I started working as the Learning and Outreach Officer at Elmbridge Museum six months ago, and the time has flown! Being relatively new to the heritage sector, I had just over a year's experience before securing this position, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect when I started. So in this blog post I want to give some insights into what my job entails, as well as reveal some of the highlights from my first six months in the role!
Elmbridge Museum is quite unique in its design. Because we are an outreach museum we don’t have our own building or exhibition space – and this of course means that I have no learning space either. Rather than schools and community groups coming to me I must travel to them, and so I am continually moving between different sites and having to adapt to new surroundings. This, combined with my recent efforts to reorganise our handling collection, has led to a rather unexpected side effect – I am constantly moving boxes.
Consequently, I have become somewhat of a curiosity on my floor at work. A small metal trolley is seemingly permanently attached to my hands, often piled with plastic crates and wicker baskets. I am often to be seen weaving through a veritable maze of desks and heavy doors with one of our discovery boxes in tow. A minor collision between a plastic box and the corner of a cabinet resulted in colleagues joking (I hope) never to park next to me in the car park.
All these materials then have to be transported from one place to another in my rather small Ford Fiesta. My little car is often overflowing with discovery boxes, medieval tiles, fabric dice emblazoned with the names of deadly diseases and all manner of craft supplies - I can't imagine what my neighbours must think!
My car overflowing with boxes!
But while this format presents its challenges, it also provides an incredible opportunity. Our outreach Schools Membership Programme brings artefacts and workshops directly into the classroom, removing the need for teachers to organise and fund external trips and enabling them to use our services more consistently throughout the year. Frequent visits also allow me to develop strong relationships with our local schools, and it is wonderful to see students engaging with our collection and getting excited about our workshops in the comfort of their own classroom.
This outreach approach also provides an incredible platform for our community engagement programme. Our Family Fun events move from one location to an another, ensuring that families across the borough can enjoy activities on their doorstep. The portable nature of my activities also allows me to be responsive to the needs of the community. Whether it be a Scout Leader in need of a historic workshop or a W.I. group wanting to learn more about the history of the local area, I am quickly able to gather and deliver the resources required.
One of my favourite events so far has been 'A Visit from King Henry VIII', which we held at Weybridge Library. The children created their own paper boats with distinctive sails before racing them down the "river" to reach Oatlands Palace, one of Henry's many country retreats, that used to stand in Weybridge. We were then treated to a fantastic talk by Good King Hal, a Henry VIII re-enactor, before stepping out on the dance floor to take part in a traditional Tudor dance!
The last few months have been a steep learning curve, but also incredibly enjoyable. I am lucky to have the support of a tight knit team, who work alongside me to ensure we are providing the best possible service. I am excited to face the challenges of the next six months and continue making improvements to our programmes - even if it does involve carrying a few extra boxes!