Postgraduate student, Anna Townhill, tells us about her experience with The University of Exeter’s International Heritage Management and Consultancy MA programme

I recently graduated as a student at the University of Exeter’s Penryn Campus, in the second cohort of Exeter’s MA in International Heritage Management and Consultancy. I was first drawn to the MA course because of the variety of learning experiences it had to offer. The opportunity to follow my existing interests while exploring new and current thinking in the heritage sector was invaluable. The course was both vocational and academic, which was exactly what I was looking for, having just completed my undergraduate studies in English at the Streatham campus. I wanted to gain more workplace-specific knowledge and this degree offered a great variety of both topics and learning methods. While other heritage MAs specialise in only one area, this programme enabled me to research anything and everything from Irish peat bogs or metal detecting, to the British Museum’s recent exhibitions.

One of the most important skills I gained during the MA was project management and the ability to grapple with big issues in heritage. Adapting large projects like the field course and dissertation to home-based learning was challenging, but it certainly tested our research skills and adaptability. Lots of heritage research is site-based and so the lockdowns forced us to find new ways of working. Developing innovative approaches to work is a skill that we honed throughout the MA, as balancing competing deadlines and incorporating new research into our learning was very much encouraged throughout. The skills and experiences I gained prepared me for a wide variety of future careers, from local government to entering academia or heritage education. A network of professional bodies and partners have helped shape the course, and this really shows in the programme. Heritage and Environmental Change was a module that left a big impact on me, and has made me really mindful about considering heritage in context of the climate crisis. Exeter has an amazing heritage team who are at the cutting edge of research and engagement in this area. This meant that everything was very fresh and exciting. The course is very collaborative and interdisciplinary, and has elements of geography, history, literature, anthropology and politics, to name just a few areas that kept us on our toes.

The experience I found the most useful was my work-based placement with the Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty Team at Cornwall Council, one of the University’s partners. I had the opportunity to present at a conference and network with professionals alongside my studies, which was a great experience. If I were to give advice to other students on this course, it would be to not be afraid to take opportunities that are presented to you — whether it’s presenting at an event or becoming a research assistant. The work-based placement allowed us to pursue an area of particular interest, or just to try something new. I wanted to gain experience in natural heritage and community engagement, so this was a great fit. Some of my peers with other placement providers designed exhibitions, while another created a biodiversity report for a local estate. Reflection on the placement was built into our assessment, and this really helped me pinpoint the things I’m good at and the areas I’m keen to improve in the future.

Images, from left: Tintagel, Cornwall; Stonehenge, Wiltshire.

Another big attraction of this MA was the opportunity to go out in the field. While our biggest field trip to Vancouver was sadly cancelled due to the Covid-19 pandemic, we had still been able to experience a variety of UK field courses in the academic year, such as to St Michael’s Mount and Stonehenge. My stand-out moment was standing in the inner circle of Stonehenge just after dawn. Such opportunities are rare, and looking back it feels even more special than it was in March, just before the pandemic took off in the UK. It was such a beautiful frosty morning that we didn’t mind getting out of bed at 5am.

I have recently started a new job at the National Lottery Heritage Fund as a Business Delivery Assistant in the Central Team. It matches up very well with the knowledge and skills I gained during my MA – from knowledge of the grants application process to managing a portfolio of work. I’m really enjoying getting to know everyone at the Fund, and gaining more insight into a diverse organisation that is the largest dedicated grant funder of the UK’s heritage. Had I not taken the leap and started the Masters course, I would not have felt confident enough to apply for this role. I would definitely recommend this course to others wishing to further their understanding of heritage and the role it plays in the UK and societies around the world.

Culture Interns: Humanities student Rosanna Armstrong tells us about her experience as a PATCH intern and becoming a mentee with Heritage Lead Nicola Nuttall…

I am in my third year at the University of Exeter, studying Art History & Visual Culture and History. I have long been interested in pursuing a career in the Arts & Heritage industry and my time at university has strengthened this ambition. It has enabled me to gain a greater understanding of the sector as well as the chance to develop my skills through work experience.

In my first year I undertook the University’s ‘Professional Pathways to Arts, Heritage and Culture’ (PATCH) program. This training course was delivered by industry professionals and included speakers from various cultural organisations such as Arts Council England and the National Trust. This program enhanced my understanding of fundraising, audience evaluation and project management. This year I signed up for the University’s career mentor scheme with Nicola Nuttall (Heritage Theme Lead) as my mentor. This was a valuable opportunity to have one-to-one careers advice from an experienced professional. I gained a greater insight into working in the Heritage industry as well as access to networking opportunities.

In October 2020 I was given the opportunity to attend a virtual conference by the South West Federation of Museums & Art Galleries. I was given free tickets to the event in exchange for participating in a Twitter takeover and undertaking social media activities on behalf of the organisation. The theme of this year’s conference was ‘Interpreting, Curating and Combatting the Climate Emergency’. The conference involved fascinating sessions about how the Heritage sector can contribute to increasing public awareness about climate change. It was led by a range of workshop leaders from across the South West and beyond.

During my time at university, I have made use of the museums and arts organisations in Exeter. I am especially interested in cultural outreach and have sought opportunities to gain knowledge in this area. I began volunteering at the Bill Douglas Cinema Museum in 2019 and my role was initially focused on cataloguing historic film stills. I am now building on an audience development report by exploring ways of expanding the Museum’s community engagement initiatives. I am also a member of the Royal Albert Memorial Museum’s Youth Panel. This role is based on shaping the Museum’s exhibitions and events programme in order to maximise the engagement of younger audiences. It has involved assisting with publicity, exhibition planning and the organisation of a ‘RAMM Late’ evening event.


In the spring lockdown period, I took part in RAMM’s social media campaign to keep audiences interested in the Museum by creating video content. At this time, I was also employed by Mayes Creative in an internship organised through the University. This involved producing creative engagement opportunities in partnership with Heritage organisations in Cornwall. The focus was on COVID-19 response projects designed to offer a sense of connection to those facing additional isolation due to age.

Overall, my experiences with Heritage in Exeter has enabled me to clarify my future career aspirations as well as add depth to my degree studies. I have enjoyed the opportunities I have had whilst at university and hope that they will have enhanced my employment prospects for the future.

English student Kate Debling updates us on her internship experience with the Exeter University Heritage and Culture Team

During the summer of 2020, I undertook a virtual internship with the University of Exeter Heritage and Culture Team as part of the Pathways internship programme. Five months on, I am delighted to be continuing my experience with the department, now interning as a Heritage Innovation Communications Assistant.

My summer experience as a digital content creator for the Exeter Heritage website was extremely rewarding, as it equally enabled me to improve upon my existing skills and learn new ones. In creating news and blog content, I was able to implement editing skills that are intrinsic to my degree in English, while at the same time, I could experiment with new forms of writing. Through collating and adapting information and research pertaining to heritage-based academic research and projects, I considerably expanded my knowledge of the heritage sector in the South West, as well as my awareness of the University’s broad level of collaboration with other heritage and academic institutions. This initial work has provided me with significant basis for my current work, in an expanded new role.

In continuing my internship experience, I am looking forward to being more involved with the Heritage and Culture team, in supporting the Heritage Innovation website and its social media platforms. This year, in particular, there have been numerous new projects that have adapted heritage practice to digitally accommodate the constraints of the pandemic – for example, the aerial reconnaissance project co-lead by Exeter academic Ioana Oltean, that utilised drone technology to photograph previously unknown archaeological sites. I am especially looking forward to researching these new projects and am keen to investigate and present the ways in which academics and heritage institutions in the South West have continued their work during this time. Through the Exeter Heritage website and Twitter platform, I will be able to make both students and wider readers aware of this work.

In supporting the Culture Team, I am looking forward to connecting with other arts across the University. My first priority is to build the connectivity between internal departments and students through the website, in which news and blog items can be posted and made accessible to all departments and students. As a site of interest, the website and Twitter can expose students to research projects within their degree and outside of it and, in emphasising the university’s broad heritage network, students will be more able to seek out heritage and culture opportunities, as well as connect with academics about their research. Building on this internal connectivity, I also intend to improve the visibility of the University’s connections with external partners, featuring updates and news from heritage organisations such as the South West Heritage Trust and the National Trust. In using social media in conjunction with the website, sharing information can be more regular and quicker, and will improve interconnectivity through attached links to articles or sites of further interest.

In the new year, I am looking forward to continuing my work with my summer colleague, Frank Allen, and our collaboration in discovering new projects and publishing them on the Heritage website. In working alongside my degree, in my final year of study, I am keen to further improve my time-management skills, balancing my academic work alongside my work as part of the team. In working virtually, I aim to build upon digital skills which are becoming increasingly important as industries become more digitised.

I hope to gain even more skills than I did during the summer and am very excited for the work to come.

Remembering Charles Causley

Following his participation in the digital signing on 17 September 2020 of the Causley Trust/Exeter University Memorandum of Understanding as a Trustee, Mike Cooper reflects on a lifetime influenced by Charles Causley’s writing and by the man himself…

Once upon a time, I was a young English student at Exeter in Charles Causley’s days there. Nowadays, I’m both a Causley Trustee and an Exeter English postgraduate.

I didn’t know Charles Causley. I only encountered him, perhaps a dozen times over 25 years, always anonymously. He’d have no clue at all about me. Half those occasions were at Exeter in the 70s: he was a Visiting Fellow in Poetry in the Department of English; I was an undergraduate.

They were tutorials and seminars, plus a public reading or two of his recent poems. In packed lecture theatres, the effect of poems like ‘A Wedding Portrait’, ‘Ten Types of Hospital Visitor’ or ‘My Friend Maloney’ was remarkable.

English staff, and other visitors like Ted Hughes, gave different public readings. Yet Causley – low-key, diffident, almost entirely self-educated – always gripped the room with his poems’ worlds and ideas, their craftsmanship and striking inventiveness.

That all remains vivid, after nearly 50 years. I recall far less about those smaller-scale ‘close’ encounters, with ten or 20 students jammed into smaller rooms in Queen’s Building. A recording of one such session involving both him and Hughes would have been gold-dust – not least for their patience, and the quiet comedy of typical artsy Exeter students of the period utterly failing to appear cool or impressive. Yet Causley’s generosity and sensitivity towards students went rather wider. He dissuaded one from leaving the course (or worse), and eventually saw him become a schoolteacher. He even offered to read and comment on poems written by the teenage son of the Professor of Extra-Mural Studies.

I left Exeter to train and work in education: deeply fond of, and interested in, Causley’s poetry. I used it regularly with adults and young people. It always ‘worked’ – for me as the teacher or lecturer, but more importantly for the students. And I’m still astonished by how his poetry speaks to me, personally, despite my having virtually nothing in common with him or his life experiences.

Our paths crossed just a few more times after my Exeter days – again, mainly ‘anonymously’, at public readings. The final occasion was trivial and momentary. A week’s family break in North Cornwall finished the day before Causley’s 75th birthday. As we headed home, we diverted off the A30 to his house in Launceston: Cyprus Well. My five-year-old son, having had ‘The Tale of the Trinosaur’ read aloud to him over the preceding nights, took a card to the door. The elderly man who answered, breaking off from some small gathering, gravely accepted the envelope. He then opened it, read the printed cliches and saw the scribbled signature. “Are you Alex? I don’t think I know you, but thank you very much, Alex. This is a splendid card, and a real surprise, too. I shall keep it.” That was Alex’s first and only time: an episode he’s now long forgotten. It was my last encounter, and I won’t forget it.

A while before that, I began itching to try the kind of postgraduate study I’d never managed. When I moved back down south for new jobs and later began approaching retirement, that idea returned. Connecting first with the Causley Society and the Charles Causley Festival in Launceston – both now merged with the Trust – was a further spur to that thinking. So: I got involved in both those organisations. These days, as a recently appointed Trustee, I try to support its vital, successful work still more.

And as of September 18th, that work is at last rightly and properly going to be in full collaboration with Exeter University. I think Causley would be very pleased about that.

Discovering that Causley had left his archive to Exeter University clinched things for me, about the mature-student idea. So, I arrived back on campus almost exactly a year ago, and began work in the Old Library’s Special Collections Reading Room. Just recently, I’ve returned after the University’s coronavirus hiatus to studying those drafts, notes, clippings and correspondence.

I’m looking at how a lifelong, shattering thread of Causley’s life – war – emerges throughout his writing: his subjects and concerns, settings, stories and characters, his language and images. I hope this too will add to all the growing work and influence of the University and the Trust, helping maintain and promote the legacy and impact of Charles Causley and his poetry.

I’ll end by saying that back in early March, finishing my final pre-Covid spell in the Reading Room, I came across a box of cards amongst his personal mementoes. I was hoping to find some from Causley’s old naval comrades. I didn’t. But amongst it all, I did find one birthday card which had been hand-delivered by Alex.

Heritage Internship #3: a student’s perspective

In the third blog about the Heritage Internships we hosted over the summer, Archaeology undergraduate Ellie Speechly reflects on her experience…

Going into 2020, I was fortunate to have been involved with the University of Exeter’s Professional pathways scheme, an internship programme designed to give students an authentic workplace experience, along with specialist training in a field of their choosing.

As an archaeology undergrad, I was over the moon to have been accepted and was waiting with anticipation for a heritage-related placement! But much like the rest of the world, all these plans were put on hold thanks to the covid-19 pandemic. Thanks to the efforts of the PPS team and the wonderful collaborating organisations, remote working positions were arranged so no-one missed out on gaining from this worthwhile and professionally enriching experience. I was privileged to have been offered a role at the University itself with the Heritage Innovation department, a team that ensures the University has an extensive pool of partnerships and collaboration networks, operating on an international scale.

I gained infallible insight into the networking skills required within the heritage sector, in addition to learning how many large-scale organisations such as the National Trust operate. Myself and a fellow student were entrusted to assist in researching and constructing a compressive report, containing all ongoing and completed partnerships, operations of memorandum and projects that the Humanities department were/are undertaking, in addition to the staff involved. This will later become a digital tool for students, staff and external parties to consult in order to better understand the vast number of projects the University has had a hand in. I was particularly proud of the sheer quantity of information my colleague and I managed to read and research; it was all so interesting and engaging that I could easily have spent days at a time reading about a single project, such as those ongoing with Powderham Castle or the fascinating upcoming project on Vivien Leigh being untaken by the Bill Douglas Cinema Museum. The internship proved to be great practice in contacting those within the heritage field, in attention to building relationships with those in the sector that has proven valuable as a new graduate, particularly in these difficult times! Although it wasn’t what I was expecting, my internship was a wonderful experience as it provided me with realistic skills needed in the heritage sector today, such as effective communication and research through more innovative means. I’m now fortunate enough to be involved with the SS Great Britain as a direct thanks to my wonderful employers, who have continued to support, mentor and provide invaluable insight and advice into the world of work.

Though working remotely had its set-backs, with interaction being limited to the video chatting format, with which we are all so familiar with now, I couldn’t have asked for better employers or co-workers. I cannot express in words how unbelievably enriching both personally and professionally this internship has proven to be and I would highly recommend to anyone to apply and give it your best shot.

Good luck and all the best in all your upcoming endeavours!

Heritage Internship #2: a student’s perspective

In the second blog about the Heritage Internships we hosted over the summer, student Kate Debling reflects on her experience…

During the summer, I undertook an internship with the University of Exeter Culture and Heritage Innovation Team as part of the Pathways internship programme. As a digital content creator for the Exeter Heritage website, I created news and blog content pertaining to heritage-based academic research and projects led in the South West.

The University of Exeter Culture Team seeks to protect heritage through continuous academic research and projects, led by both the University of Exeter and Heritage Exeter’s partners. Throughout my internship experience, there was a strong focus on building connections between the university and external heritage bodies, as well as the collaboration between university campuses. The projects and research that I covered were broad, operating on a campus-based level, through collaboration with the Penryn campus, a national level, with heritage bodies such as South West Heritage Trust, and also an international level, with the European Commission.

The variety of content that I was creating emphasised the extent of the Culture Team’s Heritage network and, as an English undergraduate, experimenting with both news articles and blog posts meant that I had the freedom to find creative ways to convey the work. The experience not only enlightened me to new written mediums, a break away from the academic essay, but also exposed me to current research endeavours pertaining to my own undergraduate degree.

Being able to work effectively from home, creating my own timetable and collaborating with my internship supervisors digitally, were all new skills that I gained as part of my internship with the Culture Team. In order to create quality content, and cover as many new projects as possible, it was integral to be able to gather information, follow up stories and write efficiently. Through this I was able to improve upon my time management skills. Having a flexible work approach, as well as open communication channels between myself and my supervisors, meant that collaboration was smooth, and we were able to meet targets.

My internship experience with the Culture Team taught me some invaluable collaborative, management and creative skills and I would, therefore, strongly encourage students to participate in the Pathways internship scheme.

Heritage Internship: a student’s perspective

Over the summer – in lockdown – student Frank Allen worked with the Heritage team in IIB as part of the Pathways to Arts, Culture & Heritage internship programme…

At the tender age of eight, I fondly remembered visiting Lichfield Cathedral. I was awe-struck by it. The Cathedral’s imposing spires, majestic arches, and grand scale captured my imagination. Lichfield Cathedral and the towns around it have always held a lot of sentimental value for me, being a place where my grandparents call home.  However, it was only recently that I started thinking about the significance of the Cathedral, and Lichfield’s heritage, to the wider community. From thereon, heritage took on a whole different dimension for me.

Therefore, when I saw the opportunity to work for the University of Exeter’s heritage team as a website content developer, I immediately applied. I was asked to produce articles and blog pieces for the University’s Heritage website with my colleague, Kate, whilst also suggesting upgrades for the website and tweets to write. With only a brief knowledge of Devon and Cornwall’s heritage, and of the work that the University was doing to study it, I was excited to begin the role and learn more.

The research assistants, Gilda and Eloise, guided me towards some captivating projects. Their research ranged counties and specialities, considering both natural and man-made heritage and its effects on communities, policies, and even animals! My task was to synthesise these insights into four enthralling pieces of writing for a wider audience, which would then have to be publicised.

I started with the news articles. Consisting of only a few hundred words, I scoured my research reports for recent events that took my interest. Using a few examples on the Heritage website as my guide, I was excited to discuss Professor DeSilvey’s project, which would investigate strategies into heritage loss and conservation. I was also eager to talk about Dr Naomi Sykes’ new research into why we love to feed animals, using heritage sites as a testing ground. This followed on nicely from Dr Brazier and Puttock’s research into Eurasian beavers on Holnicote estate.

Moving onto the blog articles, two themes across the heritage sector caught my attention: climate change and the debate around the loss of heritage. Touching upon artistic projects and a bid involving University of Exeter professors, I highlighted how important the consideration of Climate Change was in heritage conservation in the future. However, does this heritage even need to be conserved in the first place? In her book ‘Curated Decay’, Professor DeSilvey suggests that we should allow nature to take its course. This discussion around heritage conservation informed my second blog post. A common thread through these themes, though, was an ethical discussion of what heritage meant to a community. This captivated me the most, reminding me of how I became interested in my own heritage to begin with.

I found the work with the Culture Team’s heritage sector challenging, but at the same time incredibly thought-provoking and rewarding. Time-management was key. Kate and I managed to produce a schedule for the week, dividing each day into achievable objectives. This skill was very useful in creating the Heritage website’s twitter timeline as well. However, this would not have been possible without strong teamwork and communication. Meetings and emails with both my team and the professors I wrote about were integral to producing high-quality pieces of writing. In the end, I built some strong connections whilst also deepening my love of the heritage sector through my writing.

The role of website content developer equipped me with some invaluable skills whilst I pursued a field that I would love to work in again in the future. I could not recommend the role enough to anyone keen on finding out more about heritage and what it means for them and their community.

What Stays and What Goes? ‘Curated Decay’ and Heritage in a Post-Covid World

In her 2017 book Curated Decay: Heritage Beyond Saving ‘(University of Minnesota Press)’, Professor Caitlin DeSilvey argues for a new approach to heritage conservation. Find out how her argument may have a strong influence in a post-COVID world…

In the wake of a global pandemic and recession, how will we preserve and maintain our country’s heritage? Caitlin DeSilvey may have an answer. In her book, Curated Decay, she proposes that we need to embrace nature in some cases, and allow it to take its course. Some may argue that rather than spending thousands of pounds on heritage upkeep in a time when money is scarce and climate change is inevitable, it may be appropriate to manage the decay of certain sites instead of preserving them. On the surface, Professor DeSilvey’s approach presents an attractive option in a time of recession.

However, Curated Decay and its argument goes much deeper than this. The book is not just concerned with managing the decay of our heritage, but with the ethics behind allowing this transformation to happen. In a conversation with Professor DeSilvey which I was lucky to have, she stressed that the material ‘letting go’ element of the book is often over-emphasised. Embracing the approach in Curated Decay, DeSilvey mentioned, does not mean freely abandoning our material heritage to save costs. In fact, significant investment is required, both in money and in time, if we are to allow heritage assets to transform gradually while carrying out ongoing monitoring and interpretation of the process. We should be cautious, then, in how firmly we stress the decay of heritage as a material approach alone.

What is worth much more weight, particularly in a world altered by COVID-19, is the debate surrounding our attachment to heritage and the ethics behind loss. In a podcast conversation between Professor DeSilvey and Dr Peter Ekman of Berkeley University, they specifically discuss the third chapter of Curated Decay, which is devoted to managing heritage at Mullion Harbour in Cornwall. DeSilvey noted how the chapter was an internal ‘argument with herself’, trying to understand how the harbour’s history could be used to support both its preservation and its natural decay. According to DeSilvey, Mullion Harbour revealed the tensions and difficulties in facing up to loss and change within heritage. In this regard, this tension is relevant now more than ever. In a world where the prospect of economic, personal, and cultural loss is becoming increasingly common, it is time to evaluate the attachments we hold to our heritage as well.

Loss is never a comfortable subject according to Tanya Venture, who is currently working on her PhD with Professor DeSilvey, Dr Bryony Onciul and Dr Hannah Fluck at Historic England. In a recent blog post, Venture stresses the devastating impact COVID-19 will have on British heritage. We should accept this loss and transformation, she argues, so we can change our relationships with heritage. Tanya Venture provides a crucial argument for rethinking heritage management in our current times.

Perhaps, though, we are already changing these relationships on a large scale. As we see statues of slave traders and colonialists being toppled, Britons are being forced to re-evaluate their relationship with their history, land, and heritage by extension. Added to the discussion about allowing material transformation in the wake of a recession is the evaluation of what heritage represents to us. Curated Decay’s prescient argument about allowing for this loss must be considered now more than ever as our public actively engages in a discussion about the fate of its heritage.

By Frank Allen

Visiting Cornwall’s Museums the Green Way

Through the Professional Pathways programme at the University of Exeter, intern Nick Collins spent a week in June with Cornwall Museums Partnership…

For many people, working in a museum might sound like a dream job. I was one of those people (and indeed I still am), but in June I was lucky enough to find the only job that is even better – working across several museums, for the wonderful Cornwall Museums Partnership (CMP). My name is Nick Collins and I was with CMP for an all-too-brief secondment from the University of Exeter as part of their Professional Pathways programme. I visited museums and galleries across the county, and below I’m going to share my thoughts on the amazing exhibitions they were running. There’s another theme I’d also like to share. I’ve been trying to show how we can be greener in our museum visits, and help to reduce congestion on Cornwall’s roads, which were as busy as ever this summer. I travelled to all of these exhibitions using nothing more than public transport and my trusty steed (a bicycle, not a horse). But more on that in a moment…

On Monday, I started at Penlee House to see Munnings in Cornwall, an exhibition taking regulars there from the familiar territory of the early Newlyn School into the perhaps less familiar territory of the later Newlyn School, whilst also introducing new visitors to the beauty and humanity of this school of painting. It is that humanity which really shone through in this exhibition – perhaps ironically, given that its principle subject, Alfred Munnings, is best-known for painting horses. But, whatever the paintings show, we have to remember that it was people who made them, and this exhibition told those people’s stories with touching sensitivity. Often, the glimpses we get of artists’ lives are startlingly intimate. Munnings’ painting coat, palette and brushes were there, as were examples of his letters and sketchbooks and his beautiful poem to Jessica Heath. Harold Knight’s portrait of Munnings dominated the entrance to the exhibition, portraying only a few hints of the alleged tension between the two. It is one of three portraits of Munnings, another being a self-deprecating, caricatured self-portrait. Munnings’ contemporaries dominated the next two rooms, with Harold and Laura Knight, Samuel John “Lamorna” Birch, Frank Gascoigne Heath and Charles W. Simpson particularly prominent. They gave us a wonderful insight into the world of the Newlyn School’s less-famous later stages.

Come Tuesday, we made the longest trip of the week, all the way up to Bodmin (yes, by public transport!) to Cornwall’s Regimental Museum. Music was a great morale raiser; the army has known it for centuries – a story told with great insight and originality by CRM’s Citizen Curators, in their exhibition Music, Morale and the Military. There were some fantastic objects, including the D Day dodgers’ banjo, carried by soldiers in Italy in the Second World War in ironic reference to the derogatory nickname forced on them; and a Light Infantry Drum, which tied in very well to the rest of the museum and the superb videos which allowed former members of that regiment to tell its story in their own words. The real highlights, though, were the playable 1920s piano and the new recording of the DCLI Boys Marching Song (a local song probably not heard in almost 100 years), both of which made the exhibition a fantastic place to stay for a while and enjoy the atmosphere. The exhibition was created by the Citizen Curators, a group of five volunteers who put it together over a period of several months. The programme will be running again with new volunteers from October 2019 to April 2020 across several museums in Cornwall. Have a look at this blog post for much more information on that.

The spirit of community curation was alive and well in Falmouth Art Gallery’s exhibition Stuff and Nonsense, which I saw on the Wednesday. There were several pieces of community-curated art, plus the chance for every single person who walked through the door to contribute, with visitors being asked to upload photos of their own “shrines” in response to those created for the exhibition, and also to leave their own found objects alongside those in the exhibition.

The Nonsense half of this exhibition was brilliantly uplifting, featuring illustrations from Quentin Blake, Tony Ross and Edward Lear. There was even a woodblock used in the illustration of Alice in Wonderland, alongside Lewis Carrol’s diary, a real highlight. Several fantastic automata also found their way into the exhibition. The library, housed in the same building, featured more, including an enormous example based on Mervyn Peake’s Gormenghast books.

Uplifting Nonsense

To return to the transport theme, Thursday presented an unusual challenge. Many people would see Portcurno Telegraph Museum as inaccessible by public transport, but there is in fact a bus which stops right outside it. Admittedly, the unusual challenge I mentioned was the fact that said bus broke down in St Buryan on the return journey, but I’m sure that doesn’t happen often… If the owner of St Buryan Caterers, who very kindly gave me a lift back to Penzance, is reading, thanks once again!

The escape stairs from the Second World War bunker at Porthcurno Telegraph Museum

The Telegraph Museum itself is today perhaps more relevant than it’s ever been – as we live through our own communications revolution, it becomes ever more important to understand previous ones. At Porthcurno that story is told not only in terms of the technology (which is covered superbly through working objects and demonstrations) but the people who used and made it, whose lives are shown through their photos and possessions. The highlight is the spectacular Second World War bunker, filled with hundreds of artefacts, many of which are still working. The photo here is the escape stairs, a tunnel leading from the bunker all the way to the surface and beautiful views of the valley.

I finished the week at Royal Cornwall Museum for their exhibition Eye to the Skyexhibition, which told the story of John Couch Adams, who predicted the discovery of Neptune, through Manga. It is an incredible story, and a highly innovative way of telling it. The Manga sat alongside more traditional museum objects, including a large celestial globe and the astonishingly-restored portrait of Adams, which has been transformed from quite literally having a hole in the unfortunate astronomer’s forehead to as good as new. Bringing both of these approaches together created something far better than either style could have achieved alone.

So what did I learn during my week? A lot. More than I can really say. I’ve been lucky enough to work in museums before and if this experience has been an exception it’s because it’s been even better than those other times. Museums tell us stories, entertain us and make us think, but never has it been clearer to me that they can also change lives. From the Citizen Curators who put on such wonderful exhibitions, some of whom have gone on to continued involvement in the heritage sector, to the home-educated children who I saw taking part in a workshop in Falmouth, I have come to understand that museums are about more than probably most people realise. They harness history and the arts as a positive force for the present, and it has been an honour to see how much difference that can make.

I would like to thank the University of Exeter for their part in organising this placement and for the stimulating and enlightening training I took part in. Most of all, I can’t thank the people at CMP and all of the museums in the partnership enough. I hope to see you all again sometime.

 

South West Federation Conference 2019: ‘Inspiring Audiences: Home and Away’

Imogene Dudley, a PhD student in the History Department at the University of Exeter, tells us about her experience of attending the South West Fed conference in July…

Thanks to the generosity of the South-West Federation of Museums and Art Galleries, myself and several other students from the University of Exeter got the chance to attend their recent conference, hosted by Cornerstone Heritage at the University of Plymouth on 4-5 July. The theme of the conference was ‘Inspiring Audiences: Home and Away’.

The train journey from Exeter to Plymouth, along the beautiful South Devon coast, inspired an excited, holiday feeling in my small group of Exeter students before we had even arrived at the conference. We are all postgraduate students in the Humanities and had applied for the free tickets as we want a career in the heritage sector. We hoped that the talks would give us a more detailed and specific insight into the industry, and that by networking with delegates we might gain some useful contacts. At the very least, it would be an interesting couple of days. We were not disappointed!

The conference began with a keynote from Stephen Bird, Head of Heritage Services at Bath and North East Somerset Council, who is responsible for tourist attractions including the world-famous Roman Baths. He spoke about the importance of meeting the needs of both local audiences and international tourists, and told us about new developments in accessibility and education at the attraction. The first day also saw talks regarding the tensions between protecting and preserving Stonehenge, finding new ways to engage the community with church spaces, and the challenges involved with curating the Mayflower 400 exhibition (due to open in Plymouth in 2020), as well as a workshop on how to use audience research to improve engagement and development with heritage sites.

After a rejuvenating night’s sleep, we were all ready to learn more about the heritage sector on our second day at the conference. We listened to another fascinating keynote, this time by Victoria Rogers on the building of the Cardiff Museum from scratch and the involvement of the community, and talks on how to use work experience to engage disadvantaged youth with the heritage and arts sector, the story of the new Kresen Kernow archives in Cornwall, and how Castle Drogo has kept its audiences interested during important renovation work. We also heard from Cornerstone Heritage about how it has been uncovering the LGBT history of Powderham Castle and integrating it into public tours in an understanding and empathetic way.

All in all, it was an extremely interesting and stimulating two days. I would like to take this opportunity to thank the South-West Federation for providing free tickets to Exeter students, as without this I would have been unable to attend. The formal talks and the informal networking that is involved in conference attendance gave me a valuable insight into the heritage industry and gave me the inspiration and confidence to apply for jobs in the sector.