Our last AGM was a day of optimism, celebrating the redevelopment of de Havilland Aircraft Museum, which hosted the event, and packed with plans for 20/21. We did not imagine it would be the last opportunity for our network to meet face-to-face for over a year, or that our museums would soon be closed and all our project work postponed. Looking back at the speed with which our sector had to shut down and the effect this had on museums' ability to maintain income, staffing levels and core services, it is remarkable that we are here to report that Hertfordshire’s Museums, although a little battered and bruised, have achieved much during this extraordinary year, and that our network has thrived, adapting to support our members in new ways.
Museums have been able to welcome far fewer in-person visitors over the last year and have had to find new ways of engaging users. Hertfordshire Association of Museums has supported museums to become virtual centres of learning, engaging with communities and with each other online. Social media campaigns such as 'Local Museums Unite' and the HAM Hertfordshire Year of Culture 'Museum Object of the Year' have reached thousands of people and given our museums opportunities to share their collections while they remain closed.
This year we have had to respond quickly to provide the training needed for new ways of working. Our Education Forum is concentrating on delivering museum learning programmes remotely, identifying excellence in digital delivery, and supporting our members as they plan a blended learning offer that will underpin the work of museums and schools going forward. We are running a training course in writing fundraising applications with a focus on how to define areas of work to fit in with project funding requirements, and we will continue to seek out and disseminate regional and national training opportunities for our museums.
During this year, the workforce of Hertfordshire’s museums has been in flux. Many members of staff have been furloughed or redeployed; volunteer opportunities have had to be carefully reconsidered to ensure safe working practices and, sadly, some museums have had to pause recruitment or make redundancies. Continuing to provide support and networking opportunities for staff whose role or responsibilities have changed has been a priority for HAM, and virtual network meetings have been well attended. We also introduced informal drop-in sessions with the Museum Development Team, reactivated our HAM Facebook discussion group, and asked our members to record their experiences throughout the year to share with the network.
The resilience of our museums is something we highlight nearly every year, but in this particular year we should celebrate the fact that, not only have all of our existing museums survived the past 12 months, but that Radlett Museum opened to the public for the first time this autumn. It is looking forward to receiving visitors again once restrictions allow.
The Museum Development programme is delivered in conjunction with SHARE Museums East: a sector support organisation supported by Arts Council England which has several strategic priorities for museums in the UK.
Supporting Museums during Covid 19
Applying for Emergency Funding
We have provided application support to museums applying to a number of grant streams, including the Heritage Emergency fund and the Cultural Recovery Fund. Our museums have been overwhelmingly successful in their applications; to date, stand-alone and combined arts and museums venues in the county have received over £650,000 of emergency funding to support them during the pandemic.
This year our social media campaigns have generated over 900 posts, sharing information about their collections from museums across the county.
Training and development
New training needs have emerged during 2020, and HAM has been able to react quickly, providing bespoke training and development opportunities to our members. Our next four Education Forum meetings will be facilitated sessions exploring the practicalities of digital engagement. They will include planning, production, learning, risks and safeguarding, along with long-term goals, sustainability, what excellence looks like, and how to market online learning.
We are also running three two-hour online training sessions to support museums which are considering applying for project funding. The sessions will focus on:
- Organisational vision and project development with the aim of giving museums the tools to help shape a project that fulfils the needs of their organisation. These will include information about the different kinds of funding they might want to access and what to think about in terms of developing a case for support.
- Grant-funding bodies, homing in on a range of funding bodies and their requirements, and how best to shape a project so that it meets the goals of museums and their funders.
- Writing great applications, which will share techniques such as using narrative to develop a persuasive case for support and a compelling grant application.
This year we extended the criteria for HAM Small Grants to include expenditure related to the pandemic. We awarded grants to purchase a variety of PPE equipment to help museums across the county reopen.
In Hertsmere Museums (Elstree and Borehamwood, Potters Bar, Radlett and Bushey) the funding enabled the purchase of essential items of PPE including a Perspex sneeze screen for Bushey Museum which allowed the volunteers to keep a safe barrier between themselves and visitors to the reception and shop. The funding also enabled the purchase of a free-standing automatic hand sanitiser dispenser in the entrance foyer to allow visitors and volunteers to sanitise before entering the museum and contributed to the cost of providing packs of anti-viral wipes, which were distributed amongst the four museums.
At the British Schools Museum in Hitchin, small branded bottles of hand sanitiser were purchased for visitors and volunteers. Funding also contributed towards the cost of sanitising hard surfaces and enabled the provision of individual children’s activity packs, increased signage and QR codes.
At Mill Green Mill and Museum in Welwyn, the grant enabled the purchase of hand sanitiser stations, social distancing mats, and re-usable stencils and spray paint. The latter two have proved particularly useful, marking out a weather-resistant, socially distanced queue, as the Mill itself has continued to operate during the lockdowns producing flour for sale to the local community.
We asked staff and volunteers to share the Best and Worst of 2020
...We ramped up the number of volunteers working at home, with over 40 projects over the summer. Tasks included exhibition research, children’s activities, inventory work, photography (not quite at home – the streets of Hitchin) and more… In fact, we had a job keeping up with it all! British Schools Museum
Museums weren’t the only ones trying to reach out and find new ways of working, so we have developed a new partnership with our local paper which is getting us a high profile online and in print, plus lots of interaction with other community groups … Our year got off to an amazing start with one of our biggest ever events hosting the Watford launch of HYOC and a beacon lighting. Watford Museum
A highlight for us was managing to buy a wonderful William Ratcliffe painting at auction recently, and getting grant-aid (from the Art Fund, the ACE/V&A Purchase Grant Fund, and the Hertfordshire Heritage Fund) to allow us to bid up to quite a lot more than in fact we got it for. North Herts Museum
We’re not specially vulnerable to more changes, but we do need to keep ourselves in the public eye, so we’ll be looking for new ways to do that. …. we’re ready to emerge on the other side - whatever lies in wait there. Three Rivers Museum Trust
The continued dedication of our volunteers in keeping the garden under control [during] lock-down. St Albans South Signal Box
Despite the covid obstacles I am really proud that our small team has pulled together to deliver some wonderful community projects … Our online audience has also grown as we made efforts to engage people at home via social media. And with the delivery of a new camera and photography equipment thanks to the HAM Small Grant we are now able to start photographing key items in our collection to give even greater online access to Dacorum’s heritage. Dacorum Heritage Trust
The safety of the museum volunteers is vital, so we’ve still got a pause on them coming in. Some have been taking on remote research for us which is great. Royston Museum
We decided that we simply had to do something to keep the Museum and its collections in the public eye, and if people couldn’t come to us then we’d do our damnedest to take it to them ... The pair of us went back into the deserted Museum on the Friday and filmed a few quick, two-minute videos about the history of about five of our aircraft. de Havilland Aircraft Museum
Hertfordshire Year Of Culture Museum Object of the Year 2020
Although we were disappointed not to be able to hold the annual Hertfordshire Association of Museums Awards, we were delighted that the Hertfordshire Year of Culture 2020 supported the search for the HAM Object of the Year as part of their Heritage Month activities. Thirteen objects were nominated and, during September, more than a thousand people voted for their favourite.
As usual there was an eclectic range of nominations, with many entries demonstrating a particular resonance for current times. A straw plaiting peg doll from Dacorum Heritage Trust demonstrated that working at home was the norm in much of the county in 1851; a placard from a recent Black Lives Matter protest in St Albans reminded us that the legacy of slavery is often closer than we think; theatrical face cream, made in Letchworth, demonstrated solidarity with theatres that have remained closed across the county.
The competition was covered by local news channels, and the award went to The Natural History Museum, Tring whose nominated object, a Skye Terrier named Champion Wolverley Chummie, endeared itself to the voting public. Tring Museum's commentary tells the story behind its entry:
“Dogs have provided comfort for many during lockdown. A selection of the collection went on display at Tring in 1968. The collection is unique because it reflects the efforts of 19th- and 20th-century dog breeders who developed many of the breeds we see today. Many of the dogs at Tring have their own special history which reflects the story of the humans that cared for them. Mrs McCheane was devoted to her pet: she wrote to the museum in 1921, 11 years after he had been donated, asking whether he could be taken out of the display case for an artist friend to draw and so she could rearrange his coat as it was slightly disarranged.”
We would like to thank all the museums that submitted items and look forward to seeing the entries for this year’s HAM Awards.
Save Lowewood Museum
In late 2019 Broxbourne Borough Council were considering the future viability of the Borough’s only museum at Lowewood in Hoddesdon. The long-term service level agreement for the running of the museum was due to end, and due to financial constraints Broxbourne were not able to commit to the necessary future investment at Lowewood. The Council explored other options for running the museum without success, and on the 16 December 2019, the Council Cabinet announced “with a heavy heart” that the museum would have to close at the end of June 2020. The vast collection of artefacts would have to be dispersed to other museums or returned to the donors.
The Friends of Lowewood Museum were disappointed by the decision and launched a campaign to make the people of the Borough aware of the proposal and to try to persuade the Council to rethink their decision.
The response from the local community was very encouraging and both the online and written petitions attracted large numbers of signatures. Two 'Support Lowewood Museum' days received good publicity for the campaign in the Hertfordshire Mercury newspaper.
The Friends of Lowewood Museum met with Broxbourne Borough Council to discuss the possibility of setting up a council-funded trust to run the museum. A working group was established and, with the help of a museum consultant funded by SHARE Museums East and the Council, the museum was promoted as a community asset. Potential volunteers and trustees were encouraged to meet the working group at an open meeting.
The proposal to incorporate a trust was presented to the Charity Commission in November 2020 and received their approval in January. There are currently five founding trustees, and the trust is keen to recruit a further seven trustees who, it is hoped, will contribute a variety of skills and bring a range of experience.
One of the main priorities of the new trust is to engage with the residents of the Borough to increase the footfall at the museum. They are preparing to open the museum as soon as the COVID-19 safety restrictions and social distancing requirements allow, and work has started on planning future exhibitions and the recruitment and training of volunteers.
The Lowewood Museum Trust will ensure that the museum remains the focal point for Broxbourne’s rich heritage. The museum will also continue to record the story of the Borough’s development in the future and to develop and maintain a strong relationship with the local community.
David Dent, Chair of the new Lowewood Museum Trust, offers this advice to anyone facing a similar crisis :
"The advice that I would give to anyone trying to save their museum is not to give up no matter how difficult it might be. We did not believe that Broxbourne would change their stance on the museum, but I think by mobilising the community we proved to them that the museum was a valued and worthwhile asset for the Borough. Get as much publicity for your campaign as you can and engage if you can with your local newspaper, social media, local radio and local television. We would never have forgiven ourselves had we not campaigned to save Lowewood and we pushed on with the fight even with the fear of failure hanging over us."
A Space To Be … (ASTB) is a National Lottery Heritage Funded project designed to improve the wellbeing of young people living in Hertfordshire. It is being run by Hertfordshire Museums Development Team in partnership with museums across the county.
Partner museums in Hatfield, Hitchin, Bishops Stortford, St Albans, Stevenage and Watford are hosting ASTB workshops for young people aged from 14 to 18 and in full-time education to give them opportunities to socialise away from the pressure of exams. The initial round of workshops started in late February and ran for three weeks before museums were closed as a result of the coronavirus crisis.
ASTB was designed to support young people who were at risk of depression and anxiety due to the pressure of GCSE and A-Level exams. The cancellation of key exams and the closure of schools is unlikely to have diminished anxiety levels. Participants may be facing additional uncertainties about the grades they have been assigned and will be worried that the absence of lessons and teaching during the shutdown will have an effect on their examination performance in 2022/23.
Throughout the last year, the Museums Development Team has worked with the museums, artists and the project manager to deliver the project remotely. This has presented a number of challenges, but we have been successful in running online sessions with Bishops Stortford and Stevenage museums. The initial take-up of places has not been as high as we would have liked, but the numbers joining each session continue to rise and the feedback from participants has been overwhelmingly positive.
North Hertfordshire Museum has worked with artist Sophie Bennet to produce four self-led activities, inspired by pieces in the Museum’s collection; these are available on the Online Resources page.
Going forward, we are discussing options for the project with the National Lottery Heritage Fund and are hopeful that we will be able to return to offering in-house workshops once the restrictions are lifted.
“Thank you for helping me”
“I think it's important to acknowledge how well the young people who are attending are doing. I feel that had these sessions been in person, Covid aside, the young people would have struggled to attend due to their individual circumstances.”
“We had such great feedback from our student before lockdown that it would be great if others in need can utilise it”
Celebrating Watford’s Black History
Watford Museums applied for a HAM small grant to digitise a large photo album that follows the career of a local boxer called Laurie Buxton. Laurie’s father, Claude Buxton, emigrated from Antigua and travelled through Europe as an ambulance driver before settling in Watford in 1917. Claude and his wife, Edith, had five children and became the first Black family to live in Watford. A grant was allocated, and the process of digitisation involved two days of professional photography to produce high-quality photographs of each page and a number of close-up images.
This was an important step for the museum in making their collection more accessible to the public and in demonstrating their commitment to celebrating Watford’s Black history. The publicity around this project was very successful. The museum's social media platforms, particularly Facebook, were used extensively to promote the progress of the project. Social media posts during National Sporting Heritage Day and Black History Month reached more than 7,000 people, and shortly afterwards, the Watford Observer featured the album in its ‘Watford’s History in 50 objects’ series.
This project was part of larger activity happening across Watford in honour of Black History Month and will play a part in the museum's work on the subject in the future. A private viewing of the album was arranged for the Mayor of Watford, Peter Taylor, along with a selection of other objects relating to Watford’s Black history.
The album can now be viewed on Watford Museum’s website.
HAM Small Grants 2020
This year we awarded nineteen HAM small grants to enable museums to open safely during the pandemic or carry out development or project work. The total sum awarded was £12,815. The successful applicants were:
For the purchase of a laptop to be used to facilitate displays of objects in inaccessible parts of the building and by curatorial and volunteer team.
Bishops Stortford Museum
To engage a consultant to review/develop current role descriptions and person specifications for new trustees.
British Schools Museum
For the purchase of branded gel hand sanitiser packs to give to visitor units (e.g., families, couples or single visitors)
Dacorum Heritage Trust
For the purchase of a new camera and photography back drop equipment to be used at the museum store for photographing the collection.
de Havilland Aircraft Museum
For the purchase of an iPad Mini, two lapel microphones and associated adaptor cables
Garden City Collection
To pay for the Curator of Exhibitions to return to work to present a business case for the restructure of the museums service.
For the purchase of PPE and hand sanitisers to assist with re-opening.
To contribute to the cost of supplying PPE to four museums so that they could operate as safely as possible when re-opening.
To meet the cost of engaging a digital agency to maintain and build online presence during lockdown and a second grant to contribute to the cost of creating an online advent calendar, bespoke to the museum and The Hadhams.
Natural History Museum Tring
To contribute to the cost of sensory planting in the museum quad and wildlife area to enable them to engage their audience externally
North Herts Museum
For the purchase of cupboards and Loan Boxes for storage of educational collection and a second grant for the purchase of external hard drives, to improve digital storage of information relating to the museum collections.
For the purchase of a new dehumidifier for the main gallery.
St Albans Museums
For the purchase of a camera and other equipment to develop a digital learning offer.
To contribution towards the cost of producing Stevenage in 100 Objects film.
To pay for the hire of a professional photographer to digitise a photo album and poster in the museum collection.
Welwyn Hatfield Museums
For the purchase of audio-visual equipment to make two short virtual tours, one of Roman Baths and one of the Mill and a second grant to contribute to the cost of automatic hand sanitising stations, social distancing floor mats and other PPE equipment.
The Hertfordshire Association of Museums would like to thank the following people and organisations for their support during the last year:
The National Lottery Heritage Fund and National Lottery Players
Jamie Everitt and the SHARE Museums East Team
Arts Council England
Liz Gore and the HYOC2020 Team
Jo Askham - Arts Consultant
Emma Calver - Museums Development Officer, Bedfordshire
Jayne Austin - Museums Development Officer, Suffolk
Ruth Stratton - Heritage and Museums Officer, Hertsmere Borough Council
The staff and trustees of de Havilland Aircraft Museum
Suzanne Rider, Arts Education Development Officer, Hertfordshire Music Service
All the wonderful staff, volunteers and trustees who keep Hertfordshire's museums going.