Turner in Bridport

Turner painting of West Bay, Bridport

There is still time to go and see Turner’s watercolour of West Bay, Bridport, back in the town for the first time since it was painted 200 years ago.

This summer Bridport Museum have hosted the painting, on loan from Bury Art Museum. The exhibition runs until 28th Sep.

Thanks to the Lottery funded museum refurbishment and a further grant from SW Museum Development it has been possible to bring the temporary gallery space at the museum up to the standards required to host loans of this type.

It’s been an interesting journey and not without it’s challenges to pull this exhibition off and a lot of work, but hopefully worth it for the large numbers of people who have come to see the painting.

Alongside the main exhibition, the museum and other organisations in the town, have put on a really wide ranging programme of events and activities to complement the Turner.

I remember when we first sat down, probably a couple of years ago, to talk about bringing the Turner to Bridport, it was always going to be the ambition to use it as a catalyst for all sorts of other activity and development. Due to the hard work of the team, that has definitely happened.

All the details of the exhibition and events can be found on the Bridport Museum website.


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.

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

National Coal Mining Museum for England

The Illumination Gallery – Sir Humphry Davy (1778 – 1829)

Chatsworth House Trust

Experiments, Innovation and Design: How the Paxtons Grew the Chatsworth Garden

The Cromwell Museum

Cromwell Uncovered

People’s History Museum (National Museum of Labour History)

Annie Besant & Jayaben Desai: History Makers on Strike 

Commonwealth War Graves Foundation

Noor lnayat Khan: A Woman of Conspicuous Courage

Port Sunlight Village Trust

Soap & Water: Revealing William Lever’s remarkable achievements and enduring legacy

AIM Conference 2019 highlights

Just back from an excellent few days at AIM Conference in Newark. In no particular order, a few highlights for me were:

Catching up with friends and colleagues old and new – AIM conference is fab for this – super friendly and relaxed

Hearing from some of our AIM Biffa Award History Makers projects and talking to people who have potential exciting ideas for the next round. Keep an eye on the AIM website for full details of when this goes live

Saturday study tour to National Holocaust Centre and Museum and Creswell Crags. Both amazing in very different ways. A real privilege to hear Simon Winston share his story with us. Both venues were great hosts to us and return visits are definitely on the cards

Creswell Crags
Creswell Crags

The ‘horrible histories’ nature of the National Civil War Centre in Newark. It wasn’t all like this of course, but they did have some great gruesome interpretation like this bullet removing activity!

Bullet Extractor Interactive at National Civil War Centre
Bullet Extractor Interactive at National Civil War Centre

Wiltshire getting a mention in the research being carried out by Fiona Candlin at Birkbeck, mapping independent museums from 1960 to 2020. Turns out we’re the Local Authority area with the third highest number of independent museums. Ties in nicely with a piece of work I am currently carrying out for Wiltshire Council looking at who collects what in the county, where we have identified 74 different museum organisations.

The top notch vegan food at all venues. First time I’ve ever seen the vegan biscuits guarded! Guess that’s what happens when your obscure lifestyle choice goes mainstream.

Congratulations and thanks to all the team who make the conference happen. Hope you get a bit of a rest before work starts on planning for next year.

National Paralympic Heritage Centre

National Paralympic Heritage Centre

Whilst many of us will have had the 29th of March in mind as significant day in the ongoing Brexit saga, for me and quite a few others it was all about celebrating another project that did manage to complete on time.

It was a real pleasure to be in Stoke Mandeville for the launch of the National Paralympic Heritage Centre, which tells the story of the Paralympic movement, beginning with the pioneering work of Professor Sir Ludwig Guttmann.

Professor Guttmann was chosen as one of last years successful AIM Biffa Award History Makers, with a grant awarded to support the development of the new exhibition.

As many of you will know it is a long road from funding application to opening the doors to the public, so huge congratulations to Vicky and the team for a great success.

It was really nice to hear such positive feedback from those attending, including descendants of Professor Guttmann himself.

Guttmann family entries in the visitor book
Guttmann family entries in the visitor book

We are just working on the paperwork for this years crop of successful History Makers projects which will be announced soon on the AIM website.

Congratulations Weymouth Museum

Brewers Quay, Weymouth
Brewers Quay, Weymouth

Great to hear the news last month that Weymouth Museum have been successful in securing a development grant from The National Lottery Heritage Fund to develop proposals for their site at Brewers Quay.

The volunteer team there have persevered for some time against the odds to keep the museum open and the collections of the town secure.

This funding news, and the granting of planning permission for the wider redevelopment of the site, gives the green light for work to begin developing the museum that Weymouth deserves.

Well done all!

New Year, New Projects, New Funding

Really excited to be launching into 2019 having just worked on a couple of great projects – one giving out grants and one receiving.

Just before Christmas the AIM Biffa Award History Makers panel met to distribute the final grants in this £1M fund to support the creation of new exhibitions telling the stories of inspirational historical figures. I can’t reveal who has been successful just yet, but it was a real challenge narrowing down the number of applications we had to the money available.

Joseph Lancaster's Educational Revolution at The British Schools Museum
Joseph Lancaster’s Educational Revolution at The British Schools Museum

The projects we funded last year will all be launching soon, including the story of Joseph Lancaster’s Educational Revolution at the British Schools Museum in Hitchin. All grant holders are asked to supply AIM with a short video about their project, which makes quite a few wince with nerves. On the basis of this trailer, I don’t think it is going to be a problem for Andy and the team in Hitchin.

Closer to home, Bridport Museum received a fantastic Christmas present in the form of a £101,000 grant from the Museums Association Esmee Fairbairn Collections Fund. The grant will allow the museum to carry out a review and rationalisation of their collections, guided by the community, to ensure they are holding ‘The Right Stuff’ (project title right there!) for the right reasons, in the right places. The work is a natural follow on from the museum redevelopment of a couple of years ago, and will hopefully lead to some great shared learning for other museums with too much stuff!

Rope Making at Bridport Museum
Rope Making at Bridport Museum

So, an exciting end to 2018 and lots to look forward to in 2019.

Do of course get in touch if you have work you think I might be able to help with. Always happy to chat through your ideas.

Trowbridge Museum is empty

We did it! With the amazing support, help, hard work and expertise of the staff and volunteers, the collections of Trowbridge Museum are now safely into secure, temporary storage for the next couple of years whilst the major museum refit takes place. Our target was to have everything out or protected on site by the end of the year, so we’re actually ahead of schedule!

Trowbridge Museum cleared for redevelopment
Trowbridge Museum cleared for redevelopment

It was a great team effort – and thanks must go to:

Jamie Briggs Removals and Storage


Dorothea Restorations


who all brought their skill, expertise, patience and in some cases just sheer muscle to the job.

Huge thanks too to Hanne and Hannah at the museum, who battled budgets, boxes and bruises to make sure things happened on the right days and in the right order. It was great working with you. Putting it all back will be easy after this!

Dobcross loom being moved into its new location on the top floor of Trowbridge Museum
Dobcross loom being moved into its new location on the top floor of Trowbridge Museum

With this phase now complete I’m stepping back from proceedings as the museum team start the exciting job of planning what the new museum will look like. Can’t wait to see it.

Athelstan Museum opens the Moravian Church, Malmesbury

I thought I’d use this post to give a plug to one of the museum’s I mentor – Athelstan Museum in Malmesbury.

Never ones to rest on their laurels, last year the 100% volunteer run museum completed a successful fundraising campaign and were able to purchase a disused Moravian Church in the town, The last 12 months have been spent re-purposing this as a new community facility for the town, providing museum, exhibition and event space.

As part of Heritage Open Days 2018, the church will be open to the public for the first time this month (Sat and Sunday 15th and 16th September). I’ve had a sneak preview, and it is looking great and will be a real asset to both the museum and town. Full details at HODs website

The building itself dates from 1770 and was used as a church until the mid 1990s.

Moravian Church, Malmesbury in 1965
Moravian Church, Malmesbury in 1965

Bridport Undressed

I’ve been really enjoying working with Bridport Museum as a collections consultant, supporting the small staff team and volunteers, first with their HLF funded museum redisplay and then on various other projects.

Last month I played a very small part in helping them plan and deliver an ambitious exhibition of costumes and textiles. I wanted to mention it as it is a great example of the sort of activity that can be delivered by being clever with money, calling in favours, and making the most of all the skills and goodwill of partners and volunteers.

Bridport Undressed exhibition opening
Bridport Undressed exhibition opening

The exhibition was hosted in Bridport Arts Centre, the first time the two organisations had collaborated, (but I suspect not the last). This gave the Arts Centre a very different exhibition and the museum access to a large display space.

The bulk of the curatorial work was carried out by volunteers who have been working with the collection for many years, so know it very well. This included key decisions such as what to display.

There was a long list of others who made it happen, contributing in ways large and small (and I’ve probably missed someone out):

  • Local businesses (materials)
  • Trustees (storage, logistics and carpentry skills)
  • Bridport Town Council (lifting and shifting)
  • Other Museums (mannequin loans, notably Dorchester and Chippenham)
  • Family and friends of staff and volunteers (making padded hangers and helping install and deinstall)

It was a real team effort and a great success. An accompanying gallery talk sold out so quickly it had to be rebooked and repeated.

Alongside all this, the museum took the bold decision to not just put on a traditional costume display, but to try and tell some of the behind the scenes stories of what goes into curating a collection like this, including collections care and decisions as to what to acquire (Although it became ‘Bridport Undressed’, we did have ‘Airing our dirty laundry in public’ as a working title at one point!)

Bridport Undressed exhibition
Bridport Undressed exhibition

For those of you who work in or with museums with limited resources you will recognise this way of working I’m sure.

I just wanted to take the opportunity to say well done to the whole team. A job well done.

Trowbridge Museum Closed (but in a good way!)

After years of planning and fundraising, last month saw Trowbridge Museum closing it’s doors for the final time in it’s current guise. It will now reopen in 2020, bigger and better.

The staff and volunteers have lost no time in getting to grips with dismantling the displays ready for packing and moving into storage whilst the building work takes place.

Even Teazel the museum cat has been helping out, but it looks like it all got a bit too much for him*

It was all a bit much for Teazel the museum cat
It was all a bit much for Teazel the museum cat

If you want to follow the progress of the redevelopment and also keep up to date with all the activities that the museum are still running in the community, keep an eye on their facebook page

*No cats were harmed in the making of this museum