainly learnt a lot more about the 1970s that I anticipated.

It’s almost a shame that the project didn’t happen a little later, has anyone else spotted that there’s a rather big 70s revival going on in high street fashion at the moment? It would have been much easier to find outfits for events if it had.

Why the 70s?

The project itself was, in part, born out of the realisation that objects and stories from the 1970s were being sought after as reminiscence resources by organisations working with people with dementia. As the population ages, this demand will only increase.

It is also a period under represented in many museums. Very few of the participating organisations could identify any objects from the 1970s within their collections, yet the 70s were a significant period of change. In fact you could say the 70s revolutionised the modern world.

By the end of the 70s nearly every family enjoyed gathering around their own television set. In just over a decade television ownership nearly doubled. Supermarkets popped up and people experimented with fast food and ready meals. New genres of music were born, the first video games came out, women’s roles and rights, the three day week and so the list goes on.

At the core of this project was the need to focus on collecting memories and objects from the 1970s. I think it’s pretty easy to get caught up with ‘old stuff’ and sometimes we forget the need to collect more recent objects. And if you haven’t forgotten, the problem then becomes how do you collect it? How do you collect mass produced, generic objects with little or no local provenance, especially if you’re a local history museum (as many of the organisations involved were)? And how can you encourage people to donate those objects?

Contemporary collecting is a tricky soul. As Simon Knell aptly put it “Contemporary collecting is one of the most difficult of practices because of its overwhelming and multifaceted nature, and because we are collecting things that reflect our own society, which we know to be complex. Collecting historical material only seems easier because there is less of it, we know it less well and because historians have constructed narratives which value one thing above another” (Knell 2004, 34).

Indeed one of the difficulties many of the organisations faced was getting people to donate or loan objects in the first instance.

I believe this problem stems from a lack of understanding about what we do. People associate museums with old stuff because a considerable amount of the time that’s what we have on display. How often have you had someone offer a donation of something you already have five of? People donate objects based on what they know we collect, i.e. what’s on display. They don’t know about our hidden caves and labyrinth of boxes, AKA The Collection Store.

However, the objects did come and in the interim eBay helped us fill in the gaps. Many museums found that objects were donated after exhibitions. It seems that once the magic of a pedestal and glass case had been applied and with the plethora of 70s themed events the public began to understand what we were trying to do, but first we had to break down conceptions.

What to collect?

Saving the 70sEach museum had a different focus for their activity plan, whether it was digitising photographic collections, working with an archive, or recording oral histories. Their focus dictated the objects donated and collected, but in each case it was the associated memories and stories about those objects that made it relevant to their locale and collections development policies.

Haverhill and District Local History Group ran a reminiscence session at their local library and we took along a few objects and pictures with us. The most popular of these was a Green Shield stamp book. Every single person there connected with object printed in its’ glossy pages. Whether it was something their parents owned or something they had bought themselves, it provided a popular talking point for all involved.

A resounding success for all the organisations involved was the inclusion of an advert reel the History of Advertising Trust created. Full of wonderful (though thoroughly sexist in some cases) adverts from brands such as Hovis and Babycham, the reel proved incredibly popular. Everyone I saw watching it, stayed glued for the full 10 minutes laughing and commenting to each other throughout.

It is these shared experiences and histories that make working with objects and photographs from within living memory so rewarding – they enable visitors to explore their own lives and experiences through the objects.

As a volunteer from Halesworth & District Museum commented “When an exhibition is in someone’s life span… [it] becomes a participatory thing”.

What went well

One of the really positive aspects to come out of Saving the 70s were the connections museums made with their local communities. Each museum had a community partner, from day centres and colleges, to libraries and art shops, these community partners were integral to enriching the project. But they also created links with the wider community.

Halesworth & District Museum were able to hold a pop up shop exhibition Hot Pants in Halesworth in the high street. In one week they had 400 visitors, equivalent to a quarter of their annual footfall. Many local people dropped in whilst doing their shopping with no idea the museum was 5 minutes’ walk away.

Haverhill & District Local History Group were able to run a series of events to raise their profile in the community and forge relationships with their Library and Arts Centre and have continued to work with them.

We also made connections with each other. Working as part of a wider project with multiple organisations, we were able to share resources. From loaning objects to dressing up boxes, the shared comradery and experience between us all provided a supportive platform to work from.

In terms of what we learnt about contemporary collecting – people are interested and they do want to be involved, but unlike the proverbial ‘old stuff’ it can take a bit more effort to break preconceptions about what museums do, and communicate why their orange and avocado green objects and memories are actually really important.

After all it may have been called the Decade That Taste Forgot, but that doesn’t mean we should forget it.

The 11 museums and heritage organisation involved in Saving the 70s were:

  • Museum of East Anglian Life
  • Halesworth & District Museum
  • History of Advertising Trust
  • Moyse’s Hall Museum
  • Haverhill & District Local History Group
  • Mill Green Museum
  • Dacorum Heritage Trust
  • Garden City Collection – Letchworth
  • Hertford Museum
  • St Albans Museum
  • Stevenage Museum.

A Few Facts

  • Between November 2013 – November 2014 the project engaged with 79,387 people through a huge range of exhibitions, community consultations and events.
  • 193 volunteers engaged with the project, logging almost 584 volunteer hours’ worth equating to at least £49,262.50 in man-hours to the project partners
  • The project succeeded in partnering with SHARE Museums East to provide 18 formal training opportunities with 160 attendees. In addition to these the project orchestrated a further 40 informal mentoring and training sessions involving 56 people

Case Study: New Donation Box at Essex Police Museum

Donation box BEFORE the SHARED Enterprise Grant...

Donation box BEFORE the SHARED Enterprise Grant…

SHARED Enterprise is a HLF Catalyst-Funded project supporting museums throughout the East of England to explore new ways of generating income and to make better use of existing financial opportunities. Becky Wash, Curator of Essex Police Museum, talks about her recent experience of working with SHARED Enterprise and a step they’ve taken to increase their income.

The Increasing Individual Giving training session run by SHARED Enterprise allowed those on the course to apply for a grant of up to £500 to improve access to individual giving.

The Essex Police Museum costs £40,000 a year to run and has been self-funded for the last three years. The museum is a registered charity and has successfully found funding from online giving, gift aid and setting up a Payroll Giving Scheme.

The museum’s donations box – a small clear box that sat on a small table near the main entrance is the only donations box in the museum.

Although it did bring in some money we felt it was low down and easily missed by visitors.

The grant allowed us to apply for funding so we could purchase a new and improved box.

We looked at the variety of donations boxes available:

  • Donation Buckets
  • Charity Pots
  • Box with a hole for a coin or folded notes
  • Interactive donations box

Then we looked at the prices – and picked ourselves up from the floor!

We wanted something that looked professional but was affordable and meant something to our museum.

Interactive boxes are fun but they are normally filled with coppers rather than notes.

Someone suggested that we make a box from an old police helmet – but I wanted to make sure that we continued to use a transparent box.  It allows the visitor to see exactly how much is in it before they make their donation. There has been some research into the use of transparent donations boxes and this YouTube video explains a case study in more detail.

We have always and continue to leave a float of £10 in our donations box made up of a £5 note, £2 coin, 2 x £1 coins and 2 x 50p coins. It most certainly discourages any coppers (unlike our non-see through boxes which we leave at Essex Police Reception and the local corner shop). We often see a note or two in our box but the majority of coins that enter the box are gold.

So we went back to our original clear box – how could we improve it?

Essex Police Museum Donation Box

…and the donation box AFTER the grant

Our answer was to improve the box signage and to make the clear box prominent.

I contacted a carpenter friend of mine and explained what I wanted. The finished piece was a traditional looking Police Box measuring 85cm high, almost double the height of the original table.

The box most definitely stands out and we have had many positive comments, but it is early days yet to say whether the box has helped to increased donations to the museum.

The project cost £150 in total which also included the price of a new plastic box (with lock) and new signage (not seen in the photos).