Follow the Nose!

Michael here once again with tales from Ipswich Museum.

One of the roles of our Visitor Services Team is to keep the museum clean and tidy. We do some work before the doors open in the morning, but we also keep an eye on things during the day. Tissues are dropped, maps get shredded, whilst toys, costumes and cushions get thrown about. Nothing terrible, though vomiting schoolchildren can be more of a challenge!

Anglo Saxon Brooch

As I keep an eye on things, I have become increasingly aware of nose prints on glass. Finger and hand prints are always to be found on the display cases, but nose prints are different. Nose prints are a sign of genuine interest. They represent a need to get closer to the object. A visitor wants to look much harder to understand what is in front of them. In this situation they become oblivious to glass, it’s transparency creates a sense of ‘out of sight, out of mind’…which is when they hit the glass.

Usually there is a round, oily mark from the tip of the nose. Occasionally we find a more pronounced shape, which takes in the bridge, tip and nostrils. This implies a more intense level of focus. Now and then, I come across the highest level of absorption, which contains a full nose print combined with a section of forehead. This must be painful. I have heard “ouches” in the gallery followed by laughter or embarrassed denial.

It is firm proof that our collections can fascinate and absorb people. Museums today have a necessary obsession with data collection and visitor feedback. There is an important need to understand what aspects of our displays are of particular relevance to our local communities. Maybe nose prints can become part of this data collection process, where the highest density of oily, nose marks points to the highest level of visitor engagement. Maybe charts or tables can be created, like the ones football pundits on TV use in their post-match analysis, which show clusters of visitor movement and engagement based on nose print ratios.

I have photographed some of the key objects in Ipswich Museum that accumulate the most smears, so you can see for yourself what attracts the highest scrutiny. This is a statistically unproven representation of course.

In the meantime, it’s my job to remove nose prints with a damp glass cloth, helping the next visitor to see clearly and engage more deeply.



Horse’s for Courses at the Munnings Art Museum

Salutations folks, Mark reporting.

After being ill for about a week, I have a new sense of energy, which I will now express in a fantastic blog post…….

Following Tim and Esme’s posts, you are probably seeing a trend. I am also going to talk to you about my placement, which has been at the Munnings Art Museum in Dedham.

Before I start, I’m going to tell you a little bit about Alfred Munnings. He was a well-known Suffolk artist of the early 20th century. He was a keen painter of the quintessential landscape, but is more commonly known for his skillful works of horse’s in action. Castle House was Munnings home for much of his life, but is now owned by the Castle House Trust and was made into a museum and research centre, dedicated to his life and works.

An an art lover, I am undertaking a very exciting and highly involved task for my placement. Museums can have massive collections, which have been accessioned over many years and there is not always a complete paper trail for every object. As a result there is much work to be done to properly document objects and modern database technology has allowed for this task to become easier.

The Munnings Art Museum is no exception and my task is to document, catalogue and digitise wonderful artist sketchbooks into their collections database.

For me, a day at Munnings is usually split into two activities. The main one involves taking sketchbooks from the store and recording the details of every page into an entry on their database. I have to assign each page a number, fill in information like it’s location and measurements, and write a basic description for identification purposes.

The other task is to photograph the pages, making sure to have a variety of shots including zoomed in details. Once I have a whole sketchbook complete, I go back to the database and upload the photos to the relevant entry.

And voila! You have a fully catalogued sketchbook with information and pictures!

This has been such a valuable opportunity in two ways. Firstly, I refer back to my title-pun: “Horses for Courses”. Munnings Art Museum has been an ideal placement for me, coupling my strong passion for art and keen interest in collections management. Secondly it has given me an insight into how an independent museum operates, as opposed to Colchester + Ipswich Museums, which is local authority run.

Finally, I’d like to just say a huge thank you to The Munnings Art Museum for having me. They have a fantastic and knowledgeable team who dedicate their time towards researching the artist, and I really take my hat off to them.

If you are ever in Dedham, make sure you stop by at the museum. It is highly recommended and they have a new exhibition, titled ‘Munnings and the River’.

That is all. Mark signing off.

Em’s post-traineeship adventures

Hi Em here,

Upon finishing The Training Museum traineeship (2015-2016), I started a casual position at Ipswich Museums on Visitors Services, which is very exciting and I am loving it as always! As well as this, I was lucky enough to gain a volunteer placement with UNICEF UK in London from February – March. I really enjoy working with and for children, having previously worked at primary schools, run projects for young people (Supplementary Schools) and volunteered at Oxfam, Age UK and the NSPCC.

My role at UNICEF UK was ‘Community Fundraising Volunteer’, working within the Public Fundraising Department in the Community Team. I was chosen to support a project with top fundraising schools (TFS), which are those that raise the most for UNICEF through their own events, activity days, charity weeks and many other amazing methods. My main responsibility was to contact and correspond with the top 30 TFS to gather research regarding their invaluable fundraising efforts. I was creating case studies about each school, finding out things like:

  • how are decisions made about which charity to support?
  • when in the school year does this happen?
  • what events do they organise to raise such huge amounts of money?
  • what fundraising plans do they have lined up?

Much of the work I was doing involved researching the schools, finding contact details, updating databases and then contacting them via email and telephone. Over the three weeks I managed to contact all 30 schools and organised around 10 phone calls with teachers, providing vital information about their annual fundraising efforts and discovering the activities the students most enjoyed.

I was also involved in creating fundraising ideas for the months of April and May, which are being used as online resources for schools, as well as updating spread sheets and internal databases, and organising phone calls with teachers from around the UK and Europe. I even assistied a video shoot with UNICEF UK High Profile Supporter, Cel Spellman, for this years ‘Day For Change’, which was very exciting! (Spot my hands in this sticker sketch!)

Cel hands

The other videos we shot can be viewed on the webpages below:

Day for Change

Day for Change fundraising materials

While this placement might seem a million miles from what I was doing at Colchester + Ipswich Museums, I was able to use many of the experiences and skills I had gained. For example, I was working within a large, fast paced team to achieve set project goals, so communicating well with the public and networking was essential. Having the confidence to make connections with key people, organise meetings with different teams and working with senior fundraising staff was very beneficial. It was a brilliant experience, where I could showcase my passion for working with and for children. I learnt more about the impact of public fundraising for charitable organisations, whilst making strong connections within UNICEF UK.

I am so grateful to have been chosen for the placement and hopefully I’ll be back in the fundraising or development fields in the near future!

That’s all folks,
Em 🙂

Go West (Stow), in the open air…

Go West (Stow), life is peaceful there… Well, not so much when there are up to 120 school children excitedly exploring an Anglo Saxon village. It certainly is a lot of fun, though!

It’s Tim again, as promised, to tell you all about my placement at West Stow Anglo Saxon Village!

The great hall

The Great Hall

When I saw that West Stow was one of the places we could support as part of our traineeship, I was very excited and knew that it would be my first choice. As you may know, my days with Visitor Services are often spent occupying the Iron Age round house at Colchester Castle. Visitors to my partially-built Celtic home are often reminded of West Stow and wax lyrical about the fully re-created Anglo Saxon houses there. Of course, they also realise that it would be rather impractical to build an entire village within the confines of a Norman castle!

Having excavated the remains of an Anglo Saxon settlement, archaeologists at West Stow were free to re-create the village. Using the same materials and building over the post-holes of the original stuctures, the first houses were built in the 70s, the most recent in 2007.

As well as the village, there is also a great museum at the site. It is between these two areas that daily school tours are divided. Joe Carr – the Education Officer – runs these and has been incredibly kind and supportive in allowing me to assist him. Not only has Joe given me the chance to deliver parts of the tour, but also develop new elements for it.

Together we came up with the idea to create riddles using my pyrography set and hide them in the houses. To ensure the children’s focus remained inside, we added an extra layer of difficulty by writing them in the Anglo-Saxon runic system of “Futhorc” (or as I knew it for many years, “Dwarvish” – thank you J.R.R. Tolkien!).

We also added new layers to the Anglo Saxon legend told to the children in the great hall. I tell the story, whilst Joe plays live music to accompany me. Both these activities have received really positive feedback from children and teachers, which is very gratifying.

On Tuesday and Wednesday, Joe and I helped run a free event for families from HomeStart. Tuesday involved a look round the village, with stories in the hall and our new Anglo Saxon pop song “Village on the Hill”! I also used my pyrography kit to create a souvenir for each guest; a piece of wood with their name in Futhorc burned into it. On Wednesday, we had two talented ladies called Helen and Melanie demonstrate craft skills from their online course. Using powdered silver that had been cleverly turned into clay (alchemy!!!), we created our own Stone age and Anglo Saxon- inspired necklaces. We also made clay squares with spiral patterns (inspired by a Stone Age mace-head), which will all be turned into a joint work of art to be displayed in the West Stow visitor centre.

Sadly, this Friday is my last day at West Stow. Suffice to say that I have loved every minute of it and I plan to continue to be involved in some way or other. I would happily volunteer and very possibly become a member of the Friends of West Stow.

I knew that I would enjoy the Anglo Saxon village at West Stow but, in a relatively short amount of time, I feel it has taken hold of me just as strongly as Colchester Castle. Now I just need to win the lottery, so I can take turns volunteering with each site indefinitely…

Wow, that was a long post. Sorry! Until next time, this is a rather divergent Celt/Anglo Saxon signing off.

Chug life

Hello! Esme here.

During the Moving on Up conference in Edinburgh, which Colchester + Ipswich Trainees attended back in February, I had a few conversations with fellow attendees on the stumbling blocks that can occur when trying to obtain the job that you would really love, especially within museums.

Through past and current practice, I have been learning that the more experience you can gain the better when working towards this goal. Practical experience is very valuable, as it is possible to learn new skills, develop strengths and fill in the weaker gaps while on two feet. Both traineeships and apprenticeships are paving the way forward, especially when the costs of study or volunteering are not feasible for all.

On this note, I feel very lucky that I am currently being immersed into the world of railways, steam engines and locomotives one day per week on a work placement at the East Anglian Railway Museum at Chappel in Essex.


The East Anglian Railway Museum is an Accredited Museum and has an incredible collection of steam engines (I have learnt not to say trains, it’s not the done thing), carriages and memorabilia related to the region on display. They also do amazing Sunday Roast dinners on the last Sunday of every month! *just saying*

It’s a very interesting place to be working at, as unusually the site is live and has a railway running through the middle of the museum. This carries passengers to stops between Marks Tey and Sudbury.

The Restoration Shed is where all the action takes place and volunteers work tirelessly, restoring engines to working order. Visitors can stop to chat to the engineers at work, which breathes life, or should I say coal fire, into the collections.

Sometimes Thomas the Tank Engine comes to visit when he is poorly. If you are of a sensitive disposition look away now!

EARM restoration 3.jpegPercy the engine and Thomas… in bits.

EARM restoration 1Museum engineers working with incredibly heavy collections.

Being a small museum, run with the help of many volunteers, there is much to do. On this placement, I have been helping to re-develop the tour and family trails. The plan is to have a light but informative whistle stop tour, so that people gain an insight into the history of the site, what it was like to work and travel on the railway from 1890 and what is happening at the museum now and in the future – a lot to cover in just under an hour!

I hope to update you more with my progress soon!


A Hundred Warm Welcomes

Hello, Michael here again.

I’ve just found out that this is the 100th blog post from The Training Museum Trainees! I know that pomp, ceremony and fireworks are required for this significant event, so I hope you are suitably uplifted by the end of it.

Whilst working at Ipswich Museums, I have been struck by the efforts of everyone here to make people welcome. It happens at all levels, from Visitor Services to the curatorial teams, from event and workshop organisers to the design and exhibitions team. I don’t think museums were always this open and friendly, but luckily times have changed.

As a boy growing up in the 1970s, I was very interested in drawing and painting. Most of my inspiration came from comics and cartoons. I was from a working class, immigrant family living in inner city Manchester. We weren’t the kind of people that went to museums or were even particularly aware that they existed. Our local school never made a visit to one.

I first noticed Manchester City Art Gallery when I was thirteen. I had walked past a few times on the way to the shops. Though I loved to paint and draw, I had no idea that I might be allowed to go into this building. I noticed that people went in and came out, and that there was a uniformed man at the door, who I assumed would not let me in. The building was very grand, looking like a classical temple with a huge flight of stone steps up to the front door. I stopped and looked several times, occasionally climbing those steps, but never making it through the entrance. The man in uniform glared at the scruffy boy stood outside looking in and I knew it was not a place for me.


I didn’t give up. My interest in art was growing and I was an inquisitive little chap. I found The Whitworth Art Gallery whilst walking my dog Patch. It was a friendlier looking building with an entrance at ground level. Eventually my curiosity got too much. I tied Patch up to the railings and ventured through the door. Nobody stopped me. The guard looked and said nothing. I WAS IN! What I saw there fueled my passion for art and art history, shaping my choice of future career. From that point on, there was no stopping me. When I came out, I realised that Patch had been making a terrible noise all that time and had disturbed all the visitors to the gallery.


I can safely say that museums and galleries have changed my life, which is why it is so wonderful to see how much effort Ipswich Museums put into encouraging people to enter. There is always a friendly smile when you arrive, along with an offer of help. The museum is free for everyone and genuinely attracts a wide range of people from all kinds of backgrounds. There are signs outside to coax you in, as well as encouragement to feel comfortable in the building. This is so important, as our museums and galleries belong to all of us. It’s great to be a small part of this warm welcome.


Maybe the best way to celebrate this 100th blog post is to think of the hundreds and hundreds of warm welcomes that museums offer members of the public each and every day.



Do not adjust your blog

Hello! Tim once again with the key(board) to the blog!

It feels like so much has been going on lately that our feet have hardly touched the ground – what with conferences, training, external placements (more on that soon!), events, networking, flying to Scotland for another conference… you get the idea!

Throughout all of this though, there was something that I promised myself I would not forget to blog about: the wittily titled “Improv Your Museum” training at Essex Records Office in Chelmsford. So, albeit three weeks after I attended it, here we go…

I really have my fellow Trainee, Esme to thank for this. She and I were talking one day about how difficult performing an improvised stand-up set would be. The next thing I knew, she had emailed me a link to this training! ‘Improv Your Museum’ is a workshop run by two members of the comedy group Do Not Adjust Your Stage. It consisted of a series of exercises normally used by the group as warm-ups prior to going on stage, or at their regular sessions. With the help of Matt Stevens and Tim Grewcock, we were shown how these games, which utilised improvisation and quick thinking, could be used to improve our museum practice.

The training was organised by the Heritage Education Group, who were kind enough to let me sit in on their meeting before the workshop. I really appreciated this, as I learnt a lot about what was happening in the various museums in the area and met many interesting people.

I won’t bore you with specific details of every exercise, but suffice to say that they all revolved around certain rules/ideas. Two of the most important were “do not deny the other person” and “make the other person look as good as possible”. This can be applied to talking to visitors on the galleries. If they say something you know to be totally inaccurate, do not brutally shut them down and make them feel stupid in front of others. Instead, think on your feet and politely accept their suggestion/viewpoint, whilst tactfully explaining the correct facts.

Other games focused more on simply being aware of other people and anticipating actions/reactions, which is especially important in Visitor Services. Judging the mood/reactions of a visitor can mean the difference between enriching their visit and boring them or making them feel uncomfortable.

One of my favourite exercises illustrated the use of these skills well. The “gift giving game” (as I will call it) involved pairing up, with one person continually presenting imaginary gifts to their partner. The recipient must then accept the gift and say why/how it will be useful to them. After a time the roles are then reversed. As well as being fun, this was good practice for not denying others, thinking on your feet, improvising in potentially unusual circumstances (the gift could be anything!) and building confidence.

Overall, I found the workshop not only fun but also really useful. It made me think differently about interaction with others and gave me new ways to consider approaching situations. The representatives of Do Not Adjust Your Stage said that they love going round different museums and delivering this training, so if you get the chance I would highly recommend it.

Next time on Tim’s posts: West Stow Anglo Saxon Village

See you then!