Tag Archives: Exeter

How can you support heritage this Summer and Autumn in the south west? Some events to add to your calendar

It has been three months since the reopening of heritage sites across the UK. At the University of Exeter, the galleries at the Bill Douglas Cinema Museum (BDCM are now open every day from 10am to 5pm and the Northcott Theatre is hosting a variety of theatre productions and stand-up comedy nights, throughout the remainder of the summer and into the Autumn.

In the city centre, The Royal Albert Memorial Museum (RAMM) is hosting a mix of online and physical events. In August and September, the museum is running two one-day-only virtual events: ‘Taxidermy explained: Preserving and recreating RAMM’s beaver’ (25th August), and ‘The art of hand-modelled plaster with Geoffrey Preston’ (22nd September). Leading into October and November, the monthly one-day-events include ‘Feathers, Fashion and Feminism with Tessa Boase’ (21st October) and ‘Farthing Breakfasts and Penny Dinners with Julia Neville’ (17th November). On the physical front, the RAMM is hosting a guided mindfulness event every Sunday from the 10th of October to the 28th of November. The six free sessions invite you to explore artefacts in the museum collection using mindfulness. For a wider programme of RAMM’s Autumn events, see their website.

Venturing into the winter, Exeter Cathedral are hosting their annual Christmas Market from the 18thof November until the 18th of December. Follow the Cathedral’s social media pages (@ExeterCathedral) for updated information as the event approaches.

Moving to Somerset, Wells Cathedral are hosting the Festival of the Moon from the 12th of October until the 3rd of November. The ‘Museum of the Moon’ is a touring artwork by Luke Jerram, which fuses lunar imagery, moonlight and surround sound composition created by BAFTA and Ivor Novello award winning composer, Dan Jones. The event will be led by Helen Sharman, the first British astronaut. Tickets cost between £25 and £40 and can be purchased via Eventbrite.

At Powderham Castle, the ‘Forest and Feasts’ art exhibition will take place from the 12th-23rd of September. The event features work from over 400 local artists and art groups in Devon. Then on the 2nd and 3rd of October, the castle will host its Food Festival, an event that has been taking place for ten years. Entry costs £4 for children, £9 for adults and £22 for families and can be purchased via: https://powderham.digitickets.co.uk/event-tickets/35771?catID=28608. Leading into November and December, Powderham is hosting two ‘Music in the Castle’ events. The first, on the 15th of October, features Meraki Duo with Meera Maharaj – flute and James Girling – guitar. The second event, on the 17th of December, features the 8 voices of Powderham Consort with Divertimento and David Davies – organ. In addition to this, the Michaelmas Fair will take place on the 4thof November. For further information, check out Powderham’s event list.

Exeter City of Literature will be continuing their series ‘Quay Words’ into the autumn on the 1st and 15th  of September. The events are held online via Zoom and are free, but places must be booked in advance. Also in September, the Budleigh Literary Festival is returning for five days of literary talks, workshops and readings. The event will run from the 14th until the 18th of September and you can book here.

Be sure to check out the Exeter Arts and Culture exhibition ‘A Language of Seeds’, developed by Devon-based artist Léonie Hampton, which is coming to an end on the 5th of September. Other exhibitions such as ‘Turner’s Travels,’ which digitally showcases a series of 19th century engravings in the University’s fine art collection, are ongoing.

In addition, watch this space, or visit the Charles Causley Trust’s website www.causleytrust.org, for news on our Heritage partner’s upcoming International Poetry Competition.





















Internship work in the Heritage Sector: University of Exeter interns Anna Craig and Ani Kvantidze discuss their internship experience with heritage partner, Wells Cathedral.

As part of its scheme to research new audiences for a major new outreach and inclusion project, Wells Cathedral ran a four-week internship project through the IKEEP (Intrapreneurial Knowledge Exchange Enterprise Pathway) with University of Exeter interns.

Wells Cathedral is home to a thriving spiritual, musical and historical community stretching back nearly 850 years. The Cathedral has an international reputation and is the recipient of several tourism awards, having recently achieved a Silver Eco Church Award.

Described as the ‘most poetic’ of the English cathedrals, Wells was the first to be built in the Gothic style. The iconic West Front with its 300 medieval carvings and the 14thcentury Scissor Arches are highlights of the Cathedrals architecture.

The interns’ main priority was to identify areas across Somerset where cases of rural isolation, digital poverty, affordable housing, low skilled employment and unemployment are highest. In doing so, they identified groups operating within these areas, including community groups, schools, outreach programmes. From this, they designed a consultation questionnaire to ascertain the core needs of the identified groups around education and employment, alongside areas of operation that the Cathedral could potentially support through its music, education and volunteer programmes.

In carrying out consultation with the identified groups, the students produced a report that identifed groups that would like to engage further with the Cathedral and also recommendations for the type of engagement that they would find most beneficial.

According to Jonathan Sawyer, Development Director at Wells Cathedral, the limited time available to produce the project outcomes meant that the onus was placed on the interns to work collaboratively to devise, agree and deliver a project plan to meet the agreed deadline. Jonathan tells us that, “each of the interns used their initiative to creatively circumnavigate challenges that arose, particularly around obtaining responses to consultation in a very short time frame.”

Telling us about her experience, Anna Craig said that one of the most rewarding experiences of the internship was interacting with charities and finding out about the amazing work they accomplished: “by getting to know such a diverse set of organisations I feel I can now adapt my communication style to fit any group,” Anna told us.

However, Anna admits that the internship posed challenges: “despite formulating our survey with the intention of using phone surveys, many organisations did not have the time to chat with us. However, we successfully adapted our strategy, making a new online survey which organisations could complete in their own time.”

Discussing the skills that they have gained, Ani said: “I have definitely gained valuable skills [from the internship]. Firstly, I learnt to work within a large organisation. I learnt to work and communicate within a team, while taking initiative and working independently. I had a chance to take part in brainstorming sessions and plan the project as a team. I also advanced my research and analytical skills. I learnt to prioritise tasks and make decisions.”

Both Anna and Ani emphasised that the internship experience improved their understanding of the heritage sector. For Anna, the internship gave her a whole new perspective — she told us that: “previously, I viewed [the sector] as a purely cultural and historical field. I now understand the integral role of heritage within local communities in creating a sense of unity within localities. Wells Cathedral has fuelled my passion to work within the heritage sector, and I look forward to seeing the results our research project brings.”

According to Ani, after this internship, they realised how much work there is in the heritage sector: “thanks to the format of the project, I actually had a chance to communicate with the local communities and I got an impressive insight into what their reality is. I also got an insight into the organism of the heritage sector, and I realised that engaging the local communities is the most important aspect of it.”

On reflection of the Wells Cathedral outreach and inclusion project and the internship experience, Jonathan Sawyer told us that, “throughout the work, the interns all showed great maturity and professionalism which resulted in a piece of work that will directly influence and contribute to a multi-million-pound project, and for which they should be very proud.”

To find out more about Wells Cathedral, see: https://www.wellscathedral.org.uk and for more information about internship opportunities at the University of Exeter, see: https://www.exeter.ac.uk/careers/internships/.



Public History Project: First Marquis, Charles Cornwallis

In our undergraduate second year module Public History Project, we were given the exciting opportunity to work with the Kresen Kernow archive of Cornwall to complete a project which helped us to develop our understanding of historical events and diversified our skills as historians. Our task was to transcribe fifty letters from the archive’s collection on First Marquis, Charles Cornwallis, from his time as the Governor General of India in the late eighteenth century. The project taught us both practical skills through our analysis of Cornwallis’ letters to his son, Charles Brome, and a better understanding of what contributes, affects and moulds Public History itself.

The core goal of the project was to transcribe and digitise Kresen Kernow’s physical documents. Through this, we learnt much about the key role that digitisation plays in preserving history. Digitalisation allows for sources to survive tests of time because digital documents are not affected by decomposition or fading and do not require the same scale of physical infrastructure for preservation. Even though digital documents do not give the same feeling of ‘connecting with the past’ that original sources do, by preserving their content, accuracy as well as reliability of historical memory can be ensured. The digitalisation of physical sources also increases their accessibility; in a society which relies more heavily upon the internet, having these documents present online allows for wider audience engagement to utilise Kresen Kernow’s collections. What is particularly admirable is that there is no paywall to limit access to their information so anyone can access Cornish history.

However, we soon identified a limitation to the practice of digitalisation in the amount of information that was being produced and the inability to select or edit this in fear of losing a record that could be of significance. We later discerned that the issue of profusion may eventually arise in regard to capacity but, as digitised documents require less upkeep than physical sources, they provide a less costly option for a field already struggling for funding. Profusion, even though it can become a contention when capacity is full, is a key way of identifying the diversity of documents as well as their individual importance which is not always evident on first appearance. Either for genealogical research, investigating Cornwallis as a military figure or identifying narratives that impacted eighteenth century India, digitalisation has shown us a progression within Public History bodies which is vital for the preservation of our past.

An element of the project which lingered throughout was Charles Cornwallis as an agent of colonialism. Cornwallis had been employed as Governor General of India and worked within the East India Trading Company, who at that time were assuming control over India and subjugating Indian resistance forces. Cornwallis led the campaign against Tipu Sultan, an accomplished Indian general, in the Third Anglo-Mysore War and described the Sultan to his son as a “restless and ambitious Tyrant”. Colonialism’s effects are tangible within global society today, recently seen in Britain when protestors in Bristol tore down the statue of slave trader Edward Colston. As historians, we believe that digitising Cornwallis’ personal letters can be of value to historical discourse for they provide rare insight into the perspective of one of Britain’s most prolific agents of colonialism. However, engaging with such sensitive material required us to remain impartial within our research and transcriptions, which, despite some concerns, will ultimately aid us in our understanding and study of history.

Throughout the process we developed transferrable skills which will aid us in both historical studies and the world beyond. Alongside skills in digitisation, the project compelled us to utilise research techniques with which we were either unfamiliar or unskilled. For example, we used family trees to develop our understanding of the Cornwallis’ family and its influence within British society, which was a first for us. The most important, and transferrable, skill the project taught us was how to collaborate remotely on projects by using the internet and technology. As the project took place during the COVID-19 pandemic we were unable to meet our sponsor or interact with the documents first hand, yet through the use of online meetings and scans of Cornwallis’ letters we were able to complete the project without much difficulty. In a world that is increasingly dependent upon the online sphere it was reassuring that practising history can survive and flourish digitally.

History, not just with a public oriented focus, is in an extremely exciting position to expand into digital spaces. This project, thanks to Kresen Kernow and the University of Exeter, has helped us develop our skills as historians in a first-hand manner. For those of you with an interest in Cornish history, we greatly recommend exploring the archives.

By Alice Lentern and Nick Watts

In the age of virtual heritage, do museums still need objects?

As the coronavirus crisis wages on in the UK and around the world, museums, like many organisations, have found themselves forced to navigate this new reality. In particular, how to operate when physicality – interacting with original objects – remains at the heart of their endeavours. During the nationwide lockdown period especially, we witnessed how almost overnight, the material foundations of heritage were temporarily supplanted by online and virtual alternatives.

The changes in access brought on by the pandemic has only reignited tensions surrounding a shift away from objects within museums – a topic of current contention within heritage studies. Fears centre around the notion that museums are becoming more about the information they can provide, rather than their objects on display. With an increasing focus on digitisation, these anxieties have only inflated further – and to surprisingly existential proportions.

Indeed, current scholarship has perpetuated a narrative in which the “virtual” represents a threat to traditional heritage principles. In part fuelled by a desire to defend the object, detractorspropagate an almost dystopian-like future. A vision in which the digital “terrorist” will gradually and surreptitiously tear down the museum as a sanctuary for the authentic, the real and true. In this portrayal, virtual applications are reduced to nothing more than data-driven information dumps lacking the cultural essence of the objects they claim to emulate.

For my UG History Dissertation this research, this premise, elevated by the current climate, provided ample opportunity to explore this fractured relationship between the object and the virtual. The emergence of “virtual heritage” – a new field which emphasises the emotive, multi-sensory application of the digital, such as virtual reality –disrupts the leading narrative of hostility. Through this lens, the study set out to uncover a more comprehensive appraisal of the use of virtual heritage tools within museums.

Explorations of four virtual heritage experiences showed their potential to restore access to lost and inaccessible places. The wAVE Project’s plans to digitally restore an old harbour near St Agnes Museum, for example, holds purpose in injecting new life into what is “now no more than rubble on St Agnes beach.” The possibilities for immersion and interactivity within virtual spaces also offer unique opportunities to foster greater levels of engagement among visitors, not to mention affording them more agency and control as they participate more directly with these experiences.

Although, as a deeper dive into these experiences revealed, these prospects are not without their own caveats. The ambitions to extend cultural access can create more barriers to entry related to space; cost; malfunctions and technical proficiency. Meanwhile, the drive to promote visitor participation through the virtual realm also presents ethical considerations – such as whether it is appropriate to ask users to assume an active role in difficult histories – which has led to a reluctance to explore these interactive possibilities in practice.

Each of these factors, shadowed by underlying sacrifices, paint a complex picture for virtual heritage – certainly more so than its current portrayal as a threat. When the object is brought back into the conversation, this only provides further complications. Studies showing that digital engagement actually increases demand to access physical objects seem to dispel the myth of the virtual poised to usurp the real; clearly there is potential for both forms to unite in their shared endeavours.

Yet, among materialists, the continued demonisation of the digital dismisses any reasonable chances of this union at present. Some remain so caught up in guarding the object that they fail to see the double standards of their fears. For instance, many are quick to question the digital on grounds of authenticity but overlook how museum objects go through their own process of recontextualisation in their new role when placed on display.

Evidence of clouded judgments such as here suggests the more immediate implications of virtual heritage. It has further unearthed the deeply rooted materialist predilections present within museums. These principles remain embedded within the largely unproductive disputes over the status of the artefact and, alongside this, they can also contribute to an exclusionary culture of practice.

As a consequence, new or unconventional modes of visitor engagement, such as virtual heritage, seem to be roped into these debates when really, in a more practical view, their proponents would prefer to focus their energies elsewhere. Namely on establishing their field and honing their attempts to enrich museum activities. Indulging in such arguments ultimately detracts from finding out what virtual heritage can offer in its own right. In this new age, during a period of new mindsets and approaches in all walks of life, perhaps now the digital will get its chance.

By Matt Solomons

This post was adapted from Matt’s recently submitted undergraduate dissertation entitled “Do museums still need objects in the age of virtual heritage?”. Access to the full text is available here.

A virtual reality “pod” as part of a Tutankhamun exhibition last year. Could this image soon become the norm?


Re-opening Heritage: Bill Douglas Cinema Museum Curator Phil Wickham tells us about the museum ahead of its reopening on 17th of May 2021

The Bill Douglas Cinema Museum (BDCM) is home to one of the largest collections of material on the moving image in Britain. Both an accredited public museum and academic research facility, it has a collection of over 85,000 items. The museum documents the development of optical entertainment from shadow-puppets and 17th century books on projection, to the most recent Hollywood blockbusters, including artefacts such as Magic Lanterns, rare books, prints, and an extensive variety of publicity materials.

The museum commemorates British filmmaker Bill Douglas (1934-1991), whose work includes the Bill Douglas Trilogy (1972-78) and Comrades (1987). Bill Douglas, together with his friend Peter Jewell, was also a collector and after Bill’s death Peter donated their amazing holdings on the moving image to the University to found the museum, which opened to the public in 1997. The Bill Douglas Cinema Museum is a unique resource, Phil Wickham tell us: “Nothing else in the UK has the breadth and depth of our collections, which range from the seventeenth century to the present day or is as accessible. Instead of holding films themselves we focus on the experience of seeing them or engaging with the devices that preceded them. Together then the artefacts that make up the collection form a people’s history of the moving image that demonstrates how moving images have changed the way we see the world around us.”

The museum’s artefacts include programmes, prints, postcards, toys, books or devices, and are all accessible to both researchers and the public, as a source of engaging with this history. The museum also holds archives by independent British filmmakers in addition to Bill Douglas, including Don Boyd and producers Gavrik Losey and James Mackay. The collections continue to grow and the museum acquires material from many members of the public, who know their donations can be enjoyed and explored by all.

Phil says that “the collections are used extensively for research by academics at the University of Exeter and form the basis for a number of funded projects. Over the past couple of years, the museum has been involved in research topics as diverse as Vivien Leigh, Theatre and visual culture in the nineteenth century and the effect of Western gay films on LGBT communities in China.”

The BDCM supplies materials from its collections to over 100 classes a year at the University across a wide range of disciplines; including History, English and Sociology, as well as being central to the Film Studies programme. Alongside Professor Linda Williams, the Head of Film, Phil teaches a module in which students curate an exhibition as part of their assessment. He states that this “teaches them new skills in curation and teamwork – the collection enables innovative learning of many kinds.”

The collections are particularly useful for student dissertations, in order to undertake original research. Phil stresses, however, that the museum is a research resource for the whole of the academy and not just Exeter: “The stipend scheme has meant that scholars from all over the world have been able to visit and explore the collections. You can read Blogs written about their experiences at: https://www.bdcmuseum.org.uk/research/research-at-the-bill-douglas-cinema-museum/stipends-at-the-bill-douglas-cinema-museum/.”

Discussing how the museum has adapted during the Covid-19 pandemic, Phil told us that rules have meant that the Museum has been closed to the public for much of the year: “We were open for brief periods in the autumn but much of the usual teaching has not been able to take place on campus. We have still been as busy as ever however, especially in scanning materials to create digital resources from the collection for teaching. This allows students to still utilise our collections and apply them to what they are learning.”

The BDCM hopes to reopen in May when restrictions ease. Phil told us that the team “are very excited to welcome visitors back to enjoy our galleries and for us to share our physical collections. While we have all learnt the importance of the virtual over this period, it has also made clear how fundamental the pleasures of going out to places and seeing objects from the past are to us. It will also be great to welcome back the student volunteers that have been such a big part of the museum’s success in recent years.”


To donate to the Bill Douglas Cinema Museum please see: https://store.exeter.ac.uk/product-catalogue/education-student-experience/bill-douglas-cinema-museum/donation-to-the-bill-douglas-cinema-museum, and follow @bdcmuseum on Instagram and Twitter for updates on its reopening.

Uncovering the Northcott Theatre Archive: Q&A with Heritage Project Manager Sophie McCormack about the upcoming ‘The Impact of Women’ Event on the 5th of May 2021.

On the 5th May at 18:00, Exeter Northcott Theatre will be hosting their ‘The Impact of Women’ event that will explore the stories found in the theatre’s archive collection. The project, which began last Spring was led alongside a team of interns from the University of Exeter who delved into the Northcott’s archive. The event panel will look at the stories that have been uncovered and discuss how the knowledge collected can be used to shape the future culture of Exeter and the South West.

Can you tell me a bit about the history of the Northcott Theatre?

The Northcott opened in 1967 as the first of several important theatres that were built on University campuses in the UK. From the very beginning it was hailed as a ‘theatre for the people of Devon’ and it quickly established itself as a theatre which intended to push boundaries, champion new writing and develop talented creatives. Over the years its many artistic directors have taken the theatre’s identity and mission in different directions – taking on the challenge of what it means to be ‘a theatre for everyone’ and interpreting this in a variety of ways. It has become well known over the years as a training ground for high profile actors such as Dame Diana Rigg, Imelda Staunton, Robert Lindsay, John Nettles and Bon Hoskins, as well as a training ground for theatre technicians and crew. Its annual Christmas Pantomime and summertime Shakespeare in the Gardens are fondly remembered locally and are documented in detail in the archive. The theatre has also lead work with young people through its Young Company, developing creative and artistic skills over several generations.

Has the archival work that has been conducted as part of this project altered or added to that history?

Our work with the collection has enabled us to explore the specific ways that the theatre reinvented itself over the years – and while this was previously looked at as a problem (the theatre having an identity crisis and never quite living up to the ‘theatre for everyone’ mission) we have found that in hindsight this flexibility and ability to change is behind its longevity and ability to withstand and survive some difficult periods in history.

The particular role of regional theatre and how it reflects, engages with and presents work to its community — drawing on local stories and talent in this process — is also gaining new relevance as the current team at the theatre looks to massively change the way it works with and supports its local communities.

How important were the student interns in carrying out this work?

The interns have been central to the archive research. They have identified key themes and trends in the archive and then looked into the detailed records and materials in the collection to uncover the stories behind them. The project focus has been led by them in a very real way: the content relating to theatre productions, projects, actors and theatre staff we are sharing publicly have all been selected and interpreted by our teams of interns over the past year. They have also made the selections of the material we have had digitised by the Digital Humanities department at the University.

Why did you choose Natalie McGrath, Sandhya Dave and Rachel Vowles as your speakers for this event?

Natalie is a real leader in the arts and heritage sector and highly respected locally as the co-founder of Dreadnought South West – an organisation that shares the hidden histories of women and their activism. Natalie is also a wonderful writer and experienced in working with regional theatres, including the Northcott.

Sandhya is a real changemaker in Exeter’s culture through her championing of diverse voices and communities and through her leadership of anti-racist work. Sandhya has worked with the Northcott previously to support better and more meaningful engagement with people with from diverse heritages and works tirelessly to support people locally to be resilient.

Rachel is an education and community engagement expert and well-remembered for her work at the Northcott during 1999-2009 — leading work with hundreds of local young people and developing spectacular large-scale community productions. Rachel is an excellent theatre practitioner with loads of knowledge about the local arts sector and the people that make it work.

What do you hope the event will achieve?

I hope that people will begin to see the archive as a fluid, dynamic resource rather than a dusty collection of boxes. It’s important that history and heritage are opened up to be interpreted by as many people as possible, so we get a fuller picture of the legacies we have been left with today. I hope that by using the archive as inspiration, the panel and event audience will see how history can be used to change and shape what comes next.

Tickets for the event are free and can be purchased via: https://www.exeternorthcott.co.uk/events/the-impact-of-women/

The event is part of a wider project funded by the National Lottery Heritage Fund.

To learn more about the Exeter Northcott Theatre, see: https://www.exeternorthcott.co.uk and follow @ExeterNorthcott on Twitter for updates pertaining to the event.


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.

The City Museum – preserving the heritage of Exeter City Football Club

The main achievement of the HLF-funded Exeter City Football Club Museum project has been the creation of a sport heritage museum at St James Park, home to Exeter City Football Club (2019). The project, a collaboration between Exeter University and Exeter City Football Trust and Club, is led by Gabriella Giannachi, an expert in performance art and new media documentation and preservation in the museum context. Gabriella wanted to utilise research methodologies developed with Tate, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, LIMA and RAMM, and adapt them in the context of sport heritage. Will Barrett, a researcher at Exeter University, has been the project co-ordinator, and Club and Trust Directors Martin Weiler, Paul Farley and Elaine Davies have acted as members of the project management team that regularly meets to discuss progress and assess the stream of donations the Club has been receiving since announcing it would set up a museum to look after its heritage. Since 2016, over 30 undergraduate Exeter University student volunteers, experts in conservation, art and design, heritage, and photography, as well as a large number of fan volunteers, have contributed to the project.

The setting up of a museum is the culmination of a five-year collaboration which started in 2013. At that time, Gabriella was working with Tate and RAMM to create platforms that would allow people to encounter their collections outside of the museum. Gabriella wanted to test the Timetrails platform she developed with Will, 1010 Media and RAMM in a different context. Tom Cadbury, Assistant Curator for Antiquities at RAMM, pointed out that the Club had a lot of heritage and introduced them to Paul who was already at that time looking after the heritage there. With some seed funding from HEIF, a number of trails about the Club were created and tested, and they soon realised that what they really wanted was to collect, digitise, preserve and share the heritage at the club to unearth its rich and valuable history.

A pilot website called The Grecian Archive was developed to this extent by the Digital Humanities Lab at the University. The popularity of the site soon encouraged the team to bid to the Arts and Humanities research Council (AHRC) for being part of the Being Human Festival in 2016 to employ the professional football photographer and FIFA consultant Peter Robinson, who then documented the Old Grandstand, which was about to be demolished. At the same time, they also bid to HLF so that they could start to catalogue the heritage and crowdsource missing elements in the Club’s history through a series of heritage gathering events. These led to the documentation of more than 80 fans’ and players’ memories about the Club’s heritage, looking specifically at the Old Grandstand. These interviews led to the production of two long films, a set of 3D scans (also produced by the Lab), three trails, and, through a subsequent HLF award, three medium-length films, two temporary exhibitions and six permanent exhibitions. The latter include the recently launched Legends Wall, running along the jungle path; A Chronology and Hall of Fame in the brand new Stagecoach Adam Stansfield stand; and a bespoke museum room, which has a number of displays and is very popular on tours. A film shot by the HLF South West Development Officer capturing this amazing story will be launched soon.

Together for Heritage – with the University of Exeter

The South West Fed is an independent membership organisation that aims to:

  • Demonstrate the strength and breadth of heritage in the South West;
  • Connect people together for the benefit of organisations and their audiences;
  • Inspire those working in and for heritage in the South West to deliver to the highest standards.

Our annual conference is one of the opportunities we create to deliver on these aims. For the last three years, we’ve been fortunate to be hosted by, and work in partnership with, the University of Exeter, where the facilities allow us to deliver a conference that raises the bar and meets our aspiration to be the leading heritage sector event in the region. The sun shining each time we’ve been there helps too!

We strive to hit a sweet spot with our conference, which is serving a regional sector where 30% of museums are entirely volunteer run. To hit that spot, we want delegates to be both inspired and to take away practical examples to help their organisations or practice. We also want to ensure that the opportunities to network are relaxed and varied, with a range of delegates from students to senior professionals.

2018 was the first year we’ve put out a call for papers, and we were delighted with the variety of responses to the theme of ‘Visits and Collections’. A stand-out element was the contribution from students and researchers such as Rosalind Mearns (on dress up installations) or Dr Andrew Rudd and curator Holly Morgenroth (on the Cresswell collection at RAMM, which brilliantly complemented presentations from those working on the frontline, such as keynote Helen Bonser Wilton, CEO of the Mary Rose Trust, or the trials and tribulations of delivering a family-friendly museum by Aerospace Bristol.

Break-out rooms were used to get hands-on in workshops, including how to pack a crisp courtesy of Wiltshire Council Conservation and Museum Advisory Service!

The networking opportunities were buzzing with delegates’ conversations about what had inspired them, surrounded by our valued corporate members’ trade stands and a display about the Cresswell collection.

Next year, we continue our collaboration with the University by holding the conference at the Penryn campus, in partnership with Cornwall Museums Partnership. The theme is ‘Inspiring Audiences Home and Away’ – and if that inspires you to think about submitting a paper, then look out for the call in November this year!

Written by Anna Bryant, MA, AMA

Anna has worked in and for museums of all shapes and sizes across curatorial, interpretation, audience development and marketing roles during the last 18 years.  She was Chair of the South West Fed from 2016-18 and currently works for Volunteer Makers.


@SWFed @AnnaBryantSW