Our latest guest post features confessions of former Culture24 intern Holly Parsons, a tour guide at one of Brighton’s hidden gems: the little-known Old Police Cells Museum underneath Brighton Town Hall.
After returning from University in September 2011, I wanted volunteer work in local museums while I looked for a paid job. Although I had experience of working in museums already, I wanted to gain a greater understanding of the diverse types of roles available in the sector, and the best way to do that was to work in as many museums as possible. I contacted the museums that were local to me in Brighton and got the opportunity to volunteer at the Old Police Cells under Brighton Town Hall as a tour guide.
The prospect of being a tour guide unnerved me to begin with, but I’ve always been an outgoing person and part of me became excited about the opportunity. Having no experience of the police force and a limited knowledge of the local history, getting up to speed was a daunting prospect. My guide training commenced: I toured the museum several times with experienced guides to see how they did it, and was given a six page document with the key information I needed to know.
Observing different people lead tours was fascinating: every tour guide has their own angle and areas of interest. When it came to creating my own tour, I was able to choose the best bits of what I’d seen. Equally, the printed notes were helpful as I could read these the night before a tour and practice at home in my bedroom. Over the summer of 2012, I found my stride, became better at tour guiding and began to enjoy the experience.
Then disaster struck: winter came and the museum only opened on Saturdays, when I wasn’t available to do tours. I started again in April 2013 with my first tour since the previous September. I felt nervous and out of practice: I read through my notes the night before but didn’t get the chance to do much more. Although I was a bit rusty, once I started I remembered everything that I needed too, and I’ve continued to grow in confidence.
The Old Police Cells tends to attract two types of visitors. Some have limited knowledge of the Police and/or the local area, meaning that giving the tour can easy as there is little chance of being told I am incorrect.
“I wondered where that had got to!”
The other type of visitor are former or serving police officers, who know more about the history of the Police and the museum’s objects than I do! On a tour I gave last summer, one of the visitors was a police officer who recognized many of our objects, including the otter statue used as the mascot for Project Otter, the police’s investigation into the Brighton bombing.
Since becoming a part-time tour guide, I’ve found it fascinating to go on other historic tours. If it’s a good experience I enjoy myself, while noting any particularly successful communication techniques the guide uses that I could put into practice myself. Conversely, a disappointing tour distracts me as I can’t help thinking about what I’d do differently.
What are my top tips for budding tour guides?
- Practice beforehand, in front of the mirror or friends and family. It may feel stupid, but it’ll help stop you forgetting key information midway through your tour.
- Learn your tour via visual cues round the museum. As I walk round and see certain pictures or objects, they remind me what I have to talk about next.
- Watch tours from as many other people as possible: this is a great way to learn information and pick up tips from others.
- Don’t worry if you can’t answer every question you’re asked (I was once asked when the Town Hall’s ghost was last seen!) There’s nothing wrong with saying that you don’t know and referring the enquirer to another source. Also, over time you’ll learn the most frequently asked questions and their answers.
- Lastly, try to relax and enjoy the tour. Your attitude and style of delivery really make a difference: the more at ease you are, the better the experience of your tour will become for visitors.
Curious to find out more about the Old Police Cells Museum? In addition to leading tours, I also run our Facebook and Twitter pages, where you can find out more details, interesting facts, the Object of the Week and of course, tour dates and times!
Holly Parsons studied History and Politics followed by Heritage and Museum Studies at the University of Portsmouth. Since completing her studies and returning to Brighton she has pursued her keen interest in museums, volunteering and visiting museums whenever she can.
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