Blog Post

Museum Freelance Conference 2019

I first came across the Museum Freelance Network around a year ago when I heard about their conference last year which was held at the London Canal Museum. As a relative newcomer to freelancing it was great to be with other freelancers facing the same problems that I was: work flow, insufficient budgets and juggling work-life balance. More experienced freelancers generously shared information and tips with newbies like myself. It was a great event both practical and inspiring.

Since then I have been following the inspirational duo who head up the MF Network Marge Ainsley and Christina Lister on Twitter and through their e-newsletter. I recently attended their How to set up, survive and thrive as a freelancer in the cultural sector, a one day training course which was full of information that Marge and Christina wished that they had known when they first started out. They have another one coming up in June and I heartily recommend it if you are thinking about freelancing or have just started.

I’ve always believed that networking events like this year’s Conference in Manchester at the Manchester Art Gallery are essential to support professional development. They can reinvigorate and remind you of what you love about the sector, confirm or challenge your ideas, refresh your practice and introduce you to new ideas and best practice by other organisations or colleagues.

The fringe event at the People’s History Museum provided an opportunity to discover how this institution is changing its role as a campaigning museum rather than a museum of campaigns with a myriad of stories about people who challenged society from early trade unions, anti-slavery, equal pay, votes for women and the Chartists. There were lots of artefacts on display telling the stories of the many brave individuals who, in some cases, sacrificed their lives or suffered hardship to provide the freedoms that we often take for granted.

The displays provided plenty of topics for discussion about museum practice as well as finding out about the work of the conference delegates with the conversation continuing afterwards over drinks and dinner.

The Conference proper consisted of a range of speakers, not all directly related to museum freelancing. They were all very generous in sharing their experiences honestly with us including how their personal lives had impacted on their work. A strong theme was well-being and self-care with a powerful listening exercise from Simon Seligman and the personal stories of Jim Richardson and Claire Turner where life events forced a complete re-evaluation of the way that they worked. The first and last speakers, Alistair Hudson of Manchester Art Gallery and Esme Ward of Manchester Museum both spoke about how the purpose of museums are beginning to change and perhaps even return to their original (mostly) Victorian, public spirited and philanthropic foundations. Museums should be ‘useful’, loved and be places of care and compassion not just places that dole out ‘learning’ from the great and the good. They should be ‘constituent’ museums that are part of the civic network. There was a generous spirit in the room and lots of networking chatter.

Not forgetting Caroline Newns, Amina Lone and Laura Weldon. All of whom gave inspirational and informative presentations.

There was lots to learn and share. There is power in joining together. The Network seeks to work with organisations such as the Museums Association and AIM to ensure that Museums and freelancers can work together to achieve the best outcomes for all.

See you next year?

Jim Richardson
Blog Post

Inspirational learning and engagement in Blaenavon World Heritage Site

I’ve just come back from a World Heritage UK meeting in Blaenavon World Heritage Site (WHS). The meeting was aimed at learning and engagement colleagues working in World Heritage Sites and it was great to see people representing sites as diverse as Fountain’s Abbey, Derwent Valley Mills, Kew, Saltaire, Frontiers of the Roman Empire and more! We also welcomed some of the UK’s tentative and aspiring World Heritage Sites from Shetland, North Wales, the Wirral and the Flow Country in Scotland.

It was really inspiring to be in the same room as colleagues who are all passionate about sharing what’s so special about their World Heritage Sites with the wider community.

We heard about the increasing role of person-centred engagement and using heritage to meet the individual needs of some really challenging and difficult to reach groups. We also thought about formal and informal learning in a more abstract way with Jamie Davies who has just completed his PhD Thesis with the Ironbridge Institute on World Heritage Learning which will be published shortly.

  • Derwent Valley Mills are using the inspiration of the entrepreneurial spirit of the inventors of factories to help young people to learn practical business skills.
  • Blaenavon Town Council and National Museum Wales are programming successful intergenerational activities working in partnerships in their Dementia Friendly town.
  • Torfaen Borough Council and the Blaenavon WHS team have been leading for some time on their Youth Ambassadors Scheme, which thanks to an injection of National Lottery Heritage Funding is set to expand to more World Heritage Sites across the UK.
  • Cadw through their Unloved Heritage project are meeting the needs of hard to reach young people often resulting in unexpected outcomes.

All of these projects have people at the centre and heritage is one tool in the practitioners toolkit but the impact on the individuals is meaningful and lasting.

All of this took place in the former Bath House of The Big Pit in Blaenavon. One of the joys of taking part in the World Heritage UK meetings is the opportunity to visit World Heritage Sites around the UK. Although not my first visit to Blaenavon it was my first (and it won’t be my last!) visit to The Big Pit, part of the National Museum Wales group. The trip underground was fascinating and brought to life by the ex-miners who are able to give first hand accounts of what life was like underground.

There are 27 mainland UK World Heritage Sites – these are sites on a par with Taj Mahal, the Pyramids at Giza and the Great Wall of China. Why not explore your own world class heritage sites this year?