Norfolk Museums Service: My First UK Partner Experience! (Jessica Juckes, ITP Assistant)

Written by Jessica Juckes, International Training Programme Assistant

From 23 to 26 July, I accompanied ITP 2018 fellows Yohana Frias, Hoda El Chayah and Suruchika Chawla to Norwich for their UK Partner Placement with Norfolk Museums Service. This being my first summer programme as part of the ITP team, I was eager to spend a few days getting to know one of the UK partner venues that I hadn’t visited before, and observing and learning from the programme put on there for our fellows.

I had met the ITP’s UK Partner Representative for Norfolk Museums Service, Sarah Gore, several times before at the BM, and also at the Museums Association conference in Manchester last November, but it was fantastic to see her in her working environment. Sarah is the Manager of Norfolk Museum Service’s Teaching Museum scheme. This is an initiative exclusive to the Service, and aims to broaden entry routes into the museum sector and diversify the museum workforce in the UK. Their trainees spend four days working and one in training each week. During the time I was in Norfolk with the ITP group, we had the chance to meet the 2018 Teaching Museum trainees and to be part of one of their training sessions.

This was an interesting and useful experience on two counts: firstly, from the point of view of seeing how Norfolk Museums Service goes about the task of training its workforce and how it is working to recruit for diversity and equality; and secondly, because the training session they were undertaking on evaluation in museums was extremely well delivered and relevant for us all. There is a lot to be gained from bringing different groups together in this way to discuss important aspects of our work and issues affecting our sector, as well as different contexts and strategies across the globe. I hope the Teaching Museum trainees also enjoyed sharing this discussion with international colleagues from the ITP.

The evaluation training was led by Dr Harriet Foster, who made it a fun, interactive and participatory experience. She included tips and discussion on asking the right questions, and creative ways to get feedback from your visitors. She took us to a permanent display gallery within Norwich Castle Museum and Art Gallery and asked us to step into the mind of a visitor and ‘comment’ on the display by leaving post-its (green for ‘good’, yellow for ‘ok’, red for ‘needs improvement’). This is a method of evaluation that can be used with focus groups, and by getting us to do it ourselves as ‘pretend’ visitors, we were able to see what the benefits and challenges of this method could be.

On our second full day in Norwich, we started the day with another group: the volunteers working on sewing a new tapestry for Norwich that has been designed in the style of the Bayeux Tapestry! It was great to interact with these ladies and hear about how they are going about this and how and why they got involved. One lady told us that each small panel takes her so long to make that she associates them with the TV series box sets she was watching at the time: she held up two to us, saying ´This one is Mad Men and this one is Suits’! The tapestry looks set to be very impressive and it is a lovely way to get people together at the Castle. The sewers meet every month in the Castle’s café to work together, and they say that they have started bringing extra materials because kids keep coming up and wanting to join in and help them.

The tapestry will be hung in the renovated Norwich Castle Keep, which was another exciting project to learn more about while in Norwich: the Gateway to Medieval England project plans to return the building to its original Normal layout and create a new medieval gallery in partnership with the British Museum. All five levels of the building will be fully accessible, and there are plans to include a Changing Places accessible toilet. The planning permission application and a submission to the Heritage Lottery Fund for funding for the delivery stage of the project were handed in in June and July: watch this space!

In the afternoon, Sarah and Jo Warr (Head of Development, Norfolk Museum Service) drove us to the campus of the University of East Anglia to visit the Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts, and meet with Learning Programme Manager Nell Croose Myhill. The Sainsbury Centre is not part of Norfolk Museums Service, and so I was very grateful that Sarah had made that connection with Nell, who was kind enough to show us around and chat in depth about her work.

The Centre showcases the collection of Robert and Lisa Sainsbury: a mix of European modernist artworks and ethnographic and art objects from a number of world cultures and eras. In 1974, the Sainsburys commissioned Norman Foster as the architect for the Centre, who went about designing a ‘Living Area’ for their collection within a vast hangar-like structure. There are specifications regarding panel text, carpeting, lighting etc from Foster and Partners studio that must continue to be upheld. The Sainsburys requested minimal labelling and a home-like feel, for people to appreciate the objects in the way that they had in their home. The Centre is truly beautiful from an aesthetic perspective. It is also extremely interesting from a museum studies point-of-view: a space in which we can explore the influence of world cultures on European modernism and the colonial mindset, function vs. form in art, the role of the museum and the power of interpretation… This is a space with so many layers to peel back.

On my final morning, we travelled to Great Yarmouth to Time and Tide Museum, where we learnt particularly about their education programme within the context of this coastal area and its demographic. We visited their summer temporary exhibition, Drawn to the Coast, which includes works by Turner and Constable. The exhibition was designed and curated in partnership with community curators and volunteers and has been responsive, with adaptations and tweaks to the display taking place throughout the exhibition period, following visitor feedback. This shows such commitment to visitor satisfaction and I find it really commendable.

I was sad to leave Norfolk on the Thursday afternoon, but knew that I was leaving Yohana, Hoda and Suruchika in great hands with Sarah, Jo and the wider team! I just want to say a big thank you to Sarah and the rest of Norfolk Museums Service for the fantastic welcome you gave us.

I was very impressed with beautiful Norwich and its museums and will definitely return.