British Association of Friends of Museums Conference

1st December 2019




46th British Association of Friends of Museums Conference 11, 12, 13th October 2019

Hosted by Friends of Reading Museum



Matt Rodda MP Reading East – Shadow Minister for Local Transport

A well-presented clear, informative and challenging address. He emphasised the importance of community and the need to demonstrate and highlight local history so that present and future generations continue to appreciate the rich culture of former years. Preserving and celebrating the historic past was the life blood of a city or town and an important factor in attracting new commercial enterprises and employment to the area. It was important that local authorities were mindful that supporting the history of the area would bring economic and social benefits to the area. A challenge and opportunity for Friends Groups to get that message over

Fiona Talbott Head of Museums, Libraries and Archives at the National Lottery Fund.

An interesting and informative presentation. She pointed out that it was now THE NATIONAL Lottery Fund with regional offices across the UK. The expectation was with a more streamlined operation that decisions could be made within 10 weeks of an application. Different levels of financial applications needed to be treated differently. The National Lottery were mindful that many groups were unrepresented – minority groups covering a wide range of interests. Consideration can also be given to the possibility of funding for “Heritage Objects” at risk. Funding might also be available for partnerships meeting a particular need, setting up a new group to improve facilities, running events outside the museums, outreach.

Whilst it was encouraging that the process – form filing – decision making would be more streamlined the starting point to sound out a potential project would be to speak to the local area office before embarking on form filling etc. The challenge is to think about potential projects which would be suitable for submitting an application.

Alan Caig former Head of Leisure and Museums Exeter City Council and current Chair Friends of the Museum

His topic was “Councils of Despair? Municipal Museums and their Communities and he began his talk by illustrating how communities have over the years been involved in local action sketching the history of the Exeter Ship Canal opened in 1566 and built to bypass weirs that had been erected on the River Exe thus enabling goods to reach the port of Exeter. The 1867 Reform Act was another significant development granting the vote to all householders in the boroughs as well as lodgers who paid rent of £10 a year or more which reduced the property threshold in the counties and gave the vote to agricultural landowners and tenants with very small amounts of land doubling the electorate in England and Wales from one to two million men. During the 19th century Sir Stafford Northcote proposed as a practical memorial to Prince Albert, launching an appeal fund to build The Devon and Exeter Albert Memorial, as it was originally known, to provide an integrated museum, art gallery, library, reading room, school of art and school of science in the manner long advocated by Prince Albert. It is now known as the Royal Albert Memorial Museum & Art Gallery. It is important that Friends Group played an important part in supporting, publicizing and facilitating the work of museums. In Exeter this involved providing voluntary assistants with a range of roles within the museum and coming up with new ideas one of which was opening the Museum in the evening. This had proved to be popular and positive. A survey by the Museums Association in 2018 showed that 24% were under the auspices of the Local Authorities and there are many opportunities to facilitate change. He delivered an important message but the historical account of the past did distract from messages about present-day community involvement.

Brendan Carr: Community Engagement Curator Reading Museum:

His theme was “Friends of a Friend: The role of the Friends of Reading Museum in community engagement.” He emphasized the importance of Friends engagement and considered they were much stronger when there was Group Cohesiveness in social and task relations where there was perceived unity. Areas of engagement involved cataloging, newsletters, talks, funding, lobbying, research, creating awareness and being in the heart of the community. He mentioned an initiative where in the archives there was a picture of Cilla Black in Reading 1984. An event was created around this picture showing her with the crowds and in the same location with the present generation. The exhibition created wide spread interest. Museums should be like a mirror reflecting the community they were in, reflecting their lives, catering for the rich and the poor and relevant to family and young people, .A development policy and a mission statement encompassing the work of museum and volunteers would enable a partnership for the benefit of all.

Afternoon Session – a series of short presentations

The session was opened by Councillor Sarah Hacker, Chair of the Reading Art and Heritage Forum who spoke passionately about the need to preserve our heritage and make it available for future generations and the need to engage with children.

1. Eckhard Kranz President of the Friends of the City Museum Dusseldorf. Dusseldorf was the hub of the Ruhr in 1938 and suffered badly during WW2.Post war a circle of influential people, companies and friends spear headed the reconstruction and the establishment of the museum. They now have 1200 members and 90 partners who form the friends group.

2. Susanne Anna Director of the Dusseldorf City Museum. She has been involved in the museum since 2004 and there is collective participation with staff, Friends, Companies and diversity and inclusion is seen as important. The knowledge of local people, and the reality of everyday life is important to the method of working and everyone contributes, collaborates and participates in the direction and work of the museum. It is the first public museum which is inclusive of all and decisions are made by the group about contents and exhibitions to be held.

3. Annette Haworth Friends of Reading University: The Friends of the University of Reading – steps towards supporting community outreach. In 1926, the year in which the University obtained its Royal Charter, “it was agreed that an Association, to be called ‘The Friends of The University of Reading’, should be formed on an entirely voluntary and unofficial basis, with the object of bringing friends and supporters into contact with the University and of enabling them to promote its interests and welfare”. The Association started on 15 March 1927. Because of financial restraints the Association became an Association Charitable Incorporated Organisation registered with the Charity Commission for England and Wales in 2017 resulting in the opportunity to obtain grants and subscriptions from members and to focus on outreach. The Friends are particularly interested in projects which support the University’s outreach into the wider community. Past examples of such grants include a 3D model of a DNA molecule which can be used both for University teaching and in schools, support of community events such as the Big Band Picnic and completion of an African Drum circle to enable workshops to be held outside the normal curriculum, with local schools and at community events. On the broader front, periodically, usually biennially, the Association organises special Heritage Events which allow the public to see parts of the University that are not generally accessible. Sometimes such Friends’ events are linked to special anniversaries or to particular national commemorations, like the start of the Great War

4. Neena Sohal – Art Asia – Case Study: A community collaboration – Arts Asia and Friends of Reading Museum. This is a community collaboration project set up 12 years ago with Heritage Lottery Money. Its purpose is to involve significant persons from across southeast England within the Anglo Indian community in order to discover the past, to promote and celebrate it enabling people to participate and interpret their heritage. The Friends of Reading Museum were partners and the project enabled the breaking down of barriers.

5. Rhea Douglas – Reading Museum – Revealing Reading Abbey; Engaging the community with local heritage. An exciting programme of events and educational activities breathed new life into one of Reading’s historic gems sitting alongside an extensive programme of conservation works to the Abbey Ruins and the Abbey Gateway. Heritage Lottery Fund with the Councils financial contribution funded the project reinvigorating Reading’s pre-eminent and nationally important heritage site. The opening of the Abbey Ruins to the public was complemented by a programme of events and activities. Conservation works will mean Reading residents and visitors will be able to benefit from this iconic heritage site for generations to come. A key part of this project was putting 27 new interpretation panels across the Abbey Quarter and town centre highlighting the Abbey’s history. Among the many events organised was a day of local bands when 18,000 visitors attended.

BAfM Annual General Meeting chaired by Dame Rosemary Butler was an uneventful formal affair with very little comment. Lyndon did ask about insurance cover pointing out that members over 75 were not covered. The Chair stated that they could not give an answer but this would be looked into and members advised about the situation.

BAfM Conference 2020 9th to 11th October in Dundee. Alastair Scott, Dundee Heritage Trust spoke about the conference and how Dundee had been transformed into an exciting culture centre with fantastic museums and heritage venues including the V & A Dundee. The Theme is VOLUNTEERING. Further information will be in Newsletters.

The Robert Logan Award was given to Holiday Donaldson for her work at the Imperial War Museum, London.

Observation – an interesting weekend meeting up with many from previous conferences and containing some good ideas which if implemented would benefit museums and friends groups. The after-dinner speaker on the Saturday was Tim Millikin recalling his 3 year cycle ride from Reading UK to Reading USA and his experiences during it.

FINALLY selling your town and the importance of culture and history – log into



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