Welcome to 2022

I’ve been quite cautious about wishing people a happy new year. There was a lot of celebrating when 2021 dawned and promises that it was going to be the best year ever and then, well, the year unfolded the way it did.

I’m trying not to put too much pressure on this new year.

What I am wishing people is balance. This feels like a very important thing to be working towards this year. In my own case, I’m moving to create more online resources, training and materials to support museum professionals who, from the ones I’ve been speaking to, are feeling completely battered by the past 2 years.

This, obviously, starts with the first, in what I’ll hope will be a recurring programme, Mental Health First Aid for Museum Professionals workshops. Each stand-alone session will equip attendees with the knowledge, skills and resources they need to look after themselves and their teams.

I’ll follow this up with some online resources that support that learning and help you achieve a better working situation, including my new Guidance sessions (more on those another time). I want to help us work better.

And for myself? I’ll be putting what I preach into practice, starting by actually going out and visiting some museums this year (2021 was mostly about heritage sites and gallery visits!), not just reading the theory and Zooming around the country. The recent televised archeaological finds have reignited my love for paleontology and natural history collections, so Oxford and the Lapworth can expect a visit, at the very least!

I’m also doing more writing, including copywriting for websites, which I just LOVE, so I’m keen to build that side of things up. Spending all day with a blank page and a good supply of coffee? Heaven.

Whatever 2022 has instore for you already, I wish you balance.

Dinosaurs at the magnificent Lapworth at Birmingham University. More of this in 2022 please!

How are you all?

Mental Health First Aid Training
21st January 2022
25th February 2022
Designed to support museum professionals.

Haven’t the past 18 months taken a toll on all museum professionals? Whether you were furloughed and worried about your career, juggling working from home and home schooling, or frantically spinning plates to try and raise the funding to keep your museum open?

Whatever your situation during the lockdowns, it’s likely you would have been feeling a whole range of emotions, reaching something close to burnout. We are still processing these while trying to carry on as though it’s business as usual.

It’s okay. I’ve got your back.

I asked Dawn Collins, a practised and respected Mental Health First Aid trainer, for her advice and if we could come up with some support. She’s worked with a wide range of clients, large and small, including charities, and I’m really pleased to announce that we’ve teamed up to create 2 4-hour workshops for you all.

During the workshops, we will cover:

  • what is mental health
  • the Mental Health continuum
  • factors which affect Mental Health
  • stigma
  • stress and stress management
  • spotting signs of distress
  • Mental Health conditions (including depression and anxiety disorders)
  • recovery
  • starting a supportive conversation
  • supporting Mental Health in the workplace
  • useful statistics and helpful resources.

Ordinarily, this training costs £125 per person, but in order to support as many of you as possible, we’ve reduced this to £75.

You only need to attend one of the workshops, which will be held via Zoom. All conversation during the workshops will be treated as confidential. There will be scheduled breaks and support for anyone who feels vulnerable during the session. Registering on this training via a link you will be sent, will automatically order your course materials.  At the end of the training, you will be certified as ‘Mental Health Aware’ by MHFA England CIC.

You can access more information by clicking the download link (opens Word document) below, but if you’d like to ask specific questions or to book your place, fill in the contact form underneath and we’ll take it from there.

Update: the workshop on the 21st January is now full and bookings have closed. There are spaces available on the 25th February. If you can’t make that and are interested in attending, please fill in the form below. If there’s enough demand, we’ll run it again!

Let’s look after ourselves.

Managing Your Grant

Rare is the museum that doesn’t, at some point, have to apply for a grant. Or two. Or several. As the demands on what we do grow exponentially against our budgets, we necessarily turn to funders to help us get our projects off the ground. Or in some cases, just keep the doors open.

And this is, after all, why funding bodies exist: they want to give you money to make the changes, start the projects and reach the audiences you want to.

Throughout my museum career, I’ve applied for big grants (£1.4 million, National Lottery Heritage Fund), small grants (£24,000 Arts Council England) and all grants in between. Since freelancing with AIM for the past few months, I’ve also experienced life from the funder’s side, and it has been a bit of an insight.

362 Dos And Donts Stock Photos, Pictures & Royalty-Free Images - iStock

Here, I’m going to share my Dos and Don’ts for managing your grant in a way that leaves you and the funder happy.

  1. Do remember to tell the funder about any changes to the project. Supplier delays affecting your completion date? Tell them. Are you moving on to another role? Tell them.
  2. Do stick their logo on everything that relates to the project. Blog posts, leaflets, press releases, exhibition boards. Anything that sits still and doesn’t object.
  3. Do tag them in any social media posts relating to the project they are funding. More often than not, they’ll repost it and increase the reach.
  4. Do run the project press releases past them before your send them out. Chances are they will have a lovely, generous quote for you to use.
  5. Do fall on your (metaphorical) sword if you’re late with a report or forget to add an image or anything else that you’re supposed to do but are so busy, you’ve forgotten. They’ll understand that you’re busy, they won’t understand why you’ve been defensive about it.
  6. Do put report dates in your diary! You are not the only museum they are funding and chasing them all for reports is exhausting. It also gets noted on the folder marked “Late Grant Reports” and that never bodes well for future funding.
  7. Do read the report sections closely and completely them fully. It is no good writing under “How did the project meet Outome 3 as listed in your application?” with “Mostly.” Funders want detail!

And now brace yourself for the Don’ts…

  1. Don’t make them chase you for reports (see above). In the case of one grant stream, the funder was giving out 30+ grants at a time. Now imagine having to chase all 30 for their reports…Yep, not fun. The ones who report on time are the ones that get good marks against them for future funding.
  2. Don’t resist evaluation! This is often a crucial element of any grant. Yes, it can be uncomfortable asking people to fill in a feedback form. No, you can’t avoid it.
  3. Don’t think you can go above your contact’s head when asking for a grant extension. It’s just not good manners. Go to them first. By then, you’ll have built up a good relationship with them, and they’ll advocate for you if they can.
  4. Don’t change the purposes of the grant or divert any underspend to another project without first consulting them. See also Don’t #3.
  5. Don’t forget to invite them to any launch event you hold. Maybe they won’t be able to attend in person, but they still like to receive the invite.
  6. Don’t walk away from the project/work place without letting the funder know and making sure your successor can easily pick up the threads once in post. Otherwise successor and funder will be trying to track down spends from 2017 and cursing your name.
  7. Don’t forget that most funders have their own reporting/auditing responsibilities and have to show that they have handed out grants in accordance with any conditions set by government or governing body. They aren’t insisting on mid-project updates for fun.

And finally, don’t forget that they are not your enemy! The funder wants your project to be a success and, where they can, will move heaven and earth and deadlines to help you achieve that. Just don’t push their goodwill.

Next time, how to write a grant application they actually want to read…!

Volunteers Have Value!

This is a subject very on my mind at the moment as I’ve been completing NLHF progress reports for clients. Their projects all have a wide variety of volunteers doing a wide variety of tasks and, as we all know, the time volunteers give has a monetary value that NLHF, ACE and other funders recognise.

Of course, we all know that our volunteers are beyond value…in the best possible way! Without them, heritage organisations simply wouldn’t be able to function.

From the person making the cups of tea for the team meetings, to the treasurer on the board. From the person researching a specific piece of history, to the person coming in once a week to weed the courtyard. These are all vital roles that your organisation couldn’t manage without (or they could but what are meetings without tea??) and each one has a value that funders will, in most cases, put against the match-funding you’re required to do.

So, for those of you struggling to remember how much that value is, or whether someone falls into one of the 3 categories, I’ve created a handy graphic for you to download and pin somewhere you can easily refer back to when completing those reports.

Download it here:

Happy calculating!

New Stories, New Audiences

Having been involved in fundraising for most of my career, I know how hard it can be to find a grant that fits the smaller museum. The one that has few, if any, paid staff, where the visitor numbers are modest and the hopes high. The expectations of a lot of funding streams can feel beyond the small museum.

So I’m very excited to have been chosen to be the freelance Grants Officer for the New Stories New Audiences grant that the Association of Independent Museums launched at their conference in June!

A partnership with the National Lottery Heritage Fund, and aimed specifically at the small museum, with an understanding of the unique challenges they face, this is a grant programme that encourages you to expand your horizon, develop new projects by working collaboratively with new partners and community groups, and to tell the stories that are currently missing from your local heritage.

Interested? You can see the grant programme details here. There will be workshops, led by me, to help guide through the process. The first 2 were oversubscribed, and the next one will be in September, so sign up to the AIM newsletter to be among the first to hear about it!

If you want to chat about the grant, you can contact me for this one at tonia.collett@aim-museums.co.uk.

Reinterpreting the Past

Just before leaving Tudor House at the end of March, I was able to see the project I had been managing finally come to fruition. It had been 2 years in the planning, 6 months in the fundraising, and 18 months in the delivery.

Image shows a mannequin wearing a Tudor style green gown, black kirtle, white ruff and black coif, stood in front of a display board entitled "Who is Margery?".

The idea from the board of trustees was to completely revive the museum’s interpretation, restore the 16th Century embossed ceiling, steer the story back to the Tudor origins of the building, which at the time was a kind of lost story in the city, and create a more cohesive, professional feel to the museum.

Picture shows foamex display board saying "Women of the Cross Keys" on display in the museum.

As with any project that promises to change the direction of an organisation, there were fears to overcome, particularly that of the volunteers, money to raise and resources to gather. My application to NLHF’s Our Heritage grant was successful and we were quickly able to raise the match-funding needed. By keeping the communication lines open and being clear about the aims, I was able to keep volunteers on side and allay fears that the scope of the project would lead to a reduced offer for visitors.

After all the hard work and juggling that Covid restrictions created, it was wonderful to see everything start to come together. Working with designers, Heritage Insider, we created display boards, vinyls and hands on activities to be used around the building.

Picture shows 3 vinyls, silhouettes of Tudor children: Edward, Isabelle and Thomas.

Entering the Tudor Worcester area, you can hear street sounds, find out about the food they ate and what the city was like in the 16th Century. In the Cross Keys Tavern, you can hear music, people chatting and the clink of pewter tankards. The smell of hops brewing fills the air and the boards tell you about Tavern life, the people who lived there and the women who ran it.

Image shows vinyls attached to wall in Broadcloth room depicting the 29 processes wool went through before becoming broadcloth.

I can’t begin to explain how pleased I am with how this project has turned out. A museum that was full of unconnected themes, told via laminated sheets of paper, now has a coherent story, a professional feel and, most importantly, a unique place in the city’s heritage offer. What a fantastic note to end my Tudor House experience on!

Image shows Tudor Time Team Trail bags created for use by older children visiting the museum.

I’ll be talking in more detail about the project and how we managed it in a time of Covid in my newsletter. If you’d like to be on the mailing list, enter your email below.

Taking the Plunge

It’s been a year since I started my tiny consultancy, fitting it in on the side, along with my part time paid role at Tudor House. A bit chaotic at times to say the least! But now I’m taking the proverbial plunge and stepping back from that to commit full time to my freelance work!

I’m hugely excited to be part of the evaluation team, led by Jenni Waugh Consulting, for the huge Everything to Everybody project. This collaboration between the Birmingham Shakespeare Library, the University of Birmingham and Birmingham City Council aims to unlock “the world’s first great people’s Shakespeare library for all.”

As well as taking the First Folio on tour, there is a host of community events, exhibitions and a major festival over the course of the next 2 years. To find out more, go to www.everythingtoeverybody.bham.ac.uk

It’s all about the timing

Talk about picking the right moment to set up my own consultancy! With the entire heritage world in lock down, what on earth can a consultant offer? More importantly, how on earth can a museum expect to survive this?

The good news is that you can expect to survive it, and there are a myriad ways in which you can. Digital technology has moved at such a pace that meetings are easily, even for the techno-phobes, held online. Social media and newsletters keep you in touch with your audience. Online shopping and fundraising solutions are great ways of making sure there’s still some income coming in. Event planning, policy reviews, preparing for Accreditation, reviewing interpretation and collections, researching grants…these are just a handful of the ways you can keep your museum feeling alive even during these unprecedented times.

And what can a consultant offer? Well, during the lockdown, I’m offering each new client a free 60 minute consultation where we can chat through your concerns, work out the priorities and look at some ways to address them. Need a follow up report? These are half price right now.

To book your free consultation, get in touch via the form on the Contact page. Together, we’ll get through this!