Being a Museum Apprentice

A study visit during the January closed season to Dudley Museums’ Glass Cone

A bit of a different blog today as Alex our museums business administration apprentice reflects on what she has been doing, learning and what skills she’s been developing while working at Sandwell Museums.

Alex is the first admin apprentice we have had – in fact she is the first specifically administration person we’ve had at all within the museums! However when you think of administration work you may think of all sorts of clerical tasks which Alex does, but there is so much more she’s been doing too!

An apprenticeship with Sandwell Museums gives apprentices a lot of skills and the opportunity to develop in lots of ways. So far we’ve sent 5 apprentices back into the world with lots of new skills and experiences and it has been brilliant to watch them grow and gain confidence. We’ve also hosted university and teaching student placements, work experiences and other placements through other projects and programmes.

Showing off some of our shop stock – makes great presents.

Here is Alex’s story in her own words

Being a big history fan, museums and historical sites have always been interesting to me. I have been lucky to visit many castles, palaces and galleries around the world. Having the opportunity to work in these museums and heritage sites has been brilliant and I have really enjoyed getting to know the history and the way they work. Although my role is based in admin, I have had a go at many different things while working with the service, which has been fantastic and challenging equally. These opportunities have hopefully given me a variety of stories and skills for the future.

I have had a go at a few everyday tasks at the museums, which has helped me have a better idea of how each site is run. This has included testing fire alarms, banking processes, serving refreshments, cleaning and helping with routine building checks. This has helped me with being able to multi- task as you have to be able to do many things at once! It has been interesting to see how there is a lot of work that goes into making sure the buildings are maintained to be able to serve the public.

helping to organise and deliver family craft activities is all part of the job!

The admin work I have completed has included a few lengthy data entry tasks. For example, I had to create spreadsheets and obtain data from visitor figures across the sites to income trackers allowing the service to look at which areas they are doing well in and how they can effectively use their resources in the future. These tasks are important as they help with future planning and allow a retrospective look at how things were done and how the budgets could be used in the next year. It is interesting to note trends and give feedback on this, as discovering why certain sites do well with some activities or events.

I have been involved in helping with museum collections (looking after the objects) as well, which has been interesting. This has involved looking at the objects, cross referencing the items on the database and making notes of where the accession numbers may need to be updated. I have helped find objects for exhibitions and handle them when putting them out on display, which I feel privileged to have done. From spears to jewellery and personal artefacts- the collection is diverse, and it is fascinating to see these objects up close. Helping to display and observe paintings and other artefacts has made me realise how essential conservation and documentation work is.

Helping with collection and object documentation and paperwork is also part of a museum admin apprentice job!

A lot of the work the museum service carries out is related to the programme of events and activities that happen throughout the year. This requires a lot of preparation on the run up to them, from initial planning of what events are happening and where (trying to make sure there are no clashes) to booking suppliers, organising activities, risk assessments, then finally setting up the event on the day. I have taken minutes of meetings for multiple purposes as well, but my favourite being events planning meetings.  It is an interesting skill to learn, as it involves keeping up with what everyone is saying and making sure you have got it all down! I have also helped to make posters and quizzes for events, such as Halloween quizzes and signs to direct visitors to events. We also have a lot of leaflets to organise and drop off to schools and other community groups and buildings to let them know about what the service does – hopefully I will get the hang of the photocopier eventually!

Setting up the events requires a full team effort- moving around lots of chairs and tables, up and down stairs, and setting up activities, which can be tiring but rewarding when it is finally complete. These can be for anything from meetings, family events, paranormal evenings and weddings. It has been interesting to see how versatile these places can be, and how it can serve lots of different communities. My favourite events have included the Halloween ones, as the old buildings definitely make the events atmospheric. It makes you think about all the people and stories of the past, and how lucky we are to be standing in the same place hundreds of years later.

During the events, it can get incredibly busy – meaning that you can get involved in everything. This includes everything from answering the phone, giving out tickets, working the tills and greeting visitors- sometimes all at once! It is great being able to engage with the people who come and visit the sites and find out if they are new or regular visitors, and why they enjoy visiting. The families often get the chance to come and look around the sites, have a go at a craft activity and follow a trail around the grounds. I like how there is something for everyone.

Community event at the Oak House which apprentices help to set up and deliver

You have to be prepared to dress up on occasion – with all sorts of weird and wonderful activities. I have worn a purple wig, face paint, hats and capes which was hilarious! The Halloween and Christmas events are particularly busy but enjoyable – it has been a highlight to decorate the sites ready for these events- cobwebs for Halloween and decorating the Christmas trees, and they look so brilliant when they are done. (It’s interesting when we have to pack it all back up again- a real sketch show in the making!) Helping the Living History team (education delivery team) has also been fun, as the children really enjoy being able to dress up in a historic house and get involved with activities, encouraging them to use their imagination.

One of our previous apprentices Zoe talks about her apprenticeship.

I’ve also had the opportunity to go on a few study visits around the country and get involved with conferences. This has opened my eyes to how other museums and historical sites work and in turn how it can improve our own offering. One of the other best things about this has been the people I work with. They have been the most lovely and supportive people you could hope to work with- which has made my experience even better. They have allowed me to have a go at things, help me if needed and always valued my opinion which is great- so thank you! 😊

Delivering activities at the Halloween event.

Published by Sandwell Museums & Arts

Sandwell Museums & Arts Service is a local authority organisation part of Sandwell Council. We have some fantastic heritage buildings to visit with fascinating stories to tell as well as a lively programme of events, activities and exhibitions each year between April and December.

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