Sandwell Museum sites open again from the beginning of April to general visitors after being closed since the end of the Christmas activities in December.
This doesn’t mean however that museum staff have been sat around finishing off the last of the Christmas chocs since January. Not in the slightest – In fact the winter closed period is one of our busiest times of year (however I do say that about the school summer holidays, Halloween and Christmas too) . January, February and March are an opportunity for staff to undertake activities which they can’t the rest of the year while they are welcoming visitors and users.
Firstly museum staff usually take an extra few days holiday after the Christmas break in January to take some of the extra time which they spent working evening and weekend events throughout the festive season. Once they are back the business of taking down the Christmas decorations begins. This can take over a week as all the decs have to go back in the correct boxes and lugged back up to the attic or into storage cupboards. The large Christmas tree which beautifully decorated the hallway at Haden Hill House took 4 of us to dismantle and try unsuccessfully to squeeze it back into its box. We ended up giving up and wrapping it in black bags and parcel tape (our staff are always resourceful). Once we had finished it looked like a dead body. In fact it looked like we had murdered Hagrid and were trying to dispose of the evidence. He is now lying in the attic waiting for the 2019 festivities to get underway in November.
So once Christmas has been put back in its box the closed season tasks begin. This usually involves painting rooms or galleries, undertaking re-displays of rooms or exhibitions, updating information or interpretation, undertaking maintenance or putting down new carpets or curtains normally purchased by our Friends volunteer groups, packing away old exhibitions and putting together new temporary or permanent exhibitions, planning events and activities for the coming year, doing end of year activities like stock taking, various admin and business planning tasks for the coming year, sorting old paperwork out and having an office sort out (they can get a bit messy when its full on event season and there are all sorts of random things hanging around like vampire wigs or Santa hats or bits of displays etc we even had an incendiary bomb under the desk for a while – it was a replica).
We also plan new projects which we are undertaking in the coming year. For example one of our Visitor Services Assistants is planning a project with our community art groups to create wall hangings inspired by 17th century wall hangings, so all this had to be prepared and ready to go. We do have quite a small team of staff with one full time and 2 part-time members of staff on average in each of our 4 main buildings plus a couple of us who work across all sites, so it does take us a while to get through all the jobs.
We then take a bit of a break to deliver February half term activities and we let the public in for one week only. From February we are actually open for a number of users including our regular groups like our painting groups, knitters, gardeners, crafters, school groups and other pre-booked groups and activities. Once half term is done we’re back to it.
Another important job in the closed season is the deep clean. The closed season allows us to move furniture and clean behind it and inside it, to wash curtains or other soft furnishings or carefully conservation clean any precious items like the bedspread at Oak House. We are also able to clean light fittings and on top of shelves and all sorts of nooks and crannies which we aren’t able to clean when we’re servicing visitors. We take crockery out of dressers and carefully clean it with soap and water and remove everything from display cases and dust those too. Dust is rather unpleasant and attracts the little creepy crawlies which like to eat our collection. The deep clean enables us to prevent this and to check that we don’t have any pests crawling around.
This year we have also been redecorating Wednesbury Museum after a flood late last year (more about this in another post) and we are re-displaying the rather beautiful Ruskin Pottery Gallery and creating a new space downstairs.
The closed season also gives all of our permanent staff (and a few of our casual staff too) a rare chance to all get together for our annual museums conference, where we discuss future developments, key priorities, ideas and business planning. This year we also looked at customer journey mapping and attracting different audiences too.
We are opening with some lovely temporary exhibitions for visitors to enjoy across our sites. At Wednesbury Museum Ranbir Kaur celebrates 30 years as an artist displaying some of her beautiful arts and craft inspired by Asian techniques. Certainly well worth a visit.
At Haden Hill House, Midland Painting Group have paintings, drawings and crafts on display with a showcase weekend on 27th and 28th April when there will be more works around the house and some of the members of the group painting so visitors can talk to them about their work and their inspirations.
At Oak House we have dug deep into our museum collection and put out on display some fantastic pieces of textiles which have been produced over the last 400 years. These include embroidery and lace and samplers produced by young girls around 200 years ago and much more – well worth popping in on a visit to Oak House.
Of course now we are open we also have a lively and varied programme of events and activities over the early spring season for all ages to enjoy. Visit our listings page for details at http://www.sandwell.gov.uk/joininmuseums
If you want to find out more about general opening times, facilities and a bit more about our fabulous buildings visit http://www.sandwell.gov.uk/museums and follow the relevant links.
So if you ever wonder what museum staff are doing in January, February and March – now you know!
Jane – Museum Services Manager