Transformers Diversify – Making Change in Museums

Hello all.

This week I want to talk to you about an exciting adventure I have undertaken; the journey to transform museums and make change in the sector! Not sure what this means? Well, allow me to explain…..

Run by the Museums Association, the Transformers Programme is a workforce initiative for museum professionals who are taking a radical new approach to museum practice. As you can see from their website, Transformers is made of three strands, which museum staff from across the United Kingdom can apply for: Influence, Innovate and Diversify. I am going to focus on Diversify, as this is the strand that I have applied and successfully joined.

An important part to this programme is a publication that the Museums Association launched a short while ago called: Museums Change Lives. Through case studies, it explores the theory that museums are changing, becoming environments that improve well being, as well as inspire and stimulate us. With the many changes to society and politics, museums must respond, in order to accommodate new demands.

Transformers Diversify has Museums Change Lives at it’s heart. It teaches the people on the cohort the skills needed in order to make lasting change in the sector. Diversity is a key issue in society today and recent studies have shown that the various equality groups (ethnic minority, disability etc.) are misrepresented in the cultural sector. What we hope to achieve as Transformers is to pitch ideas for diversity, which change perceptions within museums and allow opportunities for all. Back at Ipswich Museum, I am in the middle of various work related to diversity and access in museums, so this seemed like the programme for me!

Opening Picture for Residential

To kick start Transformers, we all met for the first time on a two-day, residential trip in Great Missenden, Buckinghamshire. Here was a chance to familiarise ourselves with everyone, as well as some intense, but fully satisfying training. The content was well devised and the structure exceptionally organised and flexible, showing understanding to the needs of the cohort.

I rubbed shoulders with an eclectic mixed of museum individuals in terms of their job role and ideas for diversity. The atmosphere was lovely. We all shared our passion for museums, but equally our understanding for change.

Each one of us had an idea for change related to diversity, which we want to carry forward in our respective museums, with help from the Transformers programme. My particular idea is based on autism awareness and access in museums. It is a project I am taking a lead on here at Ipswich. For example, at Ipswich Museum we are currently piloting an Early Bird Hour for Autistic visitors, which happens on the first Friday of the month. I am sure I will talk to you more about this in future blog posts.

Early Bird Hour

These couple of days have been such a mesmerising experience that they will inform my future career in museums. I have learned valuable skills like influencing, leadership, active listening and challenging preconceptions. Effectively, these fantastic skills have formed a toolbox to engage my ideas of the present and also the future, to enact in my work and the work of my colleagues alike.

I hope that for the rest of my time here at Ipswich, Transformers will have a positive part to play in how I go about my Trainee role and the way I might influence the organisation.

Until next time folks!





Back in Black (and purple)

Hello, Tim here

Well, this is a post of mixed emotions. On the one hand, I’m very sad to say that I’ll be leaving The Training Museum traineeship much earlier than planned. On the other, I’m overjoyed to tell you that I’m not leaving Colchester + Ipswich Museums. For, as of tomorrow, I’ll be a permanent employee with the Ipswich Visitor Services team!

I will miss a great many things about Colchester. I will miss my fellow Colchester Trainee Esme (ironically I will now be seeing MORE of my other Trainee colleagues), the Colchester staff, the Castle and (of course) getting to dress up as a Celt.

Yet, I am looking forward to making new friendships and connections with the collections and staff in Ipswich. Knowing some of them already, I am sure it will not be long before I feel as at home with them as I have done in Colchester.

I will not prattle on about what I will be doing as a member of Ipswich Visitor Services, as Mark and Michael have already done that very eloquently through their blogging (and at the moment they know a great deal more about the intricacies of the role than I do!).

I feel really lucky to have been given the opportunity to learn so much about museums. I now understand the service in a holistic way, which I never could have even imagined before. The traineeship helped me to realise what path I want to take with my future career, but also set me well and truly on it, by giving me the chance to successfully apply for my new job at Ipswich. What more could one hope for?

Tim shoes
I always was rather partial to a bit of black and purple.

All that’s left is to say thank you to all the people who have helped me on my journey through this traineeship. Particular mention must go to the Colchester staff and Esme – I am certain that I would not have made it here without you guys. Thank you for being there for me whenever I needed help or just someone to talk to. I wish everyone the best for the future. As I am still a part of the museums however, it is not like I am disappearing off the face of the earth! Who knows, I may even return to, er, “grace” this blog and let you know how I’m getting on.

If you fancy paying a visit to in Ipswich Museum, checking out Christchurch Mansion or coming to meet the Clangers and Bagpuss at Ipswich Art Gallery, you might come across Mark or Michael. But now you might also see me, because odds are I’ll be there – back in black (and purple).

You said it.

Let’s Hear It For Volunteers!

Hello, Michael here once again.

This week (1-7 June 2017) is Volunteers Week, a national celebration of the important contribution made by dedicated and caring people from all walks of life. Obviously volunteers work across many areas of society, but I’m going to focus on the ones that support Ipswich Museum.

As part of The Training Museum programme, I have recently begun work on a project that involves digitising part of the works on paper collection. This is a dream job for me as I’m a great lover of paintings, drawings and prints. I also get to work with two volunteers, which is something new. Over the course of the project, I will be organising how we do things in what will hopefully become a well-oiled machine.

Works on paper

Tat and Joan are two lovely people, with a great interest in Colchester + Ipswich Museums and their collections. They are very efficient and have quickly settled into the process of documenting and scanning pictures.

I can see they get a great deal of satisfaction from helping to raise awareness and understanding of our vast collection and so do I. Firstly, we record measurements, titles, artists, accession numbers and locations. When this done, we scan each picture at a very high resolution (600 dpi is Museum Standard). Having worked as an illustrator for thirty years, I am exceedingly envious of the large and impressive scanner we are using.

Works on paper digitising

Our work will be put into the MODES collections database at the museum and eventually be uploaded to the Art UK website, which will make these pictures available for all to see for the first time. This is one of my favourite websites, so it is great to be contributing to it.

I have witnessed first hand Tat and Joan getting up close to the collection, handling and measuring beautiful prints and drawings. I enjoy the atmosphere of calm focus in the room. Then there is the sense of achievement and satisfaction as we complete each box of prints. The volunteers make a huge contribution to this project. If we multiply this out across the museum and then throughout society, we see what a valuable asset volunteers are to all of us.

This week, Christchurch Mansion hosted a celebration event for our volunteers. It was a small way of saying thank you for all their hard work and support.


Time to celebrate!


I’m hopping onto the Trainee’s blog to say a huge thank you, on behalf of everyone at Colchester + Ipswich Museums, to our wonderful volunteers.

From the 1 – 7 June it’s Volunteers’ Week and we are keen to show our gratitude and promote the amazing work they do. You may have met those who welcome visitors to our museums, support family events, look after our galleries or gather feedback, but we also have volunteers behind the scenes helping to document, digitise, research and conserve our collections. Thanks to their hard work, we are able to do so much more…

If you’d like to learn more about volunteering with us, you can head to our website:


Feeling toasty

As a Trainee, we are encouraged to develop our skills in areas that we may be less confident in. For me, this is most definitely the world of presentations.

Recently, I visited the Saffron Walden Toastmasters group, designed for those that wish to practice and improve their presenting, communication and leadership skills (thank you to Charles Greensitt for supplying the photos).

Toastmasters SW 1

As a visitor to the group, I was able to experience presentations by people with very varied levels of experience in speaking. Some (below) regularly compete in regional finals…

Toastmasters SW 3

…and for others it was their very first time talking. Feedback is given to each speaker by an evaluator. Through listening to both the talks and especially the evaluation, I was able to gain pointers on good practice when talking to a group.

These included:

  • Moving and making full use of the stage.
  • Making good eye contact.
  • Using gestures and props to aid communication.
  • Interactive elements – e.g. the audience raising their hands to answer multiple choice questions about a subject they had just been listening to.
  • Structuring a talk – making sure that the beginning, middle and end tie together. The number three was mentioned as a golden ratio for structure.
  • Make it fun – both informing and entertaining.

I also learnt that however confident someone might be as a communicator, there is always room for improvement. With this in mind, I have been working to increase my experience of talking and presenting to groups. 

One way has been through the school visits to Colchester Castle, which support classroom learning. Recently, I have been able to gain confidence presenting by taking groups around on our Castles tour. This involves wearing costume and getting the children (and sometimes willing adults) to dress up as knights, in order to learn about day to day life during Norman times and defence of a castle.

Below is a piece of graffiti that can be seen on the tour. It was carved into the walls of the spiral staircase to ward off witches.

Esme tour 3

From the beginning of the traineeship, I found the idea of leading tours daunting, so I decided to focus on our Castle-themed one to begin with, as it is for younger children.

I often find it difficult to absorb information, especially in script form, as I learn best either visually or by physically doing something. I began by watching fellow colleagues lead tours and was able to pick up tips on what to ask the children and how to capture their imagination, all while moving the group around within a set timeframe.

My colleagues were patient and supportive, helping me to learn the script and practice taking tours under supervision. I am now able to support the schools programme at the Castle, which I am very happy about – it’s a lot of fun! … Here I am, preparing to fire a bow and arrow at the evil knights attacking the Castle.

Esme tour 1

Yesterday, I gave a short presentation on metal alloys at our morning staff meeting (see the photo at the top of this post). It was to gain experience of talking in front of larger groups. I tried to present information that could help with our understanding of metal collections and their alloys when talking to the general public.


It was reasonably successful and I put into practice some of what I had learnt from both the Toastmasters group and leading tours, using props to illustrate metal atoms in the form of chocolate. If in doubt – chocolate saves the day!

Signing off,


Another Eastern Angle

Hello, Michael here again.

As part of our traineeship, I recently worked on a placement at Firstsite, a contemporary art space in Colchester. One of the benefits of an external placement is that you get to see how a different cultural organisation operates. It was an interesting experience, which helped me think about the different challenges faced by each venue, as well as the similarities.


Both the museums and Firstsite need to engage with their visitors. They want to encourage them to come in, involve themselves with the exhibits and sometimes respond to the objects. This could be in the form of a workshop focusing on a certain display, a tour, trail or quiz. Both places aim to make visitors feel welcome and part of what they do. Both venues are part of the local community.

It has been interesting to see the differences too. Ipswich Museum and Christchurch Mansion place great importance on the conservation and care of their collections. Light levels are carefully monitored, temperature is regularly assessed and a deep sense prevails that fragile objects must be preserved for future generations.

The focus seems slightly different in a contemporary art gallery as the work is often newly made. With the BP Portrait Award at Firstsite for example, the emphasis is on presenting works in the most sympathetic light, creating an environment that enhances the pictures and intensifies our experience of them. They may not be shielded from daylight in the same way as a Tudor portrait or Victorian watercolour on paper, but they require a different form of sensitivity in their display.

Curators of contemporary art can think differently. It has been fascinating to see how they are almost a different species to the museum curator. My placement has given me an opportunity to stand on both sides of the fence and interestingly, I have found that the grass is a rich shade of green wherever you are.



One Small Step For Trainee’s, One Giant Leap for Mankind

Hello everyone!

Although I somewhat quoted Neil Armstrong in my title, The Training Museum isn’t attempting a Moon landing! It is in fact about some work I’ve done with Michael on documenting the Mankind Gallery. We are starting with the Native American display case, so let me take you on a path through the forest…….

Here are some moccasins, made by the Cree people of indigenous Canada. As Native American everyday footwear, they are often made of deer hide or soft leather, with a variety of patterns and colours. There was much excitement among the two of us as we handled each object.

Team Ipswich Trainee had the pleasure of inventorying nine pairs, as part of the Collections Information ProgrammeOne person recorded important details, including measurements and an accurate description. At the same time, the other handled the moccasins and took high quality photographs.

I can’t speak for Michael, but I was fully in my element with this task and not just because of how much fun I have with documentation. When patrolling the galleries on Visitor Services, I quite often find myself going back to the Mankind Gallery, reading the text and admiring the collections. To me, it is a fantastical world of exotic wonders, which I would love to be the curator of!

One by one each moccasin was documented and inventoried successfully. They had beautiful colours and intricate patterns in their design. It was fascinating just how old they were, with some dating back to the 17th century. The moccasins had so much character and sophistication to them that I wish I owned a pair!

Eventually Michael and I had to pack up the kit and finish. It was fun but had to end sometime. Between the two of us, I think our knowledge of North American moccasins has doubled!

Chao for now!