The Right Stuff?

Really excited that The Right Stuff? exhibition has opened at Bridport Museum.

This exhibition/activity invites visitors to explore some of the collections conundrums we face everyday in museums. Do we need another sewing machine? How relevant is this item? Have we got space? Does the collection really reflect the lives and stories of our communities? Does anyone really care?

The exhibition introduces the museum’s community focused collections review, funded by the Museums Association Esmee Fairbairn Collections Fund.

Like everyone else, things had to be put on hold a bit last year, but the project is now really getting going with lots of work going on behind the scenes to better understand what the museum holds and why, with a programme of exciting and innovative activities being planned for the coming months.

I’ll update more as things develop, but the team have been working on some fun ways to work with the people of Bridport to think about what should be in their museum. The word disco has even been mentioned!

The Right Stuff? exhibition will run for the rest of the year so do pop in if you are in Bridport.

Trowbridge Museum – Reopening

Trowbridge Museum entrance

Almost 6 years ago to the day back in May 2015 I remember sitting down with Clare at Trowbridge Museum to start shaping up what was to become ‘Onwards and Upwards’, their multi-million pound Heritage Fund supported redevelopment and expansion.

We had lots of large sheets of paper, lots of post-it-notes and a calculator! Fast forward to May 2021 and after huge amounts of work from loads of people, the museum will be reopening on May 22nd. I’ve got my ticket booked and can’t wait to go and see how it has all turned out.

I have a particular fondness for this project as it was the very first I worked on when I set up my freelance business. I’d known the museum for many years from my work as Wiltshire Museum Development Officer and I was delighted to be asked to help them formulate the lottery application and redevelopment programme.

From the picture above, it’s great to see that the museum now unashamedly looks like what it always was – a mill building (the last woollen mill to close in the town).

I really wish the team all the best with the museum reopening. A fantastic treat after such a challenging last 12 months.

Turner in Malmesbury – unveiling

As we return to shops and book haircuts, museums have to wait a little longer until later in May to reopen.

For Athelstan Museum Malmesbury this will be doubly significant, as reopening will also be the first chance to see their newly purchased Turner watercolour on show, in  a fully redesigned display area. This will be the first time the picture has been on public display for 40 years.

Malmesbury Abbey by JMW Turner
Malmesbury Abbey by JMW Turner

In person on site celebrations will not be possible just yet, but the museum are hosting a virtual launch and unveiling event on Zoom on the evening of 19 May. Details of how to book can be found here.

After so much hard work by the museum team and the generous support of the National Lottery Heritage Fund in supporting the purchase, it will be fantastic to finally see the painting on show in Malmesbury.

Jobs at Bridport Museum

I’ve been lucky enough to have the chance to work with the team at Bridport Museum for the last few years on various projects.

If you’d like to try the same, head on over to their website where you will find details of 3 fixed term contracts which are currently available: Collections Co-Ordinator, Engagement Co-Ordinator, Evaluation Consultant.

All three are to support The Right Stuff collections review. With a roadmap out of lockdown and the prospect of a more normal 2021, we are excited to be recruiting for these posts and moving ahead with the project.

Supported by the Museums Association Esmee Fairbairn Collections Fund The Right Stuff is a community guided collections review, helping the museum ensure they are holding ‘The Right Stuff’ for the right reasons, in the right places.

Congratulations Malmesbury volunteers

A huge well done to my friends at Athelstan Museum, Malmesbury, where the work of the dedicated volunteers who run every aspect of the museum has recently been recognised by two awards.

Volunteer stalwart Bill Reed received the Marsh Volunteers for Museum Learning Award for South West England for the Malmesbury Voices oral history project he has run for the museum for the last few years. Now numbering some 250 recordings, this record of life in Malmesbury is available to listen to in the museum. Like many others, Bill and the museum team have adapted to remote working this year and have also been sharing these Malmesbury stories through a series of popular Zoom talks.

In the recent Wiltshire Life Awards the museum received third prize for Conservation Project of the Year in Wiltshire, for the Rausing Building project. The museum completed a successful fundraising campaign and were able to purchase a disused Moravian Church in the town, which has now been repurposed as a new community facility for the town, providing museum, exhibition and event space.

The Rausing Building, Malmesbury

The artist Melissa Cole also received first prize in the Arts, Culture and Music Individual Category for her ‘Moravian Star’ sculpture commissioned for the same building, pictured above.

Great to have some good news in these challenging times and to see all the hard work of the museum team rewarded.

Does your museum have a History Maker?

AIM Biffa Award Logo

Thanks to the generosity of Biffa Award and the success of the previously funded projects, I’m delighted to be working with AIM on a further round of History Makers grants. The programme is now open for Expressions of Interest.

Eligible organisations can apply for grants of up to £75,000 to create new exhibitions telling the inspirational stories of their chosen history maker.

Successful projects will show how the life and work of the history maker has helped shape the world we live in today.

We are particularly keen to hear from projects based on women who made history and history makers from diverse backgrounds.

All of the details of how to apply can be found on the AIM website, where you can also see details of successful applicants to previous rounds.

We will also be holding a webinar on Tuesday 17th of November at 2pm for anybody who would like to learn more about the scheme. Full details of how to register can be found here.

Our latest grant recipients, who are just getting started on their projects are:

National Football Museum, ManchesterLily Parr; Football’s first female superstar

The Arkwright Society at Cromford MillsWhen Arkwright met Strutt; Creating a cotton spinning legacy

Milton’s CottageJohn Milton; History Maker

Gilbert White’s HouseRevealing Gilbert White

Pankhurst Centre, ManchesterAt Home with the Pankhurst Family

Under the bonnet of Modes

The Modes Users Association (MUA) have just released the latest version of their Modes Complete museum collections management software (stop reading now if you are already yawning, but please read on if you are a bit of a data geek like me).

For the last few months I’ve been part of the team beavering away behind the scenes testing the software before release. As someone who has been working with Modes software for over 20 years it’s been great to be a part of the process of bringing this latest iteration to light.

One of the great assets of Modes has always been how its development is informed by sector and user needs. I recall back in the 1990s when digital imaging was becoming popular and affordable the excitement of seeing the first version of Modes that could easily display images of your collection items, something we now take for granted.

The same goes for recent developments, with calls for simpler and faster searching of data being addressed. The latest version comes with ‘blink and you’ll miss it’ speed searching of large data files, which is fantastic.

Word search in Modes Complete 1.5
Word search in Modes Complete 1.5

Whilst we were testing, we were already compiling a wish list of things that we’d like the next version to be able to do, and no sooner was this new release out of the door than thoughts were turning to the future…..

But for now, if you’re a current Modes user, upgrade to version 1.5 and feel the speed. If you’re not using Modes, or remember a DOS based version from many many years ago, take a look at what it currently delivers and you’ll be pleasantly surprised.

Please get in touch if you need help or support with your Modes system or training for users. I offer Modes Associate training and support – remote and on-site – alongside that delivered directly by the MUA. Further details here.

Athelstan and Chard – website refresh

Just wanted to say congratulations and give a plug for the refreshed websites of Chard Museum and Athelstan Museum, Malmesbury.

Athelstan Museum website

Both have been given a makeover and recently relaunched as part of wider development work at both museums to improve user communication and offer.

Chard Museum website

These two museums are 100% volunteer run and although physically closed to the public at the moment are busy behind the scenes devising and delivering content and programmes.

Well done all involved!

What a difference a month makes

Wow. How the world has changed since I last posted on here…..

First and foremost I hope you and yours are well and safe.

A window into my life over the last month would be:

Work/Serious stuff

As a freelancer I was already used to working from home, but now share the office with my wife every day. This has necessitated setting up a ‘when I’m having a remote meeting’ calendar so we don’t clash.

Zoom, Teams, Skype, Slack etc are now all a lot more familiar than they used to be.

I (successfully) delivered my first remote training session, which all involved agreed went a lot better than we were expecting!

With most people I usually work for now on furlough (another new term that is now very familiar) or a reduced service lots of projects I was working on have had to be put on hold. Fingers crossed we can pick up again on the other side.

So much brilliant support and advice from across the sector. One great example of many here from South West Museum Development

AIM like many others have adjusted their offer and have made their excellent bulletin available online. The current issue has articles on two projects I’ve worked on: An update on recent exhibition openings for projects funded by AIM Biffa Award History Makers grants, which I manage on behalf of AIM, and a piece from Emily at Bridport Museum on ‘Turner in Bridport’ which we worked on together last summer.

Home/Fun stuff

SO grateful to have a garden. Daily shambolic badminton across the flower beds keeping me fit.

The Getty Art Challenge (and others similar) is great fun and has exhibited some amazing skill and ingenuity. This does not fall into that category!

Flour Thrower
No flour was wasted in the making of this picture

Some of you will know I’m a big music fan and one of the essentials of a festival for me is a round or two of Ringo Music Bingo. This can now be enjoyed from the comfort of your own home. A great way to pass a Saturday night (as long as you are prepared for cringeworthy puns).

So there you have it. A month unlike any other.

See you on the other side

Hang in there

Wasn’t quite sure what to call this post – such unprecedented times.

Talking to friends and colleagues over the last few days its clear we are all learning to adjust together to this new way of being.

Not easy, but it is temporary and we will come out the other side.

Museums and other cultural organisations are being amazing. Listening to advice, thinking foremost of staff, volunteers and visitors and taking the hard, hard decision to close or curtail services and cancel events. Not easy, as for many this now means a big drop in income for a period of time. Hats off to all of you for doing the hard thing, but the right thing.

On a practical note, AIM have put together a page on their website with advice and links to all the key information and support. A useful one stop shop.

As often happens, a crisis brings out the best in people. If you’ve not seen it, I liked this idea. A simple card you can print out and pop through the letterbox of a neighbour to offer a helping hand.

Covid-19 Neighbour note

Stay safe, stay in touch and I look forward to getting back to normality with you all when we can