“We need to be collecting the present for the future. We have a focus on different cultures and while this is under-represented in Norwich currently, if it isn’t done well in 30 years time, there will be serious questions as to why not.”
This week’s post is about community outreach and encouraging people in the city to make the most of the museums in Norwich.
People from all different cultures and nationalities have made Norwich their home and this post is an extension from last week about how we are helping them to feel like they belong here.
Last week I wrote about English+ and the work they do with groups of people with limited English language, asylum seekers and refugees.
Bethan Holdridge teaches people about the history of Norwich, while also collecting stories about what its like to live in Norwich now.
This is Bethan’s story.
Bethan, what’s your main role?
I am the assistant curator of social history at both the Museum of Norwich at Bridewell and the Strangers’ Hall museum. I am also a learning assistant at the Norwich Castle Museum and Art Gallery.
What do you love about your job?
I love working with objects but I especially love the personal story that an object can tell. For example, if you have a particular crown to look at, that’s great, but I want to know about the person who made it, that’s what interests me.
Do you think there’s still a stereotype surrounding museums and curating?
I think some people still consider us as working in dusty old offices being somewhat reclusive, but my job is to talk to people about the social history of Norwich, to meet others and bring the stories to life.
You work with language schools including the English+ charity, why do you think outreach to other cultures is important?
The nature of history is that different cultures, classes and genders are under-represented. We tend to get a lot of stories about rich white men in business, because they were recorded. We have to dig to discover ordinary stories and tales about women or people from other countries. They are often discovered through records from places like the Bridewell, which was of course a prison for vagrants and poor people, not people of note, and therefore is more representative of a different extreme.
By working with English+ we can talk about the history of Norwich so they can learn more and feel like they belong, but also we can glean from them what it’s like to move here and live here.
Norwich is now their home and their stories are part of our current social history. We need to integrate their stories into the wider story of Norwich rather than as a separate one.
What did the group from English+ think about their visit to the Museum of Norwich?
I found it really interesting because we were looking at a statue with its head missing and I was explaining about the protestant reformation, when someone said “what’s the reformation?” they had never heard of it, it’s European history. It’s shown me that we need to tell stories in multiple ways to make them accessible to more people.
What else are you working on with under-represented groups?
We are also putting together information about LGBTQ+ plus groups and people living with disabilities , at the moment focussing upon people with visual impairment by teaming up with the NNAB.
Your work is extremely varied on a day to day basis, what is your main aim?
I want people to feel that museums are for them. They are for everyone. I want people to feel comfortable and to enjoy it.
I understand that people might not want to go to a museum – I don’t want to go to a football match – but they should be open and inviting to all.
My role is to get rid of any barriers and to open up the space so that people can use it well. With the outreach work, people know my face and can recognise me, it’s about being approachable and friendly, you can ask me any questions, no matter what and if I can’t help, I’ll point you in the direction of someone who can.
What if you’ve lived in Norwich all your life and you know it so well. Are the Museums still of interest?
Oh yes! History can give roots. If you’ve always lived in Norwich, it can help you to understand where you’re from. It can help you make sense of the city and the wider role it plays.
What makes you proud of your role?
It’s when people come back to the museums and in of their own accord. Any barriers have come down and they feel like it’s an open place they can go to. That’s what I want to achieve the most.
For more information:
The Museum of Norwich at Bridewell is open from 10am to 4.30pm from Tuesday to Saturday.
Strangers’ Hall Museum is open 10am to 4pm on Wednesdays and 1pm to 4.30pm on Sundays. In high season, starting this May half-term, it opens on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday from 10am-4pm as well as Sunday from 1pm-4.30pm.
PLEASE GO IN!
If you would like to meet a friendly face or to ask questions first, please contact Bethan via email: Bethan.firstname.lastname@example.org