When I discovered the Open Palace Programme I knew that I had to do whatever it took to get a place! This programme is such a unique and fascinating ‘behind-the-scenes’ glimpse of historical homes and palaces. I am currently working as a Collection Assistant at a regional museum in New Zealand however I have not received any formal museum training or museum qualifications. This course has provided me with many basic principles and perspectives of different organisations and in turn has given me a much greater understanding of UK Heritage institutions as a whole.
We were given the opportunity to see smaller sites such as Beckford’s Tower run by the team at the Bath Preservation Trust alongside much larger palaces run by the Royal Collection Trust Management Team at Windsor Castle so we really got an incredible chance to see some diverse institutions and hear about the challenges that they face.
What made the trip so memorable were the staff at all locations we visited. They all made a huge effort to ensure they gave us the best experience possible and we all felt so welcomed and engaged with the content and activities.
The Pitt Rivers Collections is a real testament to how museum collections are facing the troubled past of the colonial British Empire and the team are making good steps to face those uncomfortable conversations. This is something that rang very true to me as an ‘immigrant’ or ‘expat’ living in New Zealand and learning first-hand the struggles and bi-cultural challenges that can still be faced here due to New Zealand’s colonial past. A fascinating example here was seeing how they are collaborating with local communities to allow them to tell their own stories. This is something that should definitely be encouraged more with other collections to create a more inclusive environment.
Our practical experiences around packing, moving, storage and cleaning were not indifferent to our processes in our museums here. However at many of the historical homes we learned that climate change is already starting to have an impact. Examples of this were the increased amount of pests that collection teams are noticing and more extreme temperature fluctuations can play havoc with the gold and silver leaf gilding that is so prevalent in historic homes and palaces.
I believe this programme has helped me to grasp a wider perspective of how heritage organisations work and it has allowed me to consider the different opportunities that could be available to develop my career further. My experience has also strengthened my passion around collection digitisation as I have always enjoyed learning new methods of translating the physical to digital and the opportunity to use that knowledge in the heritage sector will be a very exciting and exploratory one.