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!


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:


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!


Moving on Up


Hello everyone! Mark reporting on behalf of all the Trainees.

It feels like a lifetime since I was last in the office. There is much to catch up on, but fortunately I have some time to tell you about our fantastic trip to Edinburgh, alongside what the other Trainees thought.


Here we are at Stansted airport. We had to get up bright and early in order to catch our flight. We arrived in Edinburgh safe and sound, excited for what was in store. Tim and I even bagged a selfie!

After dropping off our luggage at the hotel, it was time for the first event of the trip. Thanks to the efforts of our wonderful line manager, Lib (Museums Project Officer), we had the pleasure of meeting some Trainees from National Galleries of Scotland at the Scottish National Portrait Gallery.

The four of us were most impressed with their range of high tech equipment, which they kindly showed us. This included their digitising process for works on paper. It allows them to successively scan an image, which is then transferred immediately to their Mac computers. All in all, we were impressed, if not slightly envious, of their facilities! They also came from diverse and interesting backgrounds, just like the four of us, ranging from leaving school to being an ex- tree surgeon.

That marked the end of the day and, after a hearty dinner, it was time for some well-earned sleep ready for tomorrow.


The big day! We all had high spirits for the itinerary ahead, as well as some butterflies in our stomachs. Moving On Up was situated at the Royal College of Surgeons, a lovely venue with the recently, redeveloped Surgeon’s Hall Museums. The day was jam-packed with keynotes, breakouts and participatory sessions. It was chaired by Hilary Carty, Freelance Consultant and Coach, and attended by experienced professionals with helpful advice. The room was mostly inhabited by those early on in their careers. Just like us, they all had their own story to tell. Our group found the speed mentoring sessions particularly helpful and constructive. We had mixed feelings about networking but nevertheless, did our best.

The conference ended with much enjoyment and happy feelings, but we were also shattered. The four of us went to bed that night, satisfied with our achievements.


Our trip sadly came to a conclusion. Here are a couple of pictures of the time we spent around the spectacle that is Edinburgh. We left this trip, enthused with fresh ideas. It was an amazing experience, which we won’t forget for a long time.

This is Mark signing off.

ps. I have been reliably informed it is National Apprenticeship Week! #NAW2017


A week of awards and conferences

Hi all, it’s Lib (I look after the Trainees and occasionally turn my hand to blogging)

As our fantastic four have been up in Edinburgh for the Museums Association Moving On Up conference this week, I thought I’d talk about the Creative & Cultural Skills national awards and conference that took place in Thurrock.

CCSkills are a national, campaigning organisation who promote access to creative careers and their awards aim to recognise excellence across different industries. The ceremony was held on Wednesday 1 March and The Training Museum team were shortlisted in the Cultural Heritage category. Myself and Emma (Collections and Learning Curator) had a fantastic evening, during which we were treated to incredible performances by Stopgap Dance Company and Pandemonium Drummers, as well as a display of pyrotechnics from Backstage Centre students.

Sadly we didn’t win (the well-deserved winner was Samantha Jackman from Plymouth City Museum and Art Gallery), but being runners up was a real honor.

The following day, Emma and I were awake bright and early, ready for the conference. The morning was jam-packed with speakers, ranging from current and former apprentices to the Director General of the BBC. We were delivering a breakout workshop in the afternoon on diverse recruitment, getting participants to think about the sorts of skills cultural professionals need and different ways you might assess for them.

We talked about the video interviews and group activities our Trainees had experienced, and shared their thoughts on what it was really like. Alternative recruitment methods can enable more potential candidates to shine and we hope other organisations might consider giving them a try.

Enough from me. I’ll let Mark and the team tell you all about Moving On Up when they return next week.



It was a ELY good conference.

Tim here again, and Esme too!

Today, we’re reporting on the SHARE Children and Young People conference that we were lucky enough to attend last week at Ely Cathedral.

Firstly, the venue was amazing (totally worth the less than toasty temperature). Ely has one of the most impressive cathedrals around, which definitely demands a day to itself sometime.

There were some excellent speakers including our own Rachel McFarlane (Projects Development Officer) and Em Clarke (Visitor Services Assistant and former Trainee), who gave a talk on the perceptions of who works in a museum, particularly from children. Special mention however, must surely go to the group of primary school students who bravely stood up and delivered their thoughts on the pros and cons of museums. They spoke eloquently on how museums could be improved for their age range. It was heartening to note that many of their suggestions were already being implemented in Colchester. It was also useful to hear their thoughts on age-appropriate areas/activities, as opposed to just defining things as either “adult” or “child”.

Halfway through, the delegates were split into groups. They were then briefed and taken to a local court to re-enact the aftermath of the Littleport Riots, which took place in 1816. This was great fun and showed how history can be brought alive for young (and old) people.

During lunch we had the opportunity to network and visit The Stained Glass Museum (who later gave a very interesting presentation about being a small museum within another attraction). Bedford Creative Arts also delivered a really interesting talk, including a great tool to use when reaching out to new audiences. Essentially, the idea is to imagine yourself as the owner of a pizzeria and you want to sell to a specific, cultural group who live locally. This group may have certain requirements/regimes, but other than that, you don’t know much about them. What do you do to get them into your restaurant?

Overall, the conference was informative and enjoyable, with every speaker making interesting points. We’re really glad we got the opportunity to attend. It would be easy to write a whole essay on our time there, but sadly we have to dash off now and make some fossilised fish out of pipe cleaners. Confused? All will be revealed, right here in the next couple of weeks!

Until then, this is Tim and Esme signing off.

Windsor Museums Study Day

Hola amigos, Em reporting here.

Last Thursday I attended my first study day as a member of the South East Museums Federation (SEMFed), an organisation established in 1937 that covers the Eastern and South Eastern regions of England. As one of our objectives for the traineeship, we were asked to become a member of a network outside of Colchester + Ipswich Museums, with the intention that we attended study days, meetings and visited other organisations. Myself and a few others were lucky enough to gain free membership to SEMFed after our presentations at the Ipswich study day, organised by Will Heppa (Museum Assistant).

The Windsor study day started bright and early (a train journey at 6:20!) and had an exciting schedule with four museum visits lined up. As we arrived in Windsor we got caught up in a march leading towards the Castle. Unfortunately, we didn’t actually see her Royal Highness, but we did give her a wave on our way past, just in case!

The first place we visited was Windsor and Royal Borough Museum. Members of staff gave a presentation about the ways they run events, as well as how they use community outreach to collect local information and objects for displays and major events. The room that we were sat in was extremely regal, with chandeliers and paintings of the Royal Family surrounding us. The fact that some of these were original paintings was amazing. Some had even been commissioned especially for hanging in Windsor!

After the presentation, one of the curators took us on a tour of the rest of the building, showcasing the towns strong links to royalty, their mayoral timeline and the beautiful rooms for wedding hire. Downstairs we visited the museum, which although small, was filled with lots of different displays, from local war time tales and books of the Borough, to celebrations of local people and unusual artefacts from excavations.

Next up, we headed to the Eton College Natural History Museum, which is only open to the Boys of Eton College (except for Sunday 2:30-4pm when the public can visit). I’d never come across a museum space that was only aimed at one group of people, so this was something I found fascinating/very unusual! The curator who showed us around was also the security guard, teacher and event organiser, highlighting how staffing was very different compared to our Local Authority run museums.

Another concept that I found very interesting was the idea that the text labels were written for boys aged 14+ who had an Eton College level of education (i.e. a high academic standard). Our text is written to be accessible for all audiences, so we do not assume there is any prior knowledge about our objects and we avoid using museum/scientific language. Their text on the other hand is written for, and often by, people of a specific gender, age group and academic status.

Next up was the Eton College Museum of Antiquities, a room displaying a variety of Egyptian artefacts that were bequeathed by former pupil, Major William Joseph Myers. The display cases were organised by theme, which was a really nice feature so that you could make links between the objects in each case. An improvement that I’d like to suggest would be the inclusion of text labels, as there weren’t any! Instead, all of the information was inside a small hand-out given to you upon entering. Although there is probably a perfect explanation for this, I found it hard to work my way around the room and I think it made it more difficult as a visitor.

The last museum we visited was the Museum of Eton Life, which showcases exactly that. This was my favourite venue of them all. Set in a cellar in the grounds of Eton, it included uniform displays, an Eton wall of ‘fame’ and boarding bedrooms representative of the Edwardian period vs. the modern day. The curator explained about the difficulties of having a museum based in a cellar (excessive damp and flooding), how they decided what stories to tell and their changing exhibition spaces.

The trip was different to say the least, with various conversations about museum representation, accessibility and private education arising throughout the day. The spaces opened my eyes to new ways of running museums without public funding and how methods of display, learning and access can be used to appeal to certain audiences (and put others off!). Thanks to everyone from SEMFed involved in organising the trip and providing a fascinating insight into very different museum institutions.

Ciao for now, Em 🙂