Blackpool @ Museums Conference 2016

Beth Garlington is the Community Heritage Coordinator for Blackpool and attended the November Museums Conference in Glasgow on our behalf. This a diary of her experience.

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Hosted by a different UK city every year, the Museums Conference offers museums and heritage professionals the chance to take part in a wide range of informative and dynamic sessions and the opportunity to network with other colleagues in the sector, as well as Museum Directors and Museum Association staff.

The conference is a platform for discussion on relevant topics and issues museums are currently facing. Themes for this year’s conference were Health and Wellbeing, People and Places and Being Brave, hosted within the walls of the impressive Scottish Exhibition and Conference Centre (SECC) in Glasgow

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I was thrilled to be asked to go to the conference on the 7th November, on behalf of Blackpool Museum Project and Blackpool Heritage Service and I attended several of the sessions on offer to delegates that day. My highlight was listening to the Museum Directors’ views on current museum issues. The ‘In Conversation’ session included discussions on Brexit, diversity in the workplace, funding and the continual lack of jobs in the sector, as well as opinions on what the future holds.

‘Partners in Wellbeing’ was another inspiring session. As Community Heritage Coordinator in Blackpool, I was particularly interested in the work being achieved in Manchester to aid health and wellbeing, run by Manchester Museum and Whitworth Art Gallery. In Blackpool we have several projects working towards tackling the town’s mental health and social challenges including; HeadStart aimed at raising the resilience of young people aged 10-16 to prevent them developing mental ill health in the future and the new provider Health Works, a service launching in 2017, will offer support and advice to referred patients who may need more specialist support to tackle social issues that are preventing them from leading a healthy lifestyle. The question Blackpool Museum has been asking is, what can we do? Blackpool Museum is developing transformational programmes of engagement which will use a special type of creative counselling to improve mental wellbeing whilst having fun! Watch this space to find out more!

Other fantastic sessions at the conference included ‘Using Storytelling Techniques’ for works of art and historic objects and ‘Achieving Sustainability’, a case study session on how heritage services can become self sustaining projects using a business approach. All sessions were very thought provoking, it was great to hear plans are already in place for the next conferences – Manchester will host in 2017 and Belfast in 2018.

As we are creating a museum from scratch here in Blackpool it is so important to use the museum industries debates, case studies, findings and models of best practice to inform the plans to make it extra special.

Here are the top 5 things I learnt at the conference:

  1. In order to effectively tell a story about a object or painting, let your visitor build the story. Don’t talk at them, but with them. Sometimes, not knowing details about the object/painting stimulates conversation and uses the imagination. What does the visitor think?
  2. If information is known about an object/painting, use the CATS technique. Character – who is connected to your object/ painting? Actions – what events or ideas are connected to your object/painting? How was it made? Time – what does the object/painting tell us about that moment in time? In the creator’s life and their contemporary world. Setting – What places are relevant to your object/painting? Where does it originate? Where has it been?
  3. To become more self sustaining, museums should use more of a business approach, using a business model and designing their services for the visitor (customer). Get to know the visitor, what they need from you and communicate effectively.
  4. Another self sustaining tip for museums is to focus on employing staff to deliver the programme (product) and ensure a business and accounts manager is in place.
  5. Museums could create a more diverse workplace by being proactive. Broaden where and who you advertise jobs to.

(CATS technique courtesy of The Whole Story)