Monthly Archives: August 2013

Guest post: Confessions of Old Police Cells tour guide Holly Parsons

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.

Woman in front of a glass cabinet.

Beginning a tour in the Town Hall above the Old Police Cells (c) Jack Shoulder

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.

A statue of an otter.

The Otter with its police ID badge (c) Holly Parsons.

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!


A girl in blue smiling

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.


Thanks, Holly!

If you’re reading this and you have an interesting story to tell or case study to share about planning or marketing after-hours events in arts or heritage venues, I’d love to publish your guest posts as well. Please get in touch with

Connect10 artists to speak at Museums at Night briefings

We are delighted to announce that in addition to the expert speakers joining the Museums at Night team for our jaunt round the country in late September spreading the good word about Museums at Night and Connect10, we’ll also be joined by three of the artists who took part in the 2013 festival: Richard Wentworth, Julian Wild and Julia Vogl.

Richard Wentworth at Whitworth Art Gallery for Museums at Night 2013 (c) David Oates

Richard Wentworth at Whitworth Art Gallery for Museums at Night 2013 (c) David Oates

On Monday 23 September we will be joined at the Jewish Museum in London by Richard Wentworth CBE, sculptor and academic who worked with Manchester’s Museum, Art Gallery and the Whitworth Gallery on a joint project to curate visitors’ collected objects for Museums at Night 2013.

A man speaks to a large crowd in an art gallery

Richard Wentworth welcomes visitors to the Whitworth Art Gallery for Museums at Night 2013 (c) David Oates

Richard has played a leading role in New British Sculpture since the end of the 1970s. His playful approach to using everyday and found objects reinterprets them and breaks conventional systems of classification. His Museums at Night event in Manchester invited visitors to think about curatorial and classification issues within the context of their own possessions. The event also featured an entertaining coach journey between the museum and the gallery accompanied by costumed interpreters. We are honoured to have Richard along on what is sure to be a fascinating session.

Book your place at the free London briefing session here:

On Thursday 26 September, Birmingham University’s Winterbourne House site welcomes artist and sculptor Julian Wild.

A man and two children make a large sculpture out of white pipes

Julian Wild and young visitors collaborating on the Making the Connection sculpture for Museums at Night (c) Enginuity

Julian lit up Ironbridge Gorge’s Enginuity venue during Museums at Night when he brought half a kilometre of plumbing pipe for visitors to play with!

Julian had spent hours painting the pipes with light sensitive paint so that once the visitors’ skeletal-like abstract construction was completed and the lights turned off the piece glowed, a bluish hue bringing to mind a ghostly shipwreck. We look forward to hearing more about Julian’s long nights in the shed with a paintbrush!

Book your place at the free Birmingham briefing session here:

The last leg of our autumn odyssey reaches Bradford’s National Media Museum on Friday 27 September where we will be joined by Anglo-American ‘social sculptor’ Julia Vogl.

A flyer containing instructions for participating in an art event

Instructions for Julia Vogl’s participatory social sculpture (c) Nick Stockman

For Museums at Night 2013, Julia worked with visitors to the Discovery Museum in Newcastle to collect 2,500 empty plastic bottles. On the night visitors were asked to choose a piece of coloured paper matching the regional location they most identify with and pop it in one of the bottles. The bottles were then strung together to create a structure resembling a giant jellyfish hoisted around the central chandelier of the venue’s Great Hall.

Julia is dedicated, articulate and entertaining so the visitors to the northern session are in for a treat!

Book your place at the free Bradford briefing session here:

We’re confident that everyone coming along to the briefings will get something new and interesting out of them, so if you haven’t already, sign up to book your free place now – we look forward to meeting you!

Those booking links once more:

London briefing session, Monday 23 September

Birmingham briefing session, Thursday 26 September

Bradford briefing session, Friday 27 September

Team Museums at Night on the road: join our Connect10 briefings!

Nick and I are delighted to announce that we’re going on the road this September! We’ll be delivering three free briefing sessions sharing our learning from the Connect10 competition, alongside people from venues who have actually won and worked together with Connect10 artists.

A man and woman looking exceptionally professional

Stockman and Clarke – travelling the land spreading the word about Museums at Night

Are you interested in taking part in the Museums at Night festival and/or entering the Connect10 competition next year? Come along to our free, friendly morning briefing sessions: they’re for anyone working in a museum, gallery, historic house or other cultural institution, whether or not you’ve run a Museums at Night event before.

Museums at Night is the annual after-hours festival showcasing the arts and heritage sector, which each year offers great audience development opportunities. Connect10 is the competition that gives ten venues the chance to win an artist-led event and £2,000 as part of the festival.

Find out about the benefits and challenges involved in hosting an after-hours event, the advantages in working together with other venues and what it takes to be a Connect10 winner!

Learn how to organise a group of venues to take part in the festival, and what it’s like to host a top artist from the people who have done it before! Plus there will be plenty of opportunities to meet and chat with colleagues from your region.

We’re grateful to the Arts Council for subsidising the cost of these briefings, so they will be free to attend. There are 45 places available on each day, and we hope to welcome as many people as possible to the South, Midlands and North.

The three sessions are:

LONDON: Monday 23 September, at the Jewish Museum, 9:45 – 13:00

BIRMINGHAM: Thursday 26 September, at Winterbourne House, 9:45 – 13:00

BRADFORD: Friday 27 September, at the National Media Museum, 9:45 – 13:00

Click through to book your place! We look forward to meeting you.