The Effective Collections Project is back!

My name is Matt Williams and I am the Collections Project Officer for Elmbridge Museum. I joined the museum team in November 2020 to deliver our Effective Collections project; a project which consists of finding new homes for over 2,500 objects. As I am approaching the disposal of the first group of objects, I thought this would be a good opportunity to explain a little more about the purpose of my role and share some of the fascinating objects I’ve come across so far.

Matt photographing in the store

Matt photographing a pair of children’s shoes ready for transfer

First, I’d like to give you a quick background to the project. Elmbridge Museum has had a long-term pause on collecting new items due to limited storage space. This pause has resulted in the fact that we have few objects to represent Elmbridge life in the 21st century. This means that historians in 100 years will have little to go on in terms of deciphering how Elmbridge residents lived in the 2010s.  It may seem strange for a museum to collect items that were made within the last few years as museums are often seen as depositaries for ancient items. However, it is through contemporary collecting that museums can create a rich and valuable resource for future residents and researchers to use and enjoy. Therefore, it was important to find a solution to our storage issue.

In the early 2010s, museum staff carried out an audit of the collection. The aim was to see if there were any objects that were no longer relevant to the collection and would be better suited at another museum and thus free up valuable storage space. The criteria for what makes an object relevant includes whether it is from the local area, if it belonged to an Elmbridge resident, if it is the best example we have of that kind of object, and if it is likely that we will find a reason to display the object.

19 April 2021
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The audit identified several thousand objects which did not meet these criteria, and many have already been rehoused. One example is when Elmbridge Museum transferred 173 costume items form the Ockley Court collection to Dorking Museum in July 2017. These items had belonged to the Calvert family, a wealthy family who had lived at Ockley Court in Dorking. The items were acquired by a former Elmbridge Museum curator at a time when the museum was looking to increase its costume collection. As the items do not have a strong link to the Elmbridge area and thus were unlikely to ever be used at Elmbridge it was agreed during the audit that Dorking Museum would be a better home for them.

Since they have been at Dorking, several piece haves been put on display. Below, Exhibitions Manager, Kathy Atherton, reflects on the difference this has made to the museum displays.

‘In explaining to people the development of large estates around the Dorking area, it has made a real difference to be able to display real objects from a local family and which give a real sense of the lifestyle of these families. Having some good quality costume items enabled us to redesign the whole area into a ‘room set’ that would show them off to best advantage.’

This is a great example of museum objects being transferred to a place where they have the potential to be much more beneficial and relevant for displays and the local community. There are around 2,500 objects left to dispose of which is where I come in; my role is to find new homes for these remaining objects where they will have more relevance and a higher chance of being displayed and made accessible to members of the public. Follow my blog posts to see what we are disposing of and also to discover the fascinating gems I come across in the collection.

We are about to make our first transfer which consists of 232 objects relating to archaeology, geology and education which will be going to Chertsey Museum. These items are going to Chertsey Museum because they relate to Chertsey in some way, for example the transfer includes archaeology that was found in Chertsey, fossils that were collected by a Chertsey resident, historic photographs of Chertsey and old magazines and newspapers from the area.

To see a list of all the objects scheduled for disposal or transfer this month, please download the attached file.

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Read more about the Effective Collections project here

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