Skills for the Future – two weeks at the People’s History Museum

A guest post by Charlene Price

I’m currently undertaking an HLF Skills for the Future Social History Curatorial Traineeship. The traineeship is for a year and I’m about half-way through. The aim of the traineeship is to provide workplace training for people who want to pursue a career in the museum or heritage sector. My host museum is The Herbert Art Gallery & Museum in Coventry, but as part of the traineeship I’ve been doing a two-week placement here at the People’s History Museum in order to gain some experience of IMG_9591working in a national museum.

I’ve managed to fit in a variety of different tasks and activities into my two weeks here. I’ve also had a good chance to look around the museum and learn more about the collections that are held here.

One of the tasks I have been doing and very much enjoying is writing labels for trade union banners. The museum has the largest collection of historic trade union and political banners in the world. The banners are changed in the main galleries once a year in order to give the banners a rest and to do conservation work on the banners where needed. The banners will be changed in January 2015. It has been really interesting to research some of the histories of the banners and of the trade unions themselves and to develop further my skills in writing museum text. You can get an idea of the scale of some of the banners from the picture of me standing in the banner section of Main Gallery Two!

I was fortunate enough to spend a morning in conservation, where I got to see some of the banners I have been writing about being conserved. Banners can present some unique problems in terms of their need for conservation. PHM have produced this booklet which explains more about the care of banners.

My day spent working in the archives was also really interesting. I catalogued some photographs of CND demonstrations in the 1950s and the 1980s, which gave me an introduction to some of the collections held in the archives here and some experience of archive cataloguing.

I also took part in some activities which were more public-facing. I helped to staff a stall at the HMRC offices as part of their Learning at Work day. This was a very good way to learn more about the museum and what it offers, and also learn more about the work the Learning Team do. People definitely seemed interested and engaged with what the museum has to offer, so I hope we encouraged some new visitors.

I also learnt more about the museum’s learning programme by sitting in on a school session led by the Parliament Education Service as part of Parliament Week. It was interesting to see how the children were being engaged in the political process (and enjoying themselves at the same time!) with the activities they took part in during the session.

Spending a day with the Front of House team was a good way to engage with visitors directly and also see how the museum operates on a day-to-day basis. I helped to greet visitors when they arrived and patrol the galleries. It was great to get feedback from visitors and see how they reacted to the objects on display.

I also had the chance to engage with members of the public when I took control of PHM’s Twitter for the day. I learnt how time-consuming managing a busy Twitter account can be! I also used Instagram for the first time and did an update on the museum’s Facebook page. My day on Twitter seemed to generate quite a lot of interest and I got lots of retweets and favourites. I feel like I learnt more about what works well on Twitter and how things like the time of day can affect people’s engagement.

As you can see, I’ve had a jam-packed two weeks – I have not even covered everything I’ve done in this blog post! I’ve also met with various key people in the organisation to learn more about their job roles and the different teams in the museum. The staff have helped to make my time here productive and enjoyable, as well as contributing towards my learning as part of my traineeship. I am sad to leave, but also feel very lucky to have had this experience.

I would recommend the PHM as a place to visit, work or volunteer.

The Social History Curatorial Traineeship is a Heritage Lottery Fund, Skills for the Future Programme supported by Birmingham Museums Trust.

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