Over the last few months, Museum staff have been carrying out consultation with many individuals to help shape the redevelopment. Our Volunteer Coordinator, Rob Davies, updates us on one aspect of consultation: the Countryside Forum.
As part of the Our Country Lives Activity Plan, the project team set up a Countryside Forum earlier this year, made up of individuals and groups who have a direct relationship with the countryside. The purpose of this Forum is for the individuals to feed back on the new gallery plans, test interactive ideas and to explore issues that have an impact upon their lives. We have taken two approaches with this forum, either meeting in a group at the Museum or visiting individuals for an in-depth one-to-one discussion – both involving plenty of tea and cake!
During our discussions we’ve been revealing future plans for the new galleries and inviting initial feedback. This has been an essential part of the redesign, helping to ensure that our new displays are interesting and relevant to a range of target audiences. It has allowed us to have discussions with individuals about the topics with which they feel particularly passionate, which in turn has led us to consider the type of subjects we are potentially exploring in the redeveloped museum. For example, at the last meeting we were discussing with one local famer the challenges he experienced as a dairy farmer to which he responded: “we gave up the unequal struggle in 2006.”
The challenge of milk pricing (and its impact on farmers) is something which is often in the news headlines and it is issues such as these which we are hoping to address is the Museum through our collections. Although our collections relate to the past, we will be looking at how they relate to contemporary issues that affect people who live and work in the countryside. We will also be tackling contemporary issues through interactives (or ‘hands on’ experiences) and, with our Forums, we’ve been testing some ideas about the different forms that these may take. This has been essential to the development process in our thinking and will have a valuable impact upon the final designs.
An exciting and fascinating aspect of this Forum is that it has given us the opportunity to visit working farms. The journeys alone have been quite an adventure and the discussions have been incredibly fruitful. We visited Mr Venters in Wiltshire where we had some very lively discussions about fox hunting, the development of farm machinery and class in the countryside, and to top the visit off we met some newborn lambs.
Through our discussions it became increasingly clear to me how relevant the Museum has the potential to be to people who live and work in the countryside. For example, we met one retired farmer who runs straw dolly workshops in care homes. He himself learnt the practice from farm labourers when he was a young boy. As you may or may not know, MERL has an extensive straw dolly collection.
Our forums are not just about us showing people the museum plans and discussing how we’ll be displaying our collections, they’re much more than that. Through these forums we are creating new networks and starting conversations with people from across the countryside community, which will enable us to create an oral history archive, sustain open conversations and develop long term relationships.
If you would like to contribute in any way to our Countryside Forum, please leave a comment and we’ll get in touch!