Museums Work

Museums Work Blog

Volunteers at Melton Museum…

In 2010 I helped to set up and run some training in historical research skills for local historical and heritage societies in Melton Mowbray and the Vale of Belvoir, as part of a Community Archive project funded by MLA’s Adult Learning Challenge Fund. Four interactive workshops were held on topics identified as potential areas for future development of the museum, to encourage local groups to contribute to the development of new exhibitions and extend the Museum’s existing archive: industrial archaeology; the history of building materials and techniques; sources for the study of pre-World War II agriculture; and an introduction to recording graves and memorials. All of them included a field visit to relevant sites, among them a local windmill and Great Dalby churchyard, where we managed to dodge the rain for long enough to get in some useful practice. A ‘toolkit’ on research techniques and sources was also produced as part of the project, as a resource for others who get involved at a later stage.  

A few weeks ago I went back to the Museum to catch up with some of the volunteers on their regular weekly day of work on its own archive. As well as cataloguing the extensive collection of newspaper cuttings and other items relating to individual villages in the area, they were digitising programmes from the Melton theatre – some fascinating adverts in them as well as details of the productions themselves – along with one of the several hunting diaries deposited there, complete with hand-drawn illustrations. In due course the intention is to make as much of this material available to the public online. In the meantime, you can download the Museum’s Visitor Leaflet at, and if you’d like to combine a visit there with the Melton Civic Society’s Heritage Trail around Melton itself, you’ll find this at


Training in traditional building skills…

An article in the latest edition of the National Trust Magazine on ‘Our built heritage’ (Spring 2012, p56-60) includes some information on apprenticeship schemes for young people in traditional building skills. These are a collaborative venture between the National Trust, English Heritage, the Prince’s Foundation – a charity headed by the Prince of Wales – and Construction Skills, the Sector Skills Council for the construction industry. Combining a residential course with placements in heritage and new-build projects or craft companies, the apprenticeships lead to the award of the Heritage Skills NVQ Level 3, and should help to ensure that traditional building skills such as lead working, carpentry and stomemasonry are not lost as older members of the existing workforce retire – the National Trust’s initial  involvement in 2010 was prompted by the impending retirement of almost 40% of its skilled workforce.

See for more information. I’d really like to hear about any such apprenticeships here in the East Midlands.


Volunteers in action at Ashby Museum…

Ashby Museum

In an earlier blog I mentioned that many of the museums in the East Midlands were set up and run entirely by volunteers. I have been visiting some of them to get a better idea of their origins and how they operate now, starting with the museum in Ashby-de-la-Zouch. 

The museum was opened in 1982 in a cottage in Lower Church Street, but since 1991 it has been based in the former National School in North Street, alongside the library and Tourist Information Centre. In 2006-07 a two-storey extension was added with the help of a Heritage Lottery Fund grant of around £500,000, used in part to increase the exhibition space.

This includes the permanent display in the Zouche and Hastings Gallery, which tells the story of Ashby from pre-history through to the Civil War period and the 18th century Spa. Also featured here is Dolly Shepherd, the ‘Edwardian parachute queen’, and the jump she made at Ashby from a hot air balloon. The Loudoun Gallery provides space for temporary exhibitions such as the one on Ashby Grammar School that I saw when I visited the Museum a few weeks ago, along with a searchable computer photo archive. You can also view the archive online, along with an interactive map showing how a location looked 100 years ago, at

Currently on display until 25 February is an exhibition on ‘Ashby the Spa Town’ which showcases work by local primary school children as well as photographs and archives from the Museum’s own collection. Others planned for later in the year will cover the 350th Anniversary of Ashby Congregationalist Church, a celebration of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, and the intriguingly named ‘The Medieval Woman – instrument of the Devil, exulted above all angels’ – see for more details. 

Among the recent additions to the collections are the coronation robes and coronets worn by the Earl of Huntingdon and donated by his daughters Lady Selina Hastings and Lady Caroline Shackleton, marking a connection of over 500 years between Ashby and the Hastings family.

The extension of the Museum also provided a workroom, and an archive room with temperature and humidity controlled conditions. The archive itself includes leases, deeds and an indexed photographic collection of around 4,000 items, as well as newspapers cuttings and other items relating to Ashby and the surrounding villages.

Volunteers at work in the archive

The Museum currently has around 70 volunteers, including its Trustees and an independent Friends’ group, which is very active in fundraising as well as looking after visitors, running the shop and managing the archive. When I visited in November last year, several of them were busy cataloguing archive materials, identifying photographs, and compiling family history records from a variety of sources such as Census returns, parish and cemetery records - all of them accessible to the public on request.  Educational visits for schools, guided walks and evening talks, reminiscence boxes, and holiday activities for children are also on offer, and the Museum’s film unit recently completed a new DVD, ‘Ashby the Spa Town’. – see for more details of this and other films.

Both the quality and range of work done by volunteers at Ashby Museum were recognised in 2007 and 2010 when it won the Leicestershire ‘Museum of the Year’ accolade from Renaissance East Midlands, and by the award of full Accreditation by the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council in 2008. 

My thanks to Dr Wendy Freer for a very interesting and informative visit. I’ll be saying more about my visits to volunteers at other museums soon – but if you’d like me to feature the work they do in your own museum, just let me know.


Museums jobs in Qatar…

If you’re looking for work in museums you are probably a regular visitor to the University of Leicester School of Museum Studies ‘Jobs Desk’ at If not, it’s well worth a look. The current list includes vacancies in the USA, Canada and Ireland as well as the UK – along with several posts in the new National Museum of Qatar and museum for children and their families. The latter include Metadata Specialists, a Digital Curator and an Oral History Researcher.


A visit to the Holocaust Centre…

Part of the exhibition, 'The Journey'

I spent a very interesting day in November at the Holocaust Centre at Laxton in Nottinghamshire, getting a better idea of its work, looking at the displays, and sitting in on an education session for a secondary school in which a Survivor spoke of his experiences.

The Centre was founded by brothers Stephen and James Smith, whose initial interest in the Holocaust came from a family holiday in Israel in 1981. Ten years later, after spending a day at Yad Vashem, the World Centre for Holocaust Research in Jerusalem, they decided to establish a centre in Britain ‘to bring the issues and challenges to their peers and to their country’. Initially this consisted of an exhibition at the non-denominational Christian conference centre that their parents ran in Nottinghamshire. It opened in September 1995 as Beth Shalom – the House of Peace – and developed into a Holocaust Memorial, education centre and Accredited Museum.

I started with the exhibition in the morning, sharing the space with a school making a visit linked to the curriculum. This included a guided tour by one of the Centre’s volunteers as well as work set for them by their teachers, and as I shamelessly tagged along it was interesting to see how they made connections between what they had learned in the classroom and what they were now seeing – in terms of the world today as well as in the past.

The objects and interpretation are powerful in bringing the subject ‘to life’, but hearing a Survivor speak in the afternoon about his experience of coming to Britain on the Kindertransport in 1938 clearly had an enormous impact on the students. The Centre has a number of Survivors who give such talks, often at some personal emotional cost in the hope, as one put it, that ‘when they become the dominant generation, they may remember the personal interaction they had with a survivor of the Holocaust and do something in response to the prejudice, racism and genocide they see in the world around them today’ (Holocaust Centre News, Winter 2010 – 11).

I also spent some time in the memorial gardens, where each white rose is accompanied by a plaque with a few words of remembrance, many of them very moving and all of them hinting at the individual stories behind them. The Centre recently launched a project to give everyone who has dedicated a rose the opportunity to tell the stories ‘Behind the Rose’, and these will soon be collected together in a book.

However, for me the most interesting part of a fascinating day was a tour with Aneesa Riffat, the Museum and Education Officer, of The Journey, the first exhibition built in the UK for the specific purpose of teaching primary school children about the Holocaust. Moving through a series of rooms showing his home, school, shops and a railway journey, this tells the story of a fictional German-Jewish boy, Leo, living in Berlin with his family under the Nazi regime. It uses everyday objects and interpretation to which the children can easily relate, aiming not to shock but to help them understand the experiences and thoughts of the children that Leo represents.

If you’d like to know more about the Holocaust Centre, have a look at the website at


Scholarships for Museums on the Web conference 2012…

Some scholarships are available for Museums on the Web, the international conference for culture and heritage online, which will be held in San Diego, California on 11 – 12 April 2012. To be eligible, applicants must have made ‘a significant contribution to the development of a cultural or heritage website or digital initiative’, and demonstrate that they would be unable to attend the conference without financial support. There are also opportunities for volunteers to ‘trade’ helping out for free registration.

There are further details at


Interesting articles…

The latest edition of the online journal Public History Review has two interesting articles relating to museums: ‘The British Museum: an imperial museum in a post-imperial world’ by Emily Duthie, and ‘United States Holocaust Museums: pathos, possession, patriotism’ by Rob Baum.

See for a full list of contents and details of how to register and log in.

A Happy New Year to you all.