We’re blogging!
March 21, 2014
John Griffiths AM, Minister for Culture & Sport with Fed President Rachael Rogers and Carol Whittaker from CyMAL
John Griffiths AM, Minister for Culture & Sport with Fed President Rachael Rogers and Carol Whittaker from CyMAL

The Fed is happy to announce that we have finally taken the leap into the world of blogging! Blogs will be brought to you by committee members Emma Routley and Arran Rees, Linking Natural Science Collections in Wales Project Manager Christian Baars and Nicola Williams from the Audience Development Team of All Wales – Libraries, Archives & Museums.

It’s been a busy few weeks but the highlight of the month was the Wales Museum Conference 2014.

On the 6th March museum people from across Wales came together for the annual Wales Museums Conference at the Cardiff Story Museum. As expected conference organiser John Marjoram had managed to gather a variety of speakers including HLF, Wales Creative & Cultural Skills and the Wales Council for Volunteer Action. The conference is always a good networking opportunity, thanks to the delicious food and the prospect of post conference cocktails at a nearby bar, but this year as many museums face challenging budget cuts and potential closures delegates were looking for guidance, support and ideas.

The morning session was opened by the Minister for Culture and Sport John Griffiths who talked about the importance of volunteers, development grants and working collaboratively. In periods of financial difficulty there lies the opportunity to become fit for purpose. The economic situation is not likely to improve in the near future and therefore he encouraged museums to look at government priorities and how the work that we do can be defined under these headings. The Minister also made reference to the results of the CyMAL Visitor Survey 2013 which demonstrated increasing visitor figures and museums as tourist destinations. A question from the floor regarding the Heritage Bill and the need for museums to become statutory services was met with Welsh Governments need to have a debate around the issue but it is the Ministers belief that legislation has a role to play but there’s a wider context that needs to be explored and understood.

The rest of the morning was dedicated to alternative forms of governance, primarily the formation of trusts. Trusts succeed in safeguarding heritage but allowing local authorities to retain ownership of collections. The speakers, Susan Dalloe, former fed committee member, and Paul Gascoigne from Wigan Leisure & Culture Trust (WLCT) focussed on the benefits including greater financial stability, opportunity to apply to more funding avenues and of course providing the necessary saving to the local authority. WLCT has been a trust since 2003 and now has three accredited museums as part of its portfolio. Tom Mayberry of Somerset County Council also examined the potential risks of trust status including managing the relationship between local authority and the board of trustees, recruiting trustees and managing the transition.

The afternoon was dedicated to volunteers, Friends groups and apprenticeships. Fiona Talbot from the Heritage Lottery Fund discussed how the problems that museums face are not going to be short term and that the demand on the sector is greater than before. Museums are facing diminishing resources and yet are expected to deliver more. HLF have a number of grant schemes that museums can take advantage of including transition funding (http://www.hlf.org.uk/HowToApply/programmes/Pages/Transition_funding.aspx) and collecting cultures (http://www.hlf.org.uk/HowToApply/programmes/Pages/CollectingCultures.aspx).

The most entertaining speaker of the day had to be Syd Howells, Volunteer Manager at the Egypt Centre. Keeping a room full of delegates with full bellies entertained in the mid-afternoon lull is not easy task but Syd managed to get us all laughing with his presentation on volunteers. Volunteers make up a third of the museum workforce but often recruiting and retaining good volunteers can be tricky. Syd urged us not to underestimate the power of tea, biscuits and of course bribery. As museums we shouldn’t be afraid to say “No” to volunteers. If a person is unsuitable or the placement isn’t working then let them know.

Throughout the entire day creating and sustaining partnerships was a common theme. Whether those partnerships are with other museums, local organisations, volunteers or local authorities the need to work collaboratively is now greater than ever. There was the sense among delegates that as museums we are already doing this but we lack the knowledge needed to evidence our work in a way that can make a difference. In reality we should be looking at how we measure the impact of museums whether that is economic or social but how do we do this? We need guidance, practical training and resources. I want to be told this is what you need to do, this is the language that you need to use and this is the way that you present this information. Even when we are doing all that’s expected of us; community engagement, income generation, learning, if we can’t talk the talk in the right lingo then our work is invisible to decision makers.

If you want to catch up with tweets from the day search for #fed2014