Bailiffgate Museum Gallery is a small independent, volunteer run, accredited museum, housed in an old Church in Alnwick. It first opened twenty years ago to capture and tell the story of Alnwick and its people. Volunteers train to interview, edit and digitise materials collected, ensure they handle and maintain the collection professionally and learn to mount first class exhibitions in collaboration with local artists, other national organisations and individuals. Our awards demonstrate that we run a museum and gallery that is exciting, welcoming and often rivals those run by professionals.
The Kids in Museums Award was very special for us because families in the United Kingdom can nominate any museum in the country they have visited for this award. It celebrates museums, galleries and heritage attractions that go the extra mile to provide an excellent family friendly experience. Once museums are nominated, they receive visits from families from across the country and these families act as judges. Museums do not know who they are or when they will come. The museums are judged on the experience they provide for families and against the children’s manifesto published by Kids in Museums.
Vikings Loans Box
Our volunteers applied, once the museum had been nominated. The work we do for children and families has been part of our development since we started. Financial support comes from Friends of Bailiffgate who pay a small fee that enables them to visit the Museum any time in the year. We make a small entry charge for those who are not friends, we run a shop and get commission on gallery sales. All other funding comes from grants. Everything is created and organised by our volunteers.
We believe that we should be looking to the future of museums and making them ready for the next generation which is why we often focus on families. Visitors, including children have really good suggestions to make about what we do so we seek their views when they visit. We give talks about our work to museums across the United Kingdom. These are some of the projects judges heard about from our application:
We have 40 loans boxes relating to the school curriculum. Our volunteers dress up and take them into schools, or schools are allowed to borrow them for two weeks at a time. They are also used in Care homes as memory boxes for people with dementia.
Jorvik artefacts and our Viking village
We make mice characters in period costume for our permanent collection and for each new major exhibition. The characters are researched and a biography created for each mouse. Families have to find them in the museum and also in the town shops to encourage visitors to buy there. Each year, the new mice are available for sale to families who want to buy them.
We asked our local school design images for our website when we wanted to encourage ‘friends’ of the museum to renew their subscription. This is what they designed for us to use.
We hold an art competition for each of our main exhibitions and 463 entries, including a short film and cartoon were displayed on a screen as part of the Viking exhibition. Our volunteers chose to show the images above the interactive area they created, (Viking story tent, which is part of a village with some of the costumes we have for children and adults) as part of our Viking exhibition in 2021.
The judges were impressed by the way our volunteers go to extraordinary lengths to create an inspiring museum experience for friends and visitors. The professional judges who work for Kids in Museums thought we had lots of strategies that led to high quality, meaningful interactions with families and that we made the visit such a joyous occasion.
Our work is different because we learn from children and families and work with the community to provide a Museum Gallery that makes everyone proud of what has been achieved. We were the only volunteer run Museum Gallery to be short listed for this award and we competed against some of our very best national museums.
We have over 50 dedicated volunteers, including Trustees, who are passionate about what we do. Most of the work for exhibitions is completed by a team of 12 volunteers. The volunteers who welcome people to the museum play a special part in making sure families know how to enjoy what we offer. After a major exhibition, which we start to prepare for two years in advance, the volunteers feel exhausted, but very proud and fulfilled. They are all modest people who love the museum and awards, especially this one, make them begin to realise how good they are.
In the last two years Covid was the main difficulty, but we learned to use zoom so that we could meet virtually; we made better use of our website and digital technology; posted parts of our collection on line, made costumes and artefacts at home and cheered one another up with a weekly newsletter. Funding is also a difficulty each year, but this year one of our regular providers of funds gave us a little more and we found a new organisation willing to help. Many of our volunteers are elderly, and we are trying to recruit younger people so that the museum is sustainable and resilient.
Each year is different, but every year we meet for a day as volunteers to look at what has been achieved, what worked well and what we could have done better. The outcomes of the discussions are used to help us to plan our next programme. Over the years we have become more ambitious so there is always a new challenge.
Excellence for our funders is measured in increased numbers of visitors and good ratings from them. We have been able to increase our visitor numbers each year, apart from the times we were forced to close because of Covid and our feedback shows that at we are judged to be good or better by 98% of visitors. We have a good following on social media and we have a good reputation in the region. For our volunteers, excellence is in the smiles, laughter and joy from families that come to Bailiffgate.
Our advice to those who want to excel is to plan well ahead, talk to your volunteers, visitors and local communities about their experiences and act on their advice.
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