Each week we take a look at what’s been going on with Norfolk’s Teaching Museum Trainees. Today we see Meg, Learning Trainee at Time and Tide and Cromer Museum.
Hello! My name is Meg Barclay and I am the learning trainee based at Great Yarmouth and Cromer Museum. Starting in April 2015 seems like only a few weeks ago, and yet here I am having just started a new job as Learning Officer for the Discover Downham Heritage Centre (Downham Market), and I thought I would take the opportunity to summarise my experiences and mention some highlights along the way!
I remember walking in on the first day of my traineeship to be told we had a school coming in to do a Romans event and that I would observe a particular character with the view of delivering this session in the future. I was also in charge of moving children around the museum and giving 5 minute warnings to delivering staff. From this moment on my traineeship has been a whirlwind of adrenaline, set up, delivery, planning, promoting, resourcing, marketing, taking school bookings, administration, clear up, hoovering grated cheese ground into the carpet… and all manner of other tasks which would be too numerous to mention.
A large part of what I do is dressing up in different costumed characters, and I have been everything from a Pirate, Victorian Time Traveller, Roman Lady, Ida Flower the famous Great Yarmouth Explorer, Fisher girl, Iron Age women, Alice in Wonderland… the list goes on!
I have been able to deliver such a variety of sessions, including object handling, characterised, craft, drama based, outdoor and indoor, and in a variety of settings and spaces. With record-breaking numbers of children visiting Time and Tide Museum in November and December 2015 (c1,400 and 1,200 respectively, despite the Christmas holiday happening over this period) it was no wonder that my Christmas was mainly filled with sleeping! There were many occasions when I would have to learn a session the night before and deliver it the next day without having watched anyone else deliver it first. But although tiring, it was thrilling to be able to get to the point where I was able to work in this way as a ‘proper’ museum learning professional and just get on and do it; being able to trust in the skills and abilities that I have learnt along the way.
And a big part of my traineeship is just how much I have learnt. Having very little experience working in museums (except from volunteering on my gap year before uni) this traineeship really did provide a wonderful environment to immerse myself in museum learning. I have real responsibilities in a public facing role where delivery and learning opportunities come down to you and how well you ‘perform’ on the day. The educational experience of the children in front of you really does depend on how you deliver, your energy and enthusiasm, pacing, and your character. With lots of support from the team here in Great Yarmouth I have been able to develop my delivery style, and learn behaviour management techniques, for such occasions as, say, when faced with large groups of unruly boys initially not wanting to be in a museum!
I have also been involved in planning and redeveloping multiple new learning events for both Time and Tide Museum and Cromer Museum Primary learning offer. These events titled Ship Wrecked, Explorers, Saxons vs Vikings, Stone to Iron and Pirates! have really helped me to gain a deep understanding of the nature of museum education and the importance of lighting, sound, set dressing and costumed character interpretation. It has also provided me with an invaluable opportunity to learn about the process of planning and piloting new sessions to schools, including sourcing resources and authentic historic characters, as well as gaining evaluation and feedback from teachers, and ensuring that their pupils have an experience that they could not do themselves back at school. Trips to the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich has helped solidify my understanding of different approaches to museum learning (with quite varying sized budgets!) and attending their CPD day for their recent exhibition Against Captains Orders done in conjunction with Punch Drunk was a particular eye opener for just how immersive and drama-led museum learning based within collections and museum spaces can be. It was great to meet the team there and have a go in the exhibition! (If anyone got the chance to see it over the summer you’ll know just how amazing it was!)
If that wasn’t enough, I have also had the opportunity of working on the youth engagement programme at Time and Tide Museum. Due to illness the youth engagement officer has been away, so I was heavily involved in the Creative Collisions Crafting Histories project funded by HLF Young Roots. This project explores the heritage crafts of Great Yarmouth through a series of 3 month artist residencies and I have been involved in the advertisement of the residencies, recruiting and working with artists, organising workshops and liaising with teachers and young people. This has been a fantastic opportunity to practically work through an HLF bid and gain experience working with young people recruiting and selecting the artists, whilst at the same time developing my own professional judgement. Again the team here have been really helpful and supportive in guiding me through the process and showing me how to support and enable the young people in their selection of artists. By the end of my traineeship I will have worked on 2 and ½ residencies!
Incidentally, through an advert for the Crafting Histories artist residencies, I was contacted by a media agent to speak with one of his journalists who was working on an upcoming piece for the Museum Practice section of the Museums Association website about museums working with artists in different ways. This was very exciting, not only to be able to gain experience liaising with journalists, but also to be able to contribute to national advice on museum practices, as well as seeing myself quoted on the MA website!
Alongside my experiences at Time and Tide and Cromer Museum, I have sort out experiences and opportunities with colleagues in different museums across the service. I spent two weeks working for Norwich Castle on their Medieval Madness programme over the summer developing my informal learning experiences and seeing how bigger museums with larger visitor numbers develop and maintain their audiences through a variety of hands-on, themed activities. I also supported the summer school for looked after children held at Norwich Castle which I really enjoyed and had so much fun during it! It was great to be able to develop a relationship with each child across the week and see just how much they learned. It was also a very valuable experience as we were tasked with creating our own learning resource to be used at lunch time once the children had finished eating. Mine involved the children solving various Anglo-Saxon Riddles or Runes (I composed these myself) which were clues to identifying various objects in the Anglo Saxon Gallery. Following on from this, I regularly support the Castle’s Monthly Museum Club for looked after children.
I have also secured opportunities in other museums across the Norfolk Museum Service to work with and experience their different youth engagement offers and teenage history clubs. This has provided me with fantastic insight into how such clubs and programs can engage a ‘hard to reach’ age group and involve them in Museum activities. I have gained considerable understanding of how the Arts Award can be used in conjunction with museums, and in addition I was fortunate enough to win a place (generously funded by NADFAS) on a Kids in Museums workshop titled Children and Young People as Tour Guides. The latter was a fantastic opportunity to learn more about Kids in Museums and gain so much understanding of ways in which you can structure a programme that will engage young people over a period of time which enables them to have ownership of their local museum.
All this, plus the weekly development training we have as part of the traineeship where we received training from an industry expert on numerous different aspects of the museum industry, has made for a very full on traineeshp. But I have had such a fabulous experience and gained so much from it. And before I close I must thank the learning team in Great Yarmouth for all their amazing help and support along the way. I couldn’t have done it all without them!