Induction Day (16th March 2016)
Today was my first official day at Beamish Museum. I was in good company as it was a general induction for all new starters; staff and volunteers. My first surprise was the number and scope of people attending. At a guess there were between 60 and 80 of us – certainly enough that we were split into four groups in order to be able to get around and take in the site. There were people of all ages and who would be working in all different areas – from the food teams to gardening, from office staff to engagers.
It was a full day of activity, kicked off with an introduction from Museum Director, Richard Evans. After this, we were spirited away for a quick tour of the site on the tram before being dropped off at the first stop for my group; Pockerley.
I’ve been to Beamish several times before this residency but am beginning to realise there’s lots of the site I haven’t seen. It turns out I have never made it to Pockerley before. Today, we were invited into Pockerley Old Hall – some parts of which date back to the 1440s but which is ‘set’ in terms of the interior in the 1820s. Here we learn about hands on engagement like getting visitors involved in baking and attention to detail (jewellery, make-up & mobile phones) before moving next door to find out about music and dance at Beamish, joining in with a rendition of the Lambton Worm.
Next it’s on to the 1900s town – probably the area most visitors think of when they think of Beamish. It’s not a visit to the museum without a trip to the Sweet Shop (if the stories from the dentist in Ravensworth Terrace don’t put you off first). We gather in the Co-op store to learn about different engagement methods and also get to witness the Co-op “divi” payment system in action. If you’ve never seen it before or don’t know what this is it’s worth a look/ask next time you’re in.
My head is already bursting with information and questions and a slight sense of insecurity that I’ll never remember everything or be able to do half as good a job at translating this for visitors as the brilliant staff we meet today. We are reassured throughout the day that we will pick it up in time but I can’t help but feel nervous knowing I’ll be in costume in a few weeks chatting to members of the public. I’m grateful that we now break for lunch. Not only is this a chance to fill up on a tasty sausage casserole but also to chat a bit more to some of my fellow volunteers. It’s great to hear the different paths that have brought people here and the variety of jobs that will be undertaken.
Refreshed and re-energised it’s on to the Band Hall to learn about the great work Beamish Museum is doing to make sure the site is accessible to those with dementia. It’s a chance for us all to take part in training in this area and become a ‘Dementia Friend’ – identifiable by a blue flower badge, designed specifically to fit with the Beamish costumes. (Find out more about Dementia Friends here).
From here it’s on to the Chapel in the 1900s Pit Village to meet Simon from the learning team. If we were feeling the post lunch lull we’re quickly snapped out of it as we’re set one of the activities the team use for schools groups. In the scenario we are given, a young boy has been killed working down the pit and it’s our job to track down a number of characters to talk to in a bid to find out what happened and who’s responsible. There’s a rush of activity, more than a hint of competitive spirit and a flurry of questions. It’s a really great way to see first-hand how learning can be made proactive and I have no doubt the school groups get just as involved and inspired as we do.
For the final block of the day we get an insight behind the scenes at costume and the store. The knowledge of the range of time periods and costumes is extensive and for the first time, looking at a room full of new starters who will require at least one costume each, I realise the extent of the work the costume department do. Last but not least we’re shown into the vast store holding just some of the museum’s collection. This is a treasure trove of objects from the everyday to the obscure. I’d already asked that I get to spend some of my residency in here because of the wealth of stories to be uncovered from each one and now I’m seeing it again I’m even more excited by the prospect. We get to see a specific range of items earmarked for the new Chemists and with it a glimpse into the process that comes with curating a new exhibition, balancing a desire to get the most interesting objects out for the public whilst still maintaining historical accuracy.
It’s been an inspiring but intense day and I’m not sure I’ll fully process everything until I’m back at the museum doing it for myself. I’m left with an admiration for all the hard work that goes into the museum and a nervous excitement about being a part of it in the coming months