I made a film!

We* decided to finish up Ombersley Remembers the WW1 Home Front by making a short film to show off some of the many discoveries made during the project. Hope you enjoy the trip!

It’s been a delight to work with the Ombersley Remembered research volunteers – I’ve never had so many keen researchers stick with me throughout.  I think there were about 15 by the end, but I do admit I lost count!

I think they were particularly enthused because the subject matter they were researching focussed on their own homes – we looked at the history of the parish in WW1 by finding out who lived in each featured house and what they were most likely doing through the war.

We were really helped here because the combination of surviving official records between 1911 and 1921 which meant we could tie individuals to their homes and occupations by using the 1911 census, the 1910 Finance Act returns (correct for 1914), electoral registers and commercial directories.  So much information, and that was before we started rummaging in the parish registers, newspapers and school log books!

The research was then used to create two parish tours focussing on the WW1 Home Front, which you can find and try out for yourself by visiting the project website.

Ombersley Remembers is my fifth community history project focussing on the WW1 history of Worcestershire.  Continue reading

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Collecting Birmingham: evaluation of a Prize Winner!

Much as I love all my clients, it’s a tremendous buzz when their work wins prizes!

Birmingham Museums Trust commissioned me to evaluate their terrific Collection Birmingham project during 2017-2018, and then used elements of my report to help them win the Museums Association’s Museums Change Lives Award 2018.

The project was funded through the HLF Collecting Cultures programme and focussed on bringing people from some of Birmingham’s diverse communities together with artists and curators to shape the future of Birmingham Museum Trust’s collecting policies.

Over 1,800 objects were acquired through consultations with local people including The Rivers of Birminam, a series of 100 black and white photographs by Vanley Burke chronicling 40 years of Caribbean heritage in Birmingham. The photographs are by far the largest and most significant collection of work by the celebrated photographer in any public collection and were displayed at Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery earlier this year.

I feel like the photos belong to the people of Birmingham as so many people feel connected to the stories and experiences documented in them. I’m very pleased they will be part of the city’s collection.

Vanley Burke

As an evaluator, it was exciting to see how eager the Collections Team of curators, conservators and cataloguers were to get involved with community engagement activity more usually carried out by the Learning & Engagement team members.

As the project team worked across the whole Trust to bring many permanent staff members’ skills to bear on creating networks, it is clear that Collecting Birmingham has significantly increased the network of communities and local experts with whom Birmingham Museums Trust hopes to work in future.

The very public nature of the project and the open consultation processes employed have gone a long way to demonstrate goodwill to and build trust with communities who had previously had reason to suspect the institution’s intentions. The team have also supported external partners to ensure a more representative process of collecting and presenting culturally significant objects to wider audiences in future years.  As a result, participants have demonstrated changes in attitude towards BMT that augur well for future collaboration.

There is no doubt of the impact that Collecting Birmingham will have on BMT’s Collections Development Policy and on the organisation as a whole. As Rebecca Bridgman, Project Manager and Curator said:

As a result of Collecting Birmingham, I don’t think we’ll ever go back to the method whereby only curators decide what new objects to acquire for the collection.

You can download the report pdf here: Collecting Birmingham Evaluation Report 2018

Women on boards

Having read the rather disappointing excuses proffered by ‘executives at the UK’s biggest firms’ in response to the Hampton-Alexander review currently being carried out for the Department for Business, Innovation & Skills concerning the low number of women yet appointed to the boards of FTSE companies, I chanced upon the following article from 1899 calling for women’s representation on the boards of organisations whose decisions directly affected them.

In  July 1899, Mrs Day presented a paper to the Annual Meeting of the Women’s Co-operative Guild: Women on Management Committees: A Few Reasons why Women should sit on Management Committees of Co-operative Societies.  The paper is available to download for free from Archive.org.

The Women’s Co-operative Guild is rather fabulous – established as The Women’s League for the Spread of Co-operation in 1883, before changing its name to the Women’s Co-operative Guild in 1885. Set up to provide women with a voice within the co-operative movement, it provided a forum for working women to agitate for better working and living conditions, education, welfare and economic support. You can find out more at the National Co-operative Archive.

In 1899, Mrs Day presented 5 key reasons why women should be appointed to the men-only Co-Operative Society boards, the first of which was to point our how many other major public institutions already counted women on their governing bodies:

Women are considered to be qualified to sit on poor-law boards as guardians, to look after the supplies needed, both of food, clothing, shoes, housing, nursing, educating, in fact, everything referring to poor-law work, which involves the spending of many thousands of pounds of public money, and their judgment upon samples of goods is accepted, and their advice acted upon. The same rule applies to school boards. How many women now occupy seats throughout the country? Their judgment is sought not only upon the matters directly relating to education, but on the erection and furnishing of palatial school buildings. Women are considered not to understand plans and drawings of buildings ; still, they are making these things their study, and I have never yet read or heard of a woman either on poor-law or school boards shirking any part of her work; but always willing, and desirous to do their part of the work faithfully and well. If we, as women, can take our share in the work of these public bodies, can we not also do the same in the management of our societies? The duties are not more difficult, the responsibilities more great, nor the strain more severe. We do not desire to take the places of competent men on these management committees; but we do claim, as members of the same societies, with equal interests at stake, our right to share the duties of management, and bring to the work a calm and clear judgment on all matters brought before us, free from bias.

No one, I think, will dare to say, after what I have stated, we are not capable of carrying out our duties. Women must and will take their places on the boards of our co-operative societies in the future, much more so than in the past. If women are considered qualified to sit on the Central Board of the Co-operative Union, sex being no barrier to election, I think the day is not far distant when on the management committee of every co-operative society in the kingdom, whose rules admit to membership both sexes equally, at least one or two women should be found.

The requested change did not come about swiftly, but it did eventually take place – for further information, read Nicole Robertson’s paper ‘Women as organised consumers: the case of the co-operative movement’ (Economic History Society, 2008).

It still seems to be working.  Data collected for International Women’s Day 2016 finds that there are twice as many female directors of the UK’s largest retail co-operatives than there are of FTSE companies.

Co-operatives UK continues to champion the importance of inclusivity from the shopfloor to the boardroom.  It’s worth looking at the Co-operative Women’s Challenge in 2011, a campaign that seeks to ensure women are fairly represented at all levels within the co-operative movement. The challenge aims by 2020 to promote:

  1. Fair representation in the democratic structures of co-operatives
  2. More women in senior management roles and
  3. A wider campaign for gender equality across the economy and society.

When Mrs Day made her case in 1899, I wonder if she had any idea how long it would take for the change to take effect?

READING: 

Improving museum access practice

picture1Monday’s post about the VocalEyes report on The State of Museum Access for people with Disabilities drew a lot of attention on social media from professionals seeking or driving change in their own institutions. I’ve had some really good conversations about breaking down barriers and heard about some excellent resources, and I thought it only fair to share!

It was particularly brilliant to hear from Roz Chalmers (@elsiebiades) who is a freelance audio describer and trainer, Thanh Sinden at Culture Coventry who is currently reviewing access practice in-house, and Becki Morris,  a museum professional specialising in inclusion and representation of Disabilities in museums.

Becki drew my attention to the Disability Co-operative Network in Museums, which is committed to raising the profile of inclusive practice in the museum, heritage and cultural sectors.  You can follow them on twitter @museumDCN.

DCN aims to raise confidence, challenge preconceptions and reduce barriers to service delivery by broadening audience participation and engagement.  They work with corporations, businesses, charities, organisations and individuals to identify and challenge barriers, support inclusive service delivery, technological innovation and attract disabled talent to the workplace.

Their website is available to all museums, art galleries, heritage sites and cultural venues and includes free resources and case studies contributed by heritage, arts, charity and corporate sector organisations.  It also includes a free virtual exhibition space for disabled artists which includes profiles and links to the artist’s website.

One long term goal for the website is to begin a blog for disabled people to share and feedback on their experiences of cultural venues.  For further information, you can contact DCN directly.

Challenging museum access practice

As someone with poor sight, I am always intrigued to see what provision museums make for blind and partially sighted visitors.

It is a strangely overlooked area – most services manage to provide Large Print captions, but there is still a lot of work to be done around providing handling materials, tactile interpretation and the navigation of darkened exhibition spaces.  On one occasion, my negligible depth-perception meant that I nearly pitched headfirst down a very stylish but completely unreadable flight of ash-wood stairs that had no contrasting colour-stripe on the steps. My ‘favourite’ experience, admittedly 10 years ago, when asking at a museum reception desk about the prize-winning special trail advertised on their website, was to be asked “Just how BAD is your eyesight?” before being given a water bowl for my (non-existent) guide-dog.

So I admit that it is a bit depressing to read in the VocalEyes State of Museum Access Report 2016 published today, that, in 2016, for too many museums, website access information for blind and partially sighted people consists of a solitary message welcoming guide dogs.  As VocalEyes point out, it might be useful to note that for every guide-dog owner in the UK, there are around 75 registered blind or partially sighted people who do not use a guide dog, and for whom information about resources and events at the museum would be a welcome and necessary prerequisite for a visit.

The State of Museum Access Report 2016 shares the results of an accessibility audit of the websites of all 1600 accredited UK Museums.  The report breaks the data down for Scotland, Wales Northern Ireland and the English regions, as well as for categories of museum (independent, local authority, university, military, national museums, and heritage sites), and is very valuable reading for us all.

Evidence shows that online access information is a key factor in the decision-making process for disabled visitors, and that many will not visit if access information is absent. With that in mind, some of the key findings from the report should give us pause for thought:

  • 27% of UK museum websites audited provide no access information for disabled visitors planning a visit
  • Only 30% of UK museum websites provide information that would be useful for a blind or partially-sighted person planning a visit
  • Only 18% of museums publicise the fact that labelling or information about their exhibits is available in Large Print.
  • Only 10% of museums advertise that they offer live audio-described tours / handling sessions for blind and partially sighted visitors.
  • Only 5% are taking advantage of websites that provide detailed access audits such as DisabledGo.com and Euans’ Guide, a site offering Disabled Access Reviews by disabled people for disabled people

An element I find really interesting here is how few museums advertise on their websites the access resources they do actually offer. Many of the museums I have worked with over the years have invested time in providing Large Print captions or handling sessions for the public at large.  Some have even trained their staff in audio description.  But the number who don’t actually advertise the fact in their publicity material means that very few blind or partially-sighted visitors take up the offer and these access services lapse into disuse.

So – two take home actions here people –

  1. Check out and implement the good practice guidelines that VocalEyes helpfully provide to help museums move towards far better practice in accessible web, digital marketing and social media
  2. TELL THE WORLD YOU DO IT!

Food, Family & Home in WW1 conference

All films from the Midlands’ Women’s History Network conference on 5 March 2016 are now available online via the Women’s History Network West Midlands youTube channel.

The films include a 5-minute round-up of the event, and each of the day’s presentations:

‘The Kitchen is the Key to Victory’: Women, Food and the Great War

  • Professor Karen Hunt – University of Keele

Everybody’s talking about food: food and women’s magazines in the First World War

  • Jennifer Doyle – Kings College, University of London

Everybody’s Business: Film, Food & Victory in the First World War

  • Dr Stella Hockenhull- University of Wolverhampton

Researching Home, Food and Family: Panel Discussion and Q&A

  • Professor Maggie Andrews  -University of Worcester and Voices of War and Peace Community Engagement Centre lead on Gender and the Home Front
  • Susanne Atkin – independent researcher participating in WW1 in the Vale (HLF-funded project)
  • Julia Letts – Oral Historian and project co-ordinator for The Great Blackberry Pick (HLF-funded project)
  • Dr Janis Lomas – Independent Researcher
  • Chaired by  Jenni Waugh – Community History consultant and project co-ordinator for WW1 in the Vale (HLF-funded project)

Filmed for us by James McDonald of Clear Picture Productions.

Entries invited for Women’s History Network Community History Prize

Women’s History Network – Community History Prize sponsored by the History Press Have you worked with a community group to find out more about the history of local women in the last 12 months? This annual prize of £500 is awarded to the team behind a Community History Project by, about, or for Women in […]

via Women’s History Network – Community History Prize — AIM Blog for independent museums and heritage sites

Museum+Heritage Awards 2016

A fantastic thing about being a consultant is how many great projects and teams I am privileged to work with on a daily basis. So you can imagine my pride when, on reading the shortlist for the Museum+Heritage Awards this year, I found 3 clients had been nominated as well as 2 organisations for whom I volunteer.

invite

Top of the list of course, were the team at the Coffin Works, run by Birmingham Conservation Trust, of which I am a trustee.  We were up for the Customer Service Award – very fitting given the passion of our staff and volunteers, and my own professional interest in good quality visitor experience.  Christine Cushing, one of our excellent FoH volunteers and I were there at the ceremony to represent everyone.

In the Educational Initiative category were the talented Creative Bridges team from Herbert Media, part of Culture Coventry, whose 2-year Esmee Fairbairn-funded project I am evaluating.  Their project is focussed on building the confidence and embloyability skills of young adults with learning disabilities, involving them in live commissions and work experience in some of the City’s many creative industries.  It’s a fascinating project that is proving very satisfying for its participants.  Project manager, Kerrie Suteu was there to collect a HIGHLY COMMENDED for the team.

Staying with Culture Coventry, Coventry Transport Museum were nominated for the Permanent Exhibition Award.  The HLF and EDRF-funded project has enabled the Culture Coventry team not only to redisplay all but 2 galleries in their huge venue, but also to overhaul their learning and community programming, and build a new volunteering programme for front of house that may well see them nominated in years to come.  I am working with DC Research on the evaluation of this work over the next 2 years.  Although unplaced, the team were in excellent company on the shortlist.

NT Croome, whom I have worked with over the last decade whilst volunteering for NT Whose Story? and NT Regional Advisory Boards, were nominated for a Trading & Enterprise award for their innovative Sky Cafe, perched on top of the scaffolding above the current HLF-funded restoration work on the Court.  They were HIGHLY COMMENDED, behind the winners, Black Country Living Museum.  So what ever happened, the prizes all came to the West Midlands!  And it was lovely to see that the volunteers from the Defford Airfield Trust, who now have a museum space at Croome, were nominated for the Volunteers of the Year Award too.

Last of my clients up for an award were the Cadbury Research Library, part of the Special Collections Department at the University of Birmingham, nominated for the Restoration or Conservation prize for their work on identifying, restoring and exhibiting the 9th Century Qu’ranic Manuscripts recently discovered in the Mingana collection.  Josefine Frank, project manager, found the resultant exhibition and community interest provided a tremendous boost to the Esmee Fairbairn/MA Collections-funded Mingana Community Engagement activity, and I shall certainly enjoy writing up its effects in my final evaluation report. Sadly, the team went home empty handed, but the shortlist recognition for their conservation staff is well deserved.

So what of the Coffin Works you cry?  Did we win?  

“Quirky, innovative, creative, passionate.” That’s us!

Christine and I were over the moon on behalf of the team.  Really.  If we could have rocketed up there, we would have done.  We managed to get to the stage, make a speech, and sit down again without tripping over, and we were so proud and thrilled by the prize and by the outpouring of compliments in person and online for our wonderful staff and volunteers (you can see those in our storify of the event).

SHJenni-Christine-65811382-Museum-Heritage-Awards-Northumberland-Ave_SimonCallaghanPhotography213-1

Christine Cushing, self, and presenter, Marcus Brigstocke, collecting the Coffin Works award for Customer Service at the M+H Awards 2016. Photo copyright Simon Callaghan.

The Coffin Works has won 6 awards since we opened in October 2014, for the building restoration, for the collections conservation, for the volunteers.  This one, alongside the People’s Choice Award at the Heritage Angel Awards 2015, is one of the most important.  A great building, dedicated curators, passionate staff and volunteers are nothing without the support of the public, and a great visitor experience.  As a trustee, I work hard with the team to make sure we offer that, and reviews on Tripadvisor and from our peers tell us that it is Top Class.  Thanks everyone!

 

 

Art & reminiscence work with dementia patients

Last Autumn, it was my pleasure to research and evaluate the contribution that structured Art & Reminiscence activity can provide to the daily life and care of dementia patients in residential homes.

The full report can be downloaded here: Arts and Reminiscence in Wychavon Care Homes report 2016-02-15

2015-11-23  Bricklehampton 2
Commissioned by Museums Worcestershire and Wychavon District Council Arts Development Officer, the creative and reminiscence activities took place over 5 weeks in 6 different residential care homes across the Wychavon area.  The activity was intended as a pilot – although both organisations have carried out one-off activities in care homes over the last few years, this was their first concerted attempt at providing more in-depth and structured activity over a period of weeks.

 

The work was very challenging, given the participants’ varied capacity to take part.  In some homes, the groups sizes were comparatively small (up to 6 participants) making it easier for the facilitators to focus on each individual and encourage them to take part.  In other homes, large group sizes or the profound state of some participants’ dementia made it far more difficult to make a meaningful connection.  However, as the sessions ran over a series of weeks, the facilitators were able both to build a relationship with the more able participants, and to make slow roads toward connection with the more profoundly disabled residents.

Both facilitators spoke of the work as being emotionally laborious, but also of the rewards they felt they had received when a silent participant suddenly smiled in recognition, or reached for a handshake before leaving.

The evaluation methodology is one that I used in 2013 on the Memories in the Making work for Wolverhampton Art Gallery, and is based upon the Warwick Edinburgh Mental Wellbeing Scale (WEMBWS) and Dementia Mapping techniques.  This Worcestershire project enabled me to test the methodology further and to continue to build upon my experience and knowledge in this rewarding field.