Today has been a typical example of the extraordinary mix of activities which go on daily in the museum.
It started with the monthly Staff Forum which had been advertised thus:
‘Visitor Services will be presented by Chad, Ailsa, Supervisors Shaun and Karen, Visitor Services Assistants and Skills for the Future trainees. They will speak about the many projects they are involved with, including accessibility in the Museum, tours, placements and work experience.’
On the face of it, this didn’t sound as if it was going to be as interesting as last month’s fascinating presentations by conservation interns. It turned out to be completely engaging, it provided a fantastic overview of the role of the front of house staff and I have to say was also very moving.
I’d already spent quality time with the Visitor Services staff during an enjoyable morning shadowing them around the galleries, and I was completely impressed by their enthusiastic commitment to providing a fantastic experience for visitors and by their compendious knowledge of the exhibits. An extremely approachable bunch, they continue relentlessly cheerful in reorientating me during my daily ‘disorientation’ moment as I forget which set of stairs I’ve just come down.
Head of Visitor Services, Chad McGitchie, outlined the team’s vision to make the visitor’s experience the best of any in Manchester, if not the world, not only by pursuing best practice as a team but by using the skills of the individuals and actively pursuing the personal development of each of the team through projects they are undertaking. The members of the team spoke about their projects – this was the moving bit.
Karen Brackenridge is developing her work with work experience students at the Museum to make it not only a more accessible activity for students with disabilities, but a life-changing experience for them. She described how one ex-student, who may never be in a position to work, continues to enjoy working with museum staff.
Shaun Bennett is working on information links with other museums in the area through the Cultural Concierge programme and on effective use of social media to enhance the visitors’ experience to Manchester.
Luke Gleahall has been working to anticipate and reduce any disruption that might be caused by the temporary closure of the vivarium, which will affect access to the Nature’s Library gallery, particularly for those with mobility problems. Electronic documentation has been created to give a virtual tour and it is intended to provide audio descriptions. This will be a valuable resource even when access is not disrupted.
Maxine Byrne had already done level 1 sign language and is applying for funding to improve her skills and to be able to train other staff in order to provide signing for hearing impaired visitors, for example on tours.
Damien Scully described the mental health champion training he had undertaken and how he hoped to use this to improve awareness and understanding of the needs of all visitors in order to provide better access to the Museum for them.
What really came across in the way they spoke was the personal commitment of the individuals to the team vision for excellence and the effectiveness of this strategy.
After the Staff Forum, my next appointment was with the Dinosaur Detectives.As well as gaining experience of all the activities that go on in the Museum, one of my targets is to develop an education session based on the collection. Just over a week ago I’d observed a workshop for Year 9 gifted and talented students delivered by Emily Robinson, the Secondary and Post 16 Coordinator. This was part of a reward spending a day at the University. The group was made up of 2 students and a member of staff from each of several different schools, so it was not a typical schools learning session and in a way was a little artificial. The session was called the Colours of Nature and was all about the different forms of camouflage adopted by animals and the advantages this provides to them. I found it very useful to see how specimens from across the collections had been brought together, how they had been prepared for handling or looking at, how the rules for handling them were explained and how they were used as part of the session. It was also a useful reminder from my teaching days in a previous incarnation about allocating time, maintaining pace and encouraging participation by all students, not just the confident ones.
Today’s Dinosaur detectives session was a completely different kettle of fossils. The KS2 students had done some preparation work with their class teacher using resources provided by the Museum, and Kayleigh Rose who took the session soon had them getting hands on experience to help them decide if the animals that had become the fossils she gave them to handle were small or big, fast or slow, if they lived on the land and if they were herbivores or carnivores.
As dreadful chance would have it, news came through to the Discovery Centre of a murder that had taken place in the fossil gallery just this morning and the class were taken to investigate the crime scene and identify the likely victim and culprit by matching clues to fossils on display.
Finally it was back to the Discovery Centre to look at body parts of the suspects and decide if they were in the vicinity at the time and had the means and motive to commit the awful deed.
The session was a fantastic use of the collection and Kayleigh’s skill to encourage the students to use the knowledge they had and the clues available, to make deductions, to work together and importantly to see that many different conclusions could be reached by different people from the same evidence.
And then it was lunchtime!
Just time to pop into the Collecting Trees exhibition which opened on Saturday.
While this exhibition had been in the process of construction I’d had valuable opportunity to see how the cases were designed and fitted, how the objects were prepared by conservation and positioned in the cases, and to discuss some of the problems and their solutions with the workshop and conservation staff and Rachel Webster, the Curator of Botany, who coordinated it all.
This case could not be moved once the items were placed in it, to avoid damage to them, and the large perspex case which covered it had to be carefully manoevered into place before being fixed to the plinth. A low ceiling had to be negotiated to boot!
The afternoon was spent working on a project to document part of the Leo Grindon collection of cultivated plants in the Herbarium – but that’s a story for another day.