Keep up! Stakeholder consultation on MERL’s Our Country Lives project

MERL Curator of Collections and Engagement, Isabel Hughes, brings us up to date with progress on the Our Country Lives project

Our project plans are developing quite quickly now and one of the challenges is to keep all our various stakeholders informed including our volunteers, neighbours and other interested parties in the University.  Last week we held two sessions to update everyone on the how the project is developing.  About 40 people attended and heard presentations from myself and Rob Davies, Volunteer Co-ordinator.

We were able to explain the broad rationale of the project – to create more space around the building in order to improve both the displays and visitor facilities.

OCL plans

We are working with museum design consultants to create exciting new galleries


Alongside the redisplay of the galleries there will be a full programme of activities to attract new and existing visitors to MERL.

Planning for closure is just as important as planning for the reopening of MERL.  There are various important dates for us; 24 February 2014 is the submission date for our Heritage Lottery Fund.  We shall hear the outcome some time in June or early July.  If successful, that would give us 8 – 10 weeks to get ready for contractors arriving on site.  We can’t guarantee an exact start date for construction work but we would aim to offer a full programme of activities over the summer and would close the Museum from about October 2014.

During the closure we would keep the Special Collections, including the reading room open to the public.  We are thinking as well about events we might be able to offer as outreach around Reading.  The main casualty of this phase is likely to be the garden which may be used for contractors’ huts and would definitely be out of bounds to visitors. We are planning to redesign the garden to reflect the themes of the redisplay, however.

There is a lot of work to do to plan for reopening which is likely to take place in late Summer 2015.  We aim to offer an exciting set of launch events, underpinned by a revamped website and publicity materials.

At last week’s meetings our stakeholders seemed very positive about our plans and offered useful suggestions for enhancing things or forging new partnerships.

As you can imagine, the next couple of weeks before submitting our bid are going to be very busy for everyone at MERL, but we look forward to sharing more information over the coming months.


Our Country Lives: Supporting You Day

written by Adam Koszary, Project Officer for Our Country Lives.

My mind has been focused on one particular question since arriving at MERL: how do you display rural life?

Other equally pertinent questions for us are: Who is our audience? How can we appeal to wider groups? What is the core message of the Museum of English Rural Life?

These are the main issues which we are grappling with in these early days of Our Country Lives. We began with a broad idea of what we want to do, and we are now gradually narrowing down our ideas and expectations, so that we can finish with a focused new display which keeps our current visitors happy but also entices new people to come and learn about English rural life, and participate with the museum in projects and events.

Family consultations at the MERL Village Fete 2013

Family consultations at the MERL Village Fete 2013

Determining those people and communities who would not usually visit MERL was the focus of a meeting with our consultants last week, but we have already been working with volunteers and our current audiences to find out who our visitors are and what they want. For instance, if you came with your family to the village fete this year then you may have been asked to complete a questionnaire. The results from this consultation are already having a real effect on the direction in which MERL is heading with Our Country Lives.

Another audience which we want to hear from is the student and staff community of the University of Reading. Myself and MERL’s Marketing Officer Alison will be at this year’s Supporting You Day, and will be available all day to let you know about the museum but also asking how we could do better as a service to university staff and students.

Whether you think we need more seminars and lectures, or should advertise better on campus, we would like to know what would make you visit MERL, or what is currently stopping you. We will be located in the Palmer Building, most probably in the Reception, so come and say hello!